A Pyrrhic Victory at Best

Over the past few days we’ve seen the implosion of the ‘Remain’ campaign. That doesn’t mean Leave will definitely win the referendum, only that if ‘Remain’ do still win the price they pay for victory will be so high that the reputations of the politicians and institutions involved will be too damaged to recover. But before we look at ‘Remain’s’ disastrous week, let’s remind ourselves of the context in which the referendum campaign is taking place.

The referendum was promised in the Conservative manifesto of 2015. It was a potent weapon in persuading wavering UKIP voters to back the Conservatives. If a potential Kipper said, ‘I’m thinking of voting UKIP’ a Eurosceptic Tory canvasser could say to them, ‘look, no one loathes the EU more than me, but I’m working my socks off here to make sure we get our referendum, to get us out of the EU.’ In my opinion it worked more often than not. Slightly less Eurosceptic canvassers could say, ‘we’re going to have a referendum, but only after a full renegotiation and treaty change which will see powers flowing back from Brussels to the UK. So, even if you lose your referendum, the ratchet of EU integration will be broken.’ Once again it was an effective tactic and it was backed up by what was in the manifesto of 2015. What happened was very different, Cameron asked for nothing and received less. The ratchet of European integration has not been broken, Cameron did not take back control of Employment Law as he promised. We are still not in control of our borders and a case can be made that the renegotiation actually weakened some of the protections we previously enjoyed. Most important of all, there is no treaty change and there is absolutely no guarantee that even the pathetic changes Cameron achieved will be accepted by the EU commission and parliament.

It is no wonder that even at the start of the campaign pro-Brexit Conservatives felt they had been betrayed. Cameron’s position always was if he didn’t achieve a viable renegotiation he would recommend vote leave. None of us honestly expected that to happen, but he didn’t even make an attempt to get a viable renegotiation, he cut and ran at the first opportunity. Even Lynton Crosby, the man who really won GE2015 for the Conservatives, told him he was wrong. Crosby recommended that if Cameron did not get a good deal in 2016 to put matters off until 2017, even if just to look as if he was trying. Cameron thought he could take the electorate and his party so much for granted he could not even be bothered to do that. A British Prime Minister, the heir to titans like Palmerston, Disraeli, Churchill and Thatcher, would have sat on Merkel’s lap purring in a red leotard to get any crumb he could, just so that he could sell to the British public that he had a renegotiation.

Now, to the last week. Things began with Cameron’s feeble effort in the Telegraph on Monday. In it he announced ‘Leaving the EU would be an act of economic and political self-harm.’ Conveniently forgetting that at PMQs on January 6th he had said, ‘My argument is not going to be in any way that Britain can’t succeed outside the EU. Of course we could we’re a great country.’ Given the speed social media works these days it’s impossible to get away with a gaffe like that. Within an hour of the Telegraph article appearing Vote Leave had a Photoshop of Cameron facing two ways, one face saying one thing, the other face pointing the opposite direction, saying the other, under the heading “Why is Cameron now doing Britain down?” It was all over Facebook and twitter in no time, and my tweet of it alone was retweeted 84 times and had over 8000 views. The rest of the article was similarly uninspiring with his most effective line being ‘stay in the EU if you want to keep cheap flights.’ Churchillian it wasn’t. However, the worst mistake the Remainians have made came on Wednesday night when they announced £9.3 million of taxpayers’ money would be spent on pro-EU propaganda. They (very unwisely) published this on Facebook and rapidly received over 2000 comments, virtually all of them hostile. And quite rightly so. It was an appalling act by a democratic government. Why it is so appalling is probably best summed up by Thomas Jefferson. ‘To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical.’ What the government is saying to me and everyone else who wants Brexit is, ‘your opinion is valueless, we know best, we will force you to pay for something you detest.’ It is an outrageous misuse of scarce public funds in a time of austerity. Unsurprisingly, the various Leave campaigns made hay again. Boris using it as a fund raising appeal and Leave EU producing a particularly good cartoon of Kim Jong Cameron.

But the worst blow came on Thursday when a sharp eyed researcher discovered that by spending £9.3 million on pro-EU propaganda the government was not following the CODE OF GOOD PRACTICE ON REFERENDA outlined by the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe. It states:

• Equality of opportunity must be guaranteed for the supporters and opponents of proposal being voted on
• Public authorities at every level must not engage in excessive one sided campaigning but show neutrality.

Spending £9m plus of taxpayers’ cash on propaganda for ‘Remain’ affects the perception of legitimacy; even Russia abides by the Venice Commission. Since then the action has also been condemned by the Electoral Commission, the body that regulates elections in the UK, who said, “We don’t think the government should have done it, but it’s not illegal” and warned that such use of public money could give ‘Remain’ an “unfair advantage”. These words are politically explosive.

Let’s place this action in the setting of a General Election. Imagine if in March 2010 two and half months before the General Election of that year, Gordon Brown had gone on TV and said ‘I’m going to spend £9.3 million of taxpayers’ money to persuade the electorate that it’s safer to vote Labour’. There would have been outrage, especially from the leader of the opposition, one David Cameron. It would have been said, rightly, that it’s the type of sharp electoral practice that happens in a banana republic. That is how arrogant David Cameron and his ‘Remainian’ acolytes have become. As a result, even if they win the Referendum the matter will not be closed. The unfair advantage given to ‘Remain’ has seen to that. Brexiteers will move on, and look for other ways to liberate this country from the dead hand of Brussels.

The issue of membership of the European Union has long been an open wound in British politics, especially in the Conservative Party. The referendum was an attempt to heal the wound once and for all. By throwing the might of the government machine behind one side at the expense of the other, and attempting to con the electorate with a fake renegotiation, not only has David Cameron destroyed the legitimacy of the referendum, he has used tactics of which Dr Goebbels would be proud. It means that instead of lancing a boil, Cameron has actually nurtured it. No Brexiteer will now accept a ‘Remain’ victory because it’s clear that ‘Remain’ has had the deck loaded in its favour. The bitterness against Cameron and his cronies is becoming palpable, his formerly loyal lieutenant Michael Gove has contemptuously described the £9 million EU letter as propaganda and, in under a week, the hard back version of Dan Hannan’s book Why Vote Leave has stormed to the top of the Amazon bestseller charts in Politics, while the Kindle Edition is at number 5. Paradoxically, if Cameron had wanted to help ‘Remain’, he would probably have been better advised to give the £9 million plus to Brexit. As the Hannan book shows, Brexit is in the country’s best interests. The only way the Conservative Party can come out of the referendum campaign relatively unscathed is for Brexit to win. For both country and party Conservatives everywhere should vote Brexit.

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