Why A 2015 EU Referendum Cannot Happen (Update).

Following on from our previous post regarding the impossibility of a 2015 referendum, we contacted the Electoral Commission to try to clarify a number of further potential technical issues.

While, like most quangos, the Electoral Commission displayed a deep reluctance to commit themselves to answering certain questions posed, their first response confirmed our initial points that, contrary to Farage’s assertion, a referendum cannot happen in a few weeks (quoted from the Electoral Commission’s email):

Currently, we cannot say how the designation process will work at any future referendum until Parliament passes the legislation setting out the rules for that referendum. 

Our role is to regulate the referendum and designate campaigners under the rules for each referendum. The rules that applied at previous referendums required the Commission to designate campaigners that sufficiently represented those campaigning for the outcome they support, or, if more than one, represented those campaigning to the greatest extent.

This reiterates precisely our point that it means campaigning groups can’t begin to officially campaign until they submit bids for the official “in” and “out” campaign and have been approved. With Scotland a campaign period of 16 weeks was the recommendation.

However the approval process is likely to take six months as also recommended by the Electoral Commission. This six month process cannot happen until after the referendum bill becomes law which in itself at best will take months.

Thus with the Electoral Commission’s recommendations which considered the experience with Scotland (for recommendations, read demands) it becomes clear that a 2015 referendum is simply out of the question.


If You Want To Be Strictly Accurate…

An interesting phenomenon which becomes apparent when being an established blogger is the nature of the readership – it never fails to amaze who actually reads the bog. Despite being dismissed as “electronic version of pub gossip”, bloggers can sometimes make a real difference.

With this in mind it’s interesting that for the first time this blog has had readership from the European Parliament. Since my previous post was published yesterday on why a 2015 EU referendum cannot happen the hit rate from the EU Parliament has been very significant.

It’s hard to pin down influence of course, but sometimes media reports which belatedly begin to write about very familiar themes in similar language can be difficult to explain away as mere coincidences.

An example would be in a piece in today’s Telegraph; 11 things we’ve learned about Jeremy Clarkson. The piece relates to Top Gear’s Stig delivering a petition to the BBC’s London headquarters to call for the return of the show’s host, Jeremy Clarkson, while being transported on this – pictured below:

The vehicle is virtually identical to the one which was used during a protest outside the UKIP Spring Conference in Margate back in February:

It was universally described as a tank, however as EUReferendum noted:

If one wonders just how naff the Daily Mail can become, one just needs to visit the headline of their piece on the Ukip spring conference in Margate. There, we are told, the Ukipites were “gatecrashed” by “NAZI dancing troupe goose-stepping through Margate in front of a Second World War tank”.

Notwithstanding any other errors, the vehicle in question is not a tank – it is an Abbot FV433 self-propelled gun. And it is not of World War II vintage. It was actually introduced into British Army service in 1965. I remember it well as, about that time, I was nearly flattened by one when it came hurtling down a track on which we had pitched our tent (don’t ask).

Therefore and rather interestingly half way down Telegraph piece today, we have this by the author of the piece Anita Singh, Arts and Entertainment Editor:

A man dressed as Top Gear’s Stig has delivered the petition to the BBC’s London headquarters in a tank (or self-propelled artillery, if you want to be strictly accurate).

This provokes two interesting observations. One that given the media as a whole have described it as tank, that Anita Singh acknowledges accurately it might be something else such as self-propelled artillery – of where there is only one source to report this – suggests strongly blogs are read.

The second is the dismissive tone of describing self-propelled artillery as “if you want to be strictly accurate”. These are two completely different types of military vehicle.

To give an analogy, in the spirit of Clarkson and Top Gear, we could say that the car pictured below is obviously a Mercedes-AMG GT which has 4.0-litre V8 biturbo and produces 462hp. This allows it to achieve 0-60 mph in as little as 3.8 seconds.

But of course “if you want to be strictly accurate” we would note the picture is actually one of an Enzo Ferrari.

