Now there are two groups I intensely dislike.
The first are the "laptop warriors"- people who sit behind keyboards firing off angry and accusatory emails and telling others what they are doing wrong, but are seldom willing to do anything positive themselves.
The second group are those who play the man and not the ball. I am a feisty campaigner and happy to use every weapon in my armoury to help my team win; but I learned very early in my career that personal attacks (even when true and justified) not only backfire, but lower the standard of debate and debase politics.
I spent quite some time this evening (in my own time) writing a strong reply. I don't think much of the Prime Minister's renegotiation, but he's delivered the referendum we wanted and has been true to his word. And in the words of Dan Hannan "sceptics should remember that"!
Thank you for your email, the contents of which disappointed me. Allow me to explain why.
The case for Britain forging a new relationship with the EU and the right of UK voters to express their views through a referendum is not something new. Many of us have been campaigning for this for 40 years. My personal campaign for a referendum dates back to 1986 when I remember being reprimanded by my pro-European MP Lynda Chalker for wearing a lapel badge at the Conservative Party Conference which read “Set Britain Free from the EEC”. For most of this period, Nigel Farage and UKIP were not around. In fact, they are relative latecomers to a cause which many of us have been fighting for generations. In the 1980s it took courage to be Anti EEC in the Conservative Party. It was seen as a “minority” interest only pursued by zealots and the extreme. Undeterred we held our ground, and through campaigning, leafleting, meetings, lobbying and decades of calmly making our case, we have now reached the position where we probably represent the majority view within Conservative politics. I am actually proud at being part of a team which helped bring this about – and we did this without Mr Farage and UKIP.
I will now turn to the detail of the referendum and your criticisms of the Prime Minister. When David Cameron delivered his landmark “Bloomberg Speech” on 23 January 2013, in which he set-out his plans to renegotiate the UKs relationship with the European Union and put that settlement to a vote of the British people, his commitment was ridiculed by UKIP who said he would never deliver. As we can now see, he has. You can listen to that speech at the following link:
Later in 2013 backbench Conservative MP, James Wharton, introduced a Referendum Bill to Parliament. This Bill set-out in detail the legislation for the referendum post the 2015 GE. Despite being a Private Member's Bill, the Conservative government found time in the parliamentary timetable to have the Bill debated and the first and second readings of the Bill passed in the House of Commons with the votes of Conservative MPs who voted in favour of the Bill at every stage. It was subsequently blocked in the House of Lords by Labour and LibDem peers.
After the 2015 election, the 'same suspects' declared that the Prime Minister would forget the pledge - but it appeared in the Conservative manifesto. Then after winning the election it was thought that he would renege on his promise or find reasons to delay. Again they were wrong. The renegotiation was concluded and the legislation enabling the referendum was passed within 12 months of the General Election.
In your email you made reference to the Prime Minster betraying his country and principles by campaigning for the UK to remain within the EU. Again, I believe you are wrong. In his Bloomberg speech the Prime Minister made it clear that he was pro EU and that he would campaign for the UK to remain within the EU if he felt able to do so. This speech was reported extensively on all television news channels and in the press. His precise words were,
“So I speak as British Prime Minister with a positive vision for the future of the European Union. A future in which Britain wants, and should want, to play a committed and active part.”By all means criticise the Prime Minister for not being tough enough, for asking too little or for not bringing home the deal you wanted, but don’t criticise him for dishonesty when he stated his intention to campaign for Britain to remain in the EU before the General Election and is now doing exactly what he said he would do.
I will now deal briefly with the issues surrounding the conduct of the referendum, as in your email you inferred it was rigged or not being fought fairly.
1. The wording of the referendum was changed from “YES/NO” after the Leave campaign thought this would favour the status-quo, as people are biased to the positive option on a ballot paper. The final wording of “Leave / Remain” was the Leave campaign's favoured option.
2. Calls by opposition parties to extend the franchise (allowing 16yo’s and foreign nationals living in the UK the right to vote) were rejected. Again, the Leave campaign supported this as it was generally felt these groups would favour a Remain vote.
3. Rather than officially backing the Remain Campaign, the Conservative Party declared itself “officially neutral” with members, councillors, MPs and staff free to campaign for either side.
4. Government Ministers were also set free to campaign against the Prime Minister without having to resign their posts, another key concession from the government.
In your email you stated that millions of people think like you and everyone you speak to wants “out out out”. If this is so (and I hope it is) then despite all your suspicions we will win the referendum and Britain will leave the EU. And you will have the Conservative Party to thank for it.
If however Britain votes to remain in the EU then we must accept the will of the majority. After all, in your email you speak of the government "respecting the will of the people”. That applies to both outcomes.
A few days ago Dan Hannan MEP (probably Britain’s best known and most eloquent campaigner to leave the EU) wrote,
“David Cameron called a referendum with a fair question and a fair franchise, allowing Conservatives to campaign either way. We sceptics should remember that.”
Thanks to this government and my party – you will have a vote for the first time in 40 years and your vote will be worth as much as the Prime Minister’s!
This referendum will not be won by sending abusive emails accusing the very people who enabled this referendum to take place of being traitors.
- It will be won by standing in the freezing cold at railway stations at 6am, convincing commuters that their jobs will be safe.
- It will be won at street stalls in our major towns and High Streets on wet and windy Saturday mornings, convincing shoppers that the economy will be prosper and their futures will be secure.
- It will be won tramping from door-to-door in the dark, talking to voters and answering their concerns.
This is what I and hundreds of people like me have been doing for many years.
If you feel as strongly as you say you do, you would be very welcome to join us!