The factions that’ll make up the EU referendum battle
In my last article, I argued that voters werenâ€™t yet paying attention to the EU debate, but that I thought IN would win in the end. This article explains why.
One of the charms of The Game of Thrones is the sheer variety of interacting factions, feuding, allying, and eyeing each other in guarded and temporary neutrality. The EU referendum is going to be just like that. Itâ€™s possible to identify 8 factions:
The Cameroons. Itâ€™s perfectly clear that Cameron, like Wilson before him, sees the referendum as a way of finessing a restless party. The Tory establishment is not enamoured of Brussels, but business interests, aa liking for being part of European decision-making and a dislike of radical change all pull in the same direction. Theyâ€™ll be for IN regardless of what comes out of the negotiations.
UKIP. Obviously for OUT, but they need to dominate the OUT campaign. If OUT wins, that’ll be lovely, but a narrow OUT defeat with Farage at the head of the battle will do as well. The model of the SNP owning the â€œnoâ€ vote is the UKIP model â€“ if OUT gets, say, 45%, theyâ€™d love to have at least half see UKIP as the way to continue the battle.
The Tory Eurosceptics. Dislike Farage and UKIP as an existential threat, but keen to pull out anyway. This forces them to have the separate â€œOutâ€ campaign, so we shouldnâ€™t expect the two to come anywhere near each other. Itâ€™s a classic Westeros-style armed truce.
Labour Europhiles. Originally quite rare, theyâ€™ve become dominant, partly in reaction to Tory/UKIP Euroscepticism but also because the EU is no longer quite the pro-business monolith that it once seemed to us on the left. But the enthusiasm is mostly broad rather than deep. Real EU fans in Labour like me are not that common (thereâ€™s Tony Blair, David Miliband, and then youâ€™re already struggling), and Cameron has done little to engage us so far, so the default Labour position is a detached In. At some point, the In team will need to address this, as otherwise Labour turnout will be low.
Corbynâ€™s team. The Labour left is traditionally Eurosceptic (itâ€™s a capitalist club, etc.), but they too have come round to feeling there are potential allies across Europe. Corbynâ€™s reluctance has given the Out side false hope: itâ€™s really all about not endorsing Cameronâ€™s package sight unseen. Expect mild support for In, but with a commitment to reverse Tory opt-outs.
Other parties. The LibDems are for In, full stop, and the SNP will be too, with a menacing footnote that in the event of Out it might be time for another referendum. The Greens are a fading force but will probably be â€œIn with caveatsâ€ in the end.
The other EU countries. Generally view the Cameron government like a tiresome cousin â€“ yes,theyâ€™re family, but always moaning about something. Theyâ€™ll cooperate in providing a reasonably shiny package for Cameron, but are not minded to give him anything they donâ€™t want to lose, such as free movement. They think they probably donâ€™t need to, and if the Brits pull out, oh well, perhaps itâ€™s for the best, eh?
The general public. Remember them? Theyâ€™ve been largely detached up to now, as I pointed out in a previous article. They think Europe is on the whole a nuisance but perhaps something to put up with. They arenâ€™t much engaged in the argument either way, which is not good news for supporters of radical change.
So how will it shape out? Itâ€™s hard to see a path to an Out victory. Although few are very keen on In, outright active opposition is actually quite thin â€“ essentially UKIP, the less-known half of the Tories, and a few miscellaneous others. Iâ€™m old enough to remember the last time this played out â€“ the Out side were completely drowned in Establishment influence, money and prominent names, and that was when Benn and the Left were actively Out supporters.
The main risk for In is that the voters will see it as a referendum on the Government, which is likely to be in mid-term depression in 2017, but the Tory Eurosceptics canâ€™t afford to turn the Out campaign into a â€œbash the Europhile Governmentâ€ theme, as the logic of that is to embrace UKIP. So only UKIP are going to be actively pursuing the â€œVote Out to reject both the EU and the Governmentâ€ line, and there isnâ€™t enough of UKIP to make that a winner.
Bottom line: Iâ€™d rate In as something like a 70-75% shot.
Nick Palmer was MP for Broxtowe from 1997-2010 and has been contributing to PB since 2004