Cameron as ChurchillAre you bored yet? I was certainly heading that way last week, when I switched on ‘Newsnight’ and was confronted by the EU as the lead story every single evening. The EU, the EU, the bloody EU. Apparently, nothing else was going on in the world – or perhaps it was a means of arresting dwindling viewing figures for the programme by specialising on one subject five nights running as a canny gimmick. After a week in which David Cameron has done his best Jim Hacker, dashing from one European bigwig to another and emerging before the cameras declaring he’s won a groundbreaking deal for Britain that nobody but him seems to understand, the PM has finally announced the long-overdue date of D-Day, the date when the Great British public have their first opportunity to decide on their European fate since 1975.

Funnily enough, I was bored with it then as well. Okay, I was only seven at the time and I had no interest in the EEC Referendum; I wasn’t Jacob Rees-Mogg. There’d already been two General Elections in the previous 16 months, and I probably thought it was another one of those going on. As long as it came free with a day off school again, that was fine by me. Forty-one years later, I’m not at school anymore (be pretty weird if I was), but my interest in the issue is ironically coloured by similar symptoms to those that characterised my reaction in 1975 – a basic absence of understanding as to the facts. We seem to be awash in a sea of misinformation generated by the two opposing viewpoints, so vehemently opposed that they are attempting to outdo each other in bombarding us with scaremongering.

If we leave the EU, our economy will suffer, companies investing in our workforce will withdraw and the unemployment figures will soar; if we remain in the EU, we will be in a stronger position than ever thanks to Dave’s negotiations and will be in charge of our own destiny as well as benefitting from greater cooperation with our European partners.

If we leave the EU, we will be free to trade with America and the Commonwealth, as well as trading with European nations, without any potential profits being limited by ridiculous directives from bloody Brussels; if we remain in the EU, our elected representatives will continue to have their hands tied by rules and regulations none of us signed up to, hampering the chance of further economic recovery and flooding the country with more immigrants.

There’s already a distinct whiff of testosterone wafting from the respective podiums, less than 24 hours after Cameron fired the opening salvo of the four-month marathon. Farage and Galloway are flexing their muscles, fresh from their one-trick pony gyms and sharing some onstage man-love. The UKIP leader has been waiting for this moment all of his political life; it’s his sole raison d’être; it’s the reason he does what he does – whatever it is the leader of a political party without a seat in Parliament actually does do. This is his one opportunity to grab Olympic Gold. As the manager of a League One team playing a Premier League giant in the FA Cup Quarter Finals would say, this is Farage’s cup final. If he blows it, he’s history. Side-by-side with Gorgeous George, Farage is now in tandem with a man he has more in common with than their ideological differences suggest. Both are classic mavericks and appeal to those sick of the slick Westminster Mafia, both are loved and loathed in equal measure; the fact that this issue has united them has echoes of 1975, when the then-‘out’ campaign contained the likes of both Tony Benn and Enoch Powell.

Also reminiscent of 1975 is that Cameron has decided to follow in Harold Wilson’s footsteps by dispensing with collective responsibility within the Cabinet. Everyone is waiting to hear which way Boris will go, whereas Iain Duncan Smith and Chris Grayling were quick to nail their colours to the ‘out’ mast. Less predictably, Michael Gove has thrown his lot in with the rebels as well. Which Brexit group he’ll ally himself with is less simple, as the ‘out’ campaign appears a tad disorganised at the moment, with more than one group jostling for official recognition as the genuine article – a bit like the IRA, the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA, sort of. The ‘in’ group appear more choreographed, but the prospect of Cameron and Corbyn both advocating essentially the same message is a strange one. Peter Mandelson allying himself with George Osborne makes it easy for critics to label the Dark Lord a closet Tory again, but Jeremy Corbyn?

I think this referendum is going to be a hard sell to the British public, which is probably why the PM has announced the date four months in advance, further in advance than he would with a General Election. He’s got a job on his hands to convince every ‘don’t know’ that this is something that matters to them as much as it matters to him – though his reasons are heavily influenced by the need to ensure his ‘legacy’; after all, he narrowly avoided becoming the Prime Minister who presided over the breakup of the United Kingdom when the Scottish Independence Referendum result came through. He could do with what he regards as another tick against his name. Yes, there are those out there for whom the mere mention of Europe induces the kind of frothing-at-the-mouth, manic mortification most imagine only exists in Daily Mail editorials; but the majority of people in this country have far more pressing concerns, ones that four months of relentless exchanges of fire between the two interested parties across the media won’t make seem any less pressing.