What a good example that is of a newspaper publicly acknowledging that “being strictly accurate” is an optional extra.

Why A 2015 EU Referendum Cannot Happen.

As noted in the Independent last Sunday, Nigel Farage has indicated that he will support a minority Conservative Government if Prime Minster David Cameron promises a referendum in 2015:

“The terms of my deal with the Tories would be very precise and simple. I want a full and fair referendum to be held in 2015 to allow Britons to vote on being in or out of the European Union. There would be no wiggle room for ‘renegotiation’ somewhere down the line’.

“The EU is facing an existential crisis and, given that it only takes a few weeks to launch and organise a referendum, it should be held in 2015.”

Although we would largely agree with the sentiments of a “full and fair” referendum, we would take issue with the “very precise and simple” demand that a referendum should be held in 2015 and “given that it only takes a few weeks to launch.” For the very precise and simple reason that it can’t be done. Farage is offering impossible terms on the practicality of timescale.

To support Farage’s demands comparisons are sometimes made with the 1975 referendum where it is claimed that it is possible to have a referendum in a few weeks, the timeline often quoted is as follows:

December 1974: Harold Wilson requests renegotiation of EEC membership terms.

European Council agreed to new terms for UK in Dublin by 11 March 1975 and renegotiation largely ended.

26 February 1975: White Paper announcing referendum to be held after result of renegotiation was known

26 March 1975: Referendum Bill published.

31 March 1975: White Paper setting out the results of the renegotiation of the UK membership of the EC.

9 April 1975: after a three-day debate on the Government’s recommendation to continue Britain’s EC membership, the Commons voted 396 to 170 to continue in Common Market on the new terms. At the same time Government drafts Referendum Bill, to be moved in case of a successful renegotiation.

On 22 April 1975 the House of Lords approved continued membership by 261 votes to 20.

Post-legislative referendum held 5 June 1975. Referendum not directly related to White Paper on renegotiation, but preamble referred to renegotiation. Question much broader: “Do you think the UK should stay in the European Community (Common Market)?” The result was 67 per cent in favour on a 65 per cent turnout.

As we can see in 1975 the passage through Parliament to holding a referendum took circa 10 weeks (26 March – 5 June) from publishing the Bill to holding the Referendum. The 1975 Referendum book though notes (p.66):

“But the real reason for the unexpectedly easy passage of the Bill was political: pro-Marketeers were in an overwhelming majority in the House of Commons and they had belatedly realised that the referendum would go their way.”

Even with an easy passage it still took two and half months to have a referendum. The election in 2015 is in May, then there’s a summer recess so we can expect it to take longer. Especially when we consider that due to the complexity of an EU that has significantly evolved in over 40 years of UK membership and the less certainty of a referendum result, that its passage through Parliament will be more turbulent and difficult.
We have noted before regarding trying to win a referendum, 1975 is not 2015. The country has moved on in forty years. Procedures are now different, for example in 1975 the campaign started in January 1975 long before the Referendum Bill had been passed – with self-appointed “umbrella” groups.

However unlike 1975 referendums are now the responsibility of the Electoral Commission, which was established under Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. Thus on that alone the timescale in comparison to 1975 has changed.

With the establishment of the Electoral Commission it means that campaigning groups can’t begin to officially campaign until they submit bids for the official “in” and “out” campaign and have been approved. This process cannot happen until after the referendum bill becomes law.

There has to be a reasonable period to allow the Electoral Commission to invite submissions and make the designation, and then the lead organisations must be given time to organise themselves.

As we can see from the Electoral Commission December 2014 report on the Scottish Independence Referendum held on 18 September 2014, it recommends (my emphasis):

… that in planning for any future referendums, not only in Scotland but also those held across or in other parts of the UK, governments should aim to ensure that legislation (including any secondary legislation) is clear at least six months before it is required to be implemented or complied with by campaigners, the Chief Counting Officer, Counting Officers or Electoral Registration Officers.

