No matter how much Tory MPs and conservative pundits wish Adam Afriyie’s call for a 2014 EU referendum would vanish into the mist, the MP for Windsor is quietly persevering.
Paul Goodman’s perspective for Conservative Home on October 10 typifies the sclerotic and disingenuous approach of the Tories:
The Euro-sceptic cause in the Commons has its grand older men – Bill Cash and David Davis and Bernard Jenkin and John Redwood, for example – as well as its thrusting young Turks. But none of any generation seem to have rallied to Afriyie’s standard – yet, anyway. As matters stand, he is more or less out on his own over a 2014 plebiscite. Which may explain why he is discreetly signalling a possible retreat.
Wishful thinking on Mr Goodman’s part.
Goodman’s argument, as is the case for Afriyie’s other detractors, is all about the party.
On October 11, Tory MP Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) wrote an article for Conservative Home making the case for Afriyie’s amendment abundantly clear:
In 1983, when fighting my first Parliamentary election campaign, I saw what happens when a major party alienates a section of its own core vote. Michael Foot’s Labour Party spawned the SDP which ensured that an anticipated comfortable Conservative victory became instead Margaret Thatcher’s greatest landslide.
… The Electoral Calculus website has long suggested that that the “UKIP effect” will be to deprive us of enough constituencies to put Labour in Downing Street with a substantial majority.
Lord Ashcroft’s recent polling in our 40 most marginal seats only underlines this: far from gaining the extra ones we need for an overall Conservative win, we are on course to lose many of the marginals we currently hold, where Labour is in second place …
This [Wharton’s] Bill is, in reality, no more than a statement of intent. It will not prevent the loss of so many core votes to UKIP, which means that we can virtually abandon hope of an overall majority. And, if we are not in a majority, the referendum will not be held “before 31 December 2017” (as Clause 1(2) lays down) – nor, indeed, at any time in the next Parliament …
Yet, supposing the Bill did pass into law, as amended [Afriyie’s amendment], and a referendum took place in the lifetime of this Parliament? That would mean that the issue of our EU membership would have been settled for a generation. UKIP would have lost its raison d’etre. And, whatever the result of that referendum, our alienated core voters would have every incentive to return to the Conservative fold – maximising the prospect of the overall Conservative majority which David Cameron tells us so often that he wishes to achieve.
Of course, some Euro-sceptics fear an early referendum because they think it might yield the “wrong” result. That’s democracy, comrades: trust the people!
with fewer than one in three saying it should take place afterwards.
A total of 54 per cent agree with Mr Afriyie that Mr Cameron will not fulfil his 2017 pledge – against one in three who say he will.
There is even bigger support for Mr Afriyie’s bid to force a Commons vote when the No 10- backed Referendum Bill – sponsored by Tory loyalist James Wharton – is debated next month on November 8 …
Mr Afriyie said last night: ‘This poll confirms what I hear in my constituency and on doorsteps around the country and what the Conservative party knows: the people want a referendum on Europe before the Election. I am trying to give them that chance.’
Furthermore, 61% want a vote on Afriyie’s amendment to go ahead.
The Mail has a helpful breakdown of the survey results, and Mike Smithson at PoliticalBetting.com has two other relevant graphs. UKIP voting intentions occupy a significant middle between the Tories and the Lib Dems.
On Friday, October 18, Telegraph blogger Matthew Holehouse noted that Afriyie is ‘unbowed’. Holehouse helpfully published Afriyie’s response to the 140 Conservative MPs calling for him to drop his amendment. Afriyie also mentioned the Mail / Survation survey.
Thank you for your letter about the Referendum Bill. As you know, my amendment proposes we hold an EU referendum on 23 October 2014. While the arguments against an early referendum are well known, the arguments in favour are less so. I firmly believe the British people should have a say sooner rather than later and having a referendum within this parliament is the only way to guarantee that it actually happens …
Under the current circumstances, should the Parliament Act need to be invoked to pass the Wharton Bill, the earliest it could possibly become law is in 2015 which would not allow enough time to organise a referendum before the general election in May 2015. It would be unfair to effectively rule out a sensible campaign and give people just a few weeks to think their vote through in the midst of a general election campaign.
Clearly we all recognise the concern that other parties may use my amendment, or any other amendments that will inevitably be tabled, to ‘talk out’ the Bill, as often happens on Fridays. I am especially sensitive to this concern and will act accordingly.
I steadfastly support James Wharton’s Bill but believe it is the second best option because it leaves open the real possibility that this important referendum will never take place, denying the British people a say on EU membership once again.
I am thankful for calm and considered discussions with colleagues over the past week and I look forward to many more before 8th November.
Best regards …
‘Calm and considered’. More on this theme in my next post.