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There’s more to Cameron’s bringing forward the EU referendum than meets the eye

Juncker & Cameron with EU flagCameron’s reasoning for his sudden decision to bring forward the date of the Brexit referendum on Europe from 2017 to 2016 is unconvincing. He said it was to avoid an embarrassing clash with French presidential elections and German federal elections that take place in 2017. But like so many of Cameron’s explanations, it’s worth unpicking as to what really lies behind it. After all, the date of the French and German elections were perfectly well known when he himself chose the date 2017. It is easy to see that other considerations are more likely to have prompted his sudden change of heart.

One is that 2 years into this new Tory government Cameron’s party will be suffering a collapse of popularity, and electors notoriously when given a chance to vote kick at the incumbent government whatever the issue for the vote. That unpopularity could well flow from several sources. The latest growth figures show that Osborne’s recovery has not only lost momentum, but deflated like a balloon. Growth in the UK economy was 2.8% in the year 2014-5, but fell sharply from 0.9% in the third quarter of 2014 to 0.6% in the fourth and now to just 0.3% in the first quarter of this year. Nor is this a freak one-off finding that will be later revised upwards: the purchasing managers’ index, a measure of industrial confidence, also fell sharply last month from 54 to below 52, a 7-month low. That could dissipate Osborne’s economic recovery as fast as the disappearing Cheshire cat.

Other economic problems will bubble up quickly too. How are the promised further £12bn welfare cuts to be delivered since they must involve still more than the cutbacks already known in tax credits, child benefit, disability benefits, industrial injury benefits, and carers’ allowances (for which people have already paid via NICs), and will these huge cuts be taken lying down? I think not. Then there’s the £20bn+ in unfunded commitments that Cameron-Osborne made for the NHS, inheritance tax cuts, higher income tax rate cuts, and housing association right-to-buy handouts: what other cuts will be made to pay for them, and what will the political consequences be?

Then, perhaps most seriously of all, there are the Tory party internal convulsions which will be unleashed by the EU referendum. Cameron never wanted one in the first place, but was bullied into it by his revenchist Tory Right. Europe tore apart the Tory party under Major, and the Tory Right is now much stronger. One should not inquire into private grief, but the chances of another Tory conflagration are now quite high, especially since on this issue business and finance are at loggerheads with the Tory Right.

Pulling forward the referendum has nothing to do with the French or German elections, but it does have a lot to do with minimizing intense anticipated resistance which could badly destabilize the government on any or all of at least three fronts. The Tories never recovered from Black Wednesday in 1992: will the post-Maastricht EU blow-up finally do the same for them in 2015-6?


  1. swatantra says:

    Bring it on, the sooner the better and lets give the Skeptiks the thrashing they deserve for wasting our time and money.

    1. John P Reid says:

      Thought Cameron was going to re negotiate the terms of our membership. ECHR, going back to the House of Lords, immigration borders?

      If not ,he’d campaign to leave

    2. Ric Eutenneuer says:

      I wish I could share your optimism, Swatantra, as it stands we (the Europhiles) will lose heavily. John Reid says as much in his post. If he doesn’t get his way (and my guess it will be an opt out for the free movement of labour which will be top of his list) he will campaign for withdrawal, bask in the glory of ‘victory’ retire, hand the reins of power to Boris who will romp home in 2020.

  2. David Pavett says:

    It is fair enough to point out the difficulties the Tories are likely to get into prior to the EU referendum. One could go further and consider the internal warfare in the Tory that will break out if, as is entirely possible, a deal is made with the EU, however fudged, that enables Cameron to say that he has got what he wanted. Then the Tory Party could tear itself apart again over the issue.

    But how about Labour in the meantime? Is everything clarity and light within the Labour camp? We all know that divisions exist within Labour over the EU. Now suppose, for example that Cameron gets some sort of deal over free movement, again however fudged. Where does Labour in general, and the Labour left stand on that issue? Answer, all over the place.

    It is fine to point out Tory problems on this issue but it would also be useful, even though more difficult, to look to Labour’s problems on the same question.

    1. Ric Euteneuer says:

      There’s only perhaps 3 anti-EU Labour MPs in a cohort of 232 – just over 1%. Not something that would keep me awake at night. Whilst Europe does occasionally convulse the economic/Little England right, I think there is a lot of passive anti-EU feeling on the Tory back benches that would swing behind an exit strategy if this presented itself as the “winning” option. The Labour Left (outside of Trotskyist and Stalinist groupscules) has a critical but not hostile attitude towards Europe, and sees it as an engine for change. I’d be happy to be corrected by a (non-Trotskyist and Stalinist groupscule member) contrary viewpoint.

      1. Robert says:

        If we get a vote we will see.

      2. John P Reid says:

        Excluding the 17 or so of Cryer, Corbyn, Mcdonnell, Skinner, there’s new ones, what’s Kate Osamors view, plus there’s also labour lords Denis Healey etc

        1. Ric Euteneuer says:

          Not all of those you list are Eurosceptics – there’s a massive difference between people being critical of the EU and advocating EU withdrawal.

          1. John P Reid says:

            Sorry can you name them

  3. David Ellis says:

    Can you imagine the chaos of an out vote? Can’t wait but Michael is right they have bought it forward in the hope of avoiding such an outcome.

    As for socialists, we cannot possibly vote positively for the EU as currently constituted and the neo-liberal principles on which it is based and which are in any case tearing it apart. We cannot even abstain on the matter without thoroughly discrediting ourselves in front of the class we hope to influence. We must vote OUT. At the same time we must explain that we are not in principle opposed to an EU, in fact we are in principle in favour but that we want one based on socialist principles. That will differentiate us from the Little Englanders of UKIP and the Tory right and the Stalinist left organised around NO2EU.

    Vote Out – For a Socialst EU.

    1. Robert says:

      Well I cannot for the life of me see the EU deciding to accept a socialist left mind you define a socialist for me these days.

      With cuts across the EU to the already poor sick disabled and the people who are being told you cannot have a wage rise while directors are raking it in as are MP with wage rises MEP’s, and AM’s in Wales getting £10,000 while people like me with a disability and sickness caused the banking crises ever before it occurred.

      Wales would be in a hell of a mess if we pulled out of the EU, but we are in a hell of a mess in it because of the cuts from London.

      So for me devolution is the answer, we should stay in the Union but not have to pay the £45 billion we now pay to London and then get £13 billion back with close to a billion in cuts.

      But what happens if Cameron cannot get change in the EU, we will then vote to go along with the EU as it is, so then I would vote out.

      1. David Ellis says:

        If Cameron can get his changes that would be even more reason to vote OUT surely?

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