Thus “a reasonable period” according the Electoral Commission amounts to six months, as it argues to allow for (again my emphasis):

The benefit of this additional time was passed on to campaigners, EROs and COs in preparing for their respective roles at the referendum:

Campaigners were able to engage constructively with the legislative process and had time to develop an understanding of the relevant guidance and rules, before they came into force. EROs and COs benefitted from sufficient time to put robust plans in place for the delivery of their responsibilities under the legislation, from targeted public awareness activity to the booking of polling places and the training of staff.

In addition the Electoral Commission also recommends (again my emphasis):

2.39 Following the 2011 referendum on additional powers for the National Assembly for Wales and the Parliamentary Voting System for the House of Commons, we recommended that for future referendums the detailed rules should be clear at least 28 weeks in advance of polling day, based on a statutory regulated referendum campaign period of 16 weeks.

Although the Electoral Commission cannot demand, where it recommends will be taken into account should there be a challenge to the Bill and it goes to a Judicial Review as undoubtedly it would should there be any form of corner cutting or fast-tracking.

Yet even with a relatively smooth process by the Electoral Commission’s recommendations there would be a ten month delay between an Act of Parliament and a vote: that obviously takes us well into 2016.

In addition Farage thinks he can determine the referendum question:

 “Do you wish to be a free, independent sovereign democracy?”

Despite the fact that the Electoral Commission has already put forward its proposals for the referendum questionits full report is here, Farage’s suggestion wouldn’t even pass the unambiguity test let alone the neutral one.

At this point I don’t know what to conclude. Either Farage is very poorly briefed which is a reflection on a lack of a decent research department despite having (now) 22 very well paid MEPs or he knows this and is deliberately demanding conditions that Cameron (or indeed anyone else) cannot possibly meet.

The latter of course allows UKIP to put forward the criticism that Cameron cannot be trusted which conveniently helps prop up Farage’s position. If one is to be cynical there’s nothing better than having a perpetual enemy to oppose to justify your own existence, especially in the absence of any party polices.

Either way the eurosceptic movement is being very poorly served by UKIP.

Captain Ranty

Going by twitter it appears that the blogger Captain Ranty has sadly passed away. Captain Ranty was a vigorous and very honest blogger and his blogging popularity was vividly highlighted to this blogger by the fact he was simply one of the biggest traffic sources to this blog via his blogroll. The hit rate was staggering.

Captain Ranty’s philosophy and belligerence of “Freeman stuff, Lawful Rebellion stuff and Random stuff was always an inspiration. However it’s been clear for some time that his recent posts have expressed a deep personal sadness. Perhaps in this context he’s done something silly. I don’t know.

Although I never had the pleasure in meeting him, he will be much missed in this corner of the internet. But we’ll carry on the fight in his name.

Goodnight Captain…

Why The Pro-EU Telegraph Uses The Term ‘Norway Model’

A recent Telegraph editorial, which is an unashamedly pro-EU paper, not unsurprisingly includes information from the recently outed pro-EU think tank Open Europe:

At first blush, then, today’s report by the think tank Open Europe on the costs of EU regulations to Britain should push the prime minister to head for the exit. The burden of the costliest 100 regulations to our economy is £33 billion, it says. And while the apparent benefits total more than £58 billion, some £46 billion of this derives from three items “which are vastly over-stated”. Financially, it seems, we are losing out.

By reducing the argument down to cost and economics means that it becomes divisive for the eurosceptic movement to its detriment as Richard North notes:

The trouble is that EU regulation, and how much money we may or may not save from leaving the EU, constitute the type of “biff-bam” arguments that the media love to report. But the two sides getting bogged down in such arcane details is precisely the wholesale turn-off for the general public that we need to avoid. If we are going to make any progress, the economic issues should be neutralised and “parked”, not endlessly chewed over by a bunch of hyperactive think-tank wonks and ill-briefed politicians.

What we are seeing, therefