I don’t in fact see here [Cameron’s Speech] an unambiguous commitment to abide by the choice of the people if this vote ever takes place. And experience tells me to read very carefully any promise made by Mr Cameron, whose oiling out of his Lisbon pledge is a text-book example of how it can be done. His dwindling group of supporters write to me sometimes with dense legalsitic, nay, algebraic explanations of why his broken promise wasn’t in fact broken. And they believe what they write, so perhaps he does too.
But there also seems to me to a very strong series of padlocks on the referendum door, which make the pledge worth as much as a gift voucher from a rocky high-street store.
One. The Tories will not win the next election. They are most unlikely even to be the largest single party.
Two. Even if they did win, it is clear that Mr Cameron and his Cabinet colleagues will not campaign for a vote to leave.
Three. There is no reason to believe that this vote, if it takes place, will be conducted any more fairly than it was in 1975, when the official package, delivered to everyone’s door, contained one pamphlet arguing for leaving, and two arguing for staying ( even the BBC couldn’t outdo that for impartiality) .
There may well be many ‘Eurosceptic’ voices in the press, and a few in Parliament (and ‘Euroscepticism’ , as I have pointed out, means criticism of the EU in opposition, acquiescence to it in office), but no serious newspaper favours withdrawal, I can’t think of any frontbencher in any party who could be relied upon to speak for withdrawal, and the BBC and the educational establishment will add their powerful voices to the ‘Stay in’ camp.
If by any chance Labour decides to match the pledge (the only way in which the vote can be guaranteed, and not impossible) I would expect that it would end with a substantial majority for staying in, and the subject closed for the foreseeable future.
This is why I think this is a risk which Lord Heseltine and the rest are quite prepared to take, in the hope that it will rescue the Tory Party from well-deserved doom at the polls in 2015. They may even rather long for a chance to dish the anti-EU movement for decades to come, by humiliating it as thoroughly as they did in 1975, and their confidence may well be justified.
I do hope that in both cases, they have underestimated the intelligence of the voters, though one always winces a bit when one expresses this hope.
The only proper or reliable way for this country to leave the EU is for a major political party to pledge unequivocally to leave the EU in its manifesto, for that party to be elected with a working majority and to proceed. We must continue to ask why a view so strongly supported, both by facts and logic and by large numbers of people, is so poorly represented at Westminster, and why we have political parties which speak for the elite and not for the electors.
I want those I elect to make my laws