Yesterday, at the kind request of Conservative Home, I tried to put partisanship to one side and think clearly about how best to tackle some of the big questions facing politics come 2015. Now, this being Conservative Party Conference, my thoughts naturally turned to Europe.
In a nutshell my case was this:
- An in/out referendum: this is justified by the changing nature of the EU and the particular crisis of democracy and legitimacy caused by the diktats of the credit ratings agencies and the bond markets abetted in turn by the centralisation of unaccountable power by both Berlin and Brussels. This needs to be tackled head on and addressed not just through bureaucratic re-organisation but by a public debate on the case for a reformed Europe owned wholly neither by the markets nor the German government.
- When it should be done: May 7th, 2015 – general election day. This will ensure as high a turn-out as possible and would avoid the perils of a differential turnout scenario, which I fear would favour a highly motivated anti-EU Tories over more reluctantly pro-EU Labour voters.
- The Tory vote is the centre of gravity, so have the vote while there’s still a Conservative prime minister: to stay in the EU, the yes campaign would need a coalition made of a clear majority of Labour and Lib Dem voters and, critically, a substantial slice of Tory voters. Conservatives are far more likely to heed David Cameron’s call for a yes then Ed Miliband’s. So the campaign needs to be led by a Tory PM – which in turn argues for holding the vote before Ed Milband takes office on May 8th, 2015.
- Lastly, in terms of Tory strategy, an election day referendum makes all the sense in the world: increasing Tory turnout and neutralising the UKIP threat in a stroke. To disaffected Tories considering UKIP, Cameron can offer them a genuine choice on their top issue whilst still making a direct appeal for their vote for his government.
The crowd seemed to enjoy it. Even Labour might too.