Get ready. We’re in for a long ride. When’s the new series of ‘Poldark’ start, by the way?

© The Editor


  1. As one of those now over 58 who were qualified to vote in the ’75 Referendum, we’ve been here before – the ‘establishment’ stacks up on the ‘In’ side, the mavericks cluster on the ‘Out’ – it worked for the old schemer Harold Wilson, so why not now ?
    Well, the world has changed, there is a febrile mood around, deference and trust in ‘our leaders and betters’ has vanished, we’re all voting for the Trumps, Sanders, Le Pens, Farages, Sturgeons, Galloways and Corbyns, perhaps largely to give the ‘boring bosses’ a bloody nose. So why should this referendum be any different ?
    At least I’m consistent – I was an ‘Outer’ in ’75 and I’m even more an ‘Outer’ in ’16, resisting the temptation to say ‘I told you so’, as all the predicted negatives have come to pass. What’s interesting amongst my now-elderly peer-group is that almost all who were ‘Inners’ back in ’75 have now converted to ‘Outers’, but no ‘Outers’ have recanted – that needs to be offset by the volumes of younger voters under 40 who have suffered decades of subtle brainwashing from schools and the media that everything EU is wonderful. But young folk don’t vote.
    It’s going to be fascinating – and don’t discount George Galloway, as some naive ‘Outers’ unwisely seem to do: he’s one of the best vote-harvesters in the business and could bring millions of ethnic crosses to the ‘Leave’ box (via their creative Postal Vote forms which are kindly completed on their behalf, obviously) – time to hold the nose and think about the objective, not the smell.
    There is a strong view that a ‘Leave’ majority on June 23rd will immediately trigger plans for two further referendums – another EU vote within 12 months after the ‘real’ renegotiation happens, when Brussels has got serious and counted up the total cost of losing the British contribution (both financial and status), a poll which will be timed to head off the second Scottish Independence vote because, if we’re still heading out the EU door by then, the Jocks will be desperate to get back in it. And therein lies the big problem for Brussels – they desperately want to keep the easy loot from England but they desperately don’t want to collect the perpetual resource-drain that is Scotland without the massive English contributions to balance it, so they’ll have even more incentive to give whatever concessions are necessary to keep the whole UK in.
    So vote ‘Leave’ and watch this space – it’s going to be some dirty fun in the next few months as the deep-down filthy business of politics gets into gear. Beats ‘The X Factor’ any day.


  2. Great to see Mudplugger still on fine form. I am instinctively and “outer”. I heard 5 minutes of Norman Tebbit on the radio 4 news last night. Whatever one thinks of his politics, he and the team around Thatcher in the early days were political heavy weights, astute and smart, pulling no punches, unlike the soft, greedy, pasty faced team of Eton educated cabal headed by Cameron. In 2 minutes, he explained it. He had been pro Europe, or membership of Europe, he said, until he became a minister and had to deal with the institution. The prevailing political attitudes he found distasteful and worrying. He summed it up succinctly. In Europe the rule of law means that the people are ruled by the law, not governments. And the mindset is that if something is not expressly permitted by the law, it is not permitted. In both these respects the British political tradition is exactly the opposite. As a historian, I completely agree. In my view, concepts of the rule of law and control of governments by the courts are extremely weak in Europe as whole. The concept of “the State” is not: see under this head, for example Louis XIV. The ever readable and heavyweight Professor Niall Furgison argues in the Sunday Times today that Britain should stay in, because we will only have to come back to fix the bloody thing when it falls apart: see 1914, 1939, and indeed most of the 19th Century whilst we are at it. I would not discount the views of someone so learned and who, if I may say so, also displays distinct signs of common sense. But it was Dr Furguson who warned just a few weeks ago – rightly in my view – that Europe was in danger of complete social collapse stemming from mass migration. he drew parallels with the collapse of Rome which were valid – and that was very, very messy. The Romans did not enjoy that one bit. My vote will be…..out.


Comments are closed.