The European Union seems to be the flavour de jour at the moment. It’s probably partly due to the fact that the eurozone (contrary to popular belief, not the same thing) is in meltdown. It’s probably also partly due to the fact that euroscepticism has become one of the principle markers of “right wing” now that openly hating poor people is considered uncivilised.
But whatever the reason, next week will see a House of Commons debate on whether there should be a referendum on our continued membership of the EU. It’s a backbench motion, so not binding on the government, but anyone who knows their political history will know quite how destructive Europe can be as an issue for the Conservative Party. It brought down Thatcher, proved a continual thorn in the side of Major, and left the public with a decidedly unsavoury impression of the Tories for years.
So I’m sure Cameron will welcome this motion like a hole in the head. They’ve even moved it forward, from Thursday to Monday, so he can attend. How generous of them!
Now, I should declare an interest: I’m (broadly) pro-EU. It’s far from perfect, but in a basic in/out referendum I would vote in. Because I genuinely believe that it’s in the best interests of the country. In a three-pronged referendum, offering choices of in/out/renegotiation-and-reform, or as I like to call it “shake it all about”, I’d probably lump for the hokey cokey option.
The fun thing about this motion is that it seems to be causing huge headaches for everyone who isn’t me. Allow me to explain the various parties’ objections.
Our (somewhat) eurosceptic Prime Minister and his government feels trapped between a hard place and a rock. It’s easy to be slaveringly eurosceptic and ally your party with “nutters, anti-semites, people who deny climate change exists and homophobes” when you’re in opposition, but when you’re in government you actually have to work with the EU. So he can whip his party to vote against a referendum, which a) risks pissing off an already pissed off Conservative right wing, and b) would make a referendum-winning rebellion. Or he could give his party a free vote, which would run the very real risk of passing the motion.
Rampant eurosceptics, too, seem to be hesitant about it. The thinking ones, at least. Alex Singleton, writing on the Daily Mail website, says that in just such a three-option referendum the “better off out crowd” would lose to the much more reasonable third choice. He’s right, in my opinion. Which is all the more reason to do it.
You see, I’d quite like a referendum I think. The eurosceptics, with UKIP at the head, have been screaming for one for ages. I say we give it to them. They would object to a three-choice referendum, naturally, but if they argued against it then the clear comeback is that they’re trying to use the question to influence the result. Also, when the majority chose to renegotiate/reform the EU, then we can actually move on and make a positive improvement to it. That, surely, is both in the best interest of democracy and the country.
The fact that it would split the Conservative Party, drive Cameron to the brink of nervous breakdown and put an end to UKIP’s bleating and raison d’être is just a bonus.