Wednesday, 28 March 2012

The enemy within

Following the Budget, Autonomous Mind asked the question: "So where are the 81 Eurosceptic Tory MPs now?" in relation to George Osborne's announcement in the Budget about the imposition of VAT on hot-take-out food. In that post he linked to one by Richard North which pointed out that the Sixth Council Directive (77/388/EEC) allowed the UK to zero-rate most foodstuffs, but the proposal in the budget would see the UK voluntarily give up this derogation, and once it has been given away we assuredly would never get it back. Commenting that that would be an act of even deeper EU integration, AM continued:
"So, we ask, where is the supposedly heroic and infamous band of ‘81 Tory MPs‘ who profess themselves to be rebellious Eurosceptics? Were they shouting Osborne down as he committed his budget to the House of Commons? Or were these tribal drones cheering and waving their order papers with the rest of their playmates as Little Gideon took his seat on the sumptious [sic] green leather bench? Let’s remind ourselves of the facts about these 81 Tories." (My link: Waving of Order Papers: 13:30:00)
To repeat the question posed by AM: where are these supposed 'euroscpetic' MPs? Only last October Ed Stourton (BBC) was stating:
"The latest intake of Tory MPs is far and away the most Eurosceptic in the Conservative Party's history."
A point repeated by Tim Montgomerie, Conservative Home, who referred to "the supercharged Conservative backbencher."

Is there not though another subject about which the latest intake of what is considered to be the most far and away eurosceptic Conservative MPs in the Party's history should be more concerned, especially the 81 to which AM refers with their call for a referendum on EU membership? I refer to one matter to which they should be concerned were a referendum to be granted yet has not, it would appear, to have entered their thoughts. Let us consider those that would be eligible to vote in any referendum; the constraints of electoral law that would be imposed on both sides of any referendum; and, more importantly, those matters which remain 'unspoken'.

From about my vote we learn:
"......Commonwealth and European Union countries. If you are a citizen of one of these countries, and resident in the UK, you are eligible to register to vote in UK elections. To qualify, Commonwealth citizens must be resident in the UK and either have leave to remain in the UK or not require such leave. The definition of a 'Commonwealth citizen' includes citizens of British Crown Dependencies and British Overseas Territories. Citizens of the European Union (who are not Commonwealth citizens or Citizens of the Republic of Ireland) can vote in European and local elections in the UK, but are not able to vote in UK Parliamentary general elections or referendums."
It may not be realised but citizens of Malta and Cyprus are eligible to be registered to vote in respect of all elections held in the UK, even though they are citizens of the European Union, as they are also members of the Commonwealth. Those voters, whilst possibly insignificantly small in the overall numbers were the result to be close, could well be decisive.

From the Electoral Commission we learn that, as with any election, there are indeed financial constraints imposed on both sides of any referendum, however there are other aspects, ones which no-one, least of all MPs or the media, appear to have taken into consideration - I refer to:
  • what may be termed eurosceptic pressure groups of which there are many.
  • "Third Sector" bodies (e.g. Climate Change campaigners, WWF, Christian Aid etc) which will no doubt campaign on the basis that EU membership guarantees environmental protection and saves polar bears etc)
  • Other EU-sponsored bodies, coupled with the possibility of EU-wide "parties" trying to influence results
  • Corruption of the electoral process through postal voting in culturally enriched areas.
  • Disproportionate funding
Consider the first item: eurosceptic pressure groups, of which there are quite a few. We currently witness one such pressure group who intend holding 'mock' referendums on an in/out question in selected constituencies, the first of which is in Thurrock -  planning to roll this out country wide - a campaign for which, at the time of writing, 103,717 have 'signed up for'. Yet there is no 'plan' for what would follow, were their overall campaign to be successful and which subsequently forced the government to grant a nationwide referendum. There are other pressure groups, who need not be named as they are 'well-known', who produce masses of literature and statements on their websites, yet seem 'actionless' - they 'talk' a lot, yet appear to do nothing. If these various pressure groups meant what they say, would not logic dictate that they combine their message and their efforts? The 1975 referendum showed that the 'No' campaign was for ever playing 'catch-up' to their opponents; in other words the 'Yes' campaign dictated the 'rules' under which that campaign was conducted. At the next referendum on EU membership those roles have to - and must - be reversed, yet the performance so far of the various euroscepticMPs are but faux eurosceptics so the cynic in me considers that the existing pressure groups are no more than what may be termed a 'controlled opposition' to EU membership - or likewise, 'faux-eurosceptics'. If they are not, then where are the provisional plans for opposition come any referendum? It is well known that public opinion can force a change of policy within government, so where is the campaign that will stir public opinion to force such a change?

What constraints are there imposed on "Third Sector" or other EU bodies regarding input into any referendum? What can be done to negate any possibility of corruption which has been shown to be endemic with the postal voting system, especially among ethnic voters?

When considering permitted expenditure for political parties during a referendum there is no level playing field within Electoral Commission rules. Note the fact that the level of expenditure for political parties is based on the proportion of the electorate who voted for the party at the previous UK Parliamentary general election. Immediately it can be seen that the one party who will be campaigning for a 'No' vote - and who took second place in the last EU elections - will be severely handicapped where the level of expenditure is concerned. Why should one party be allowed a larger expenditure than any other? Surely, if fairness is a prerequisite of any contest, all registered political parties should receive the same cap on the level of expenditure?

Are not those pressure groups that will be campaigning against EU membership but part of a 'controlled opposition' and thereby qualify to be classified as Judas Goats? Are not those of us opposed to EU membership right to question the veracity of our electoral system? Are not those of us opposed to EU membership right to question the integrity of our political elite?

The fact that the 'No' side are already on the back foot before the battle has even commenced, does not auger well. But then, as in any dictatorship, those at the head of that dictatorship will always ensure that any question put to the people elicits the required response.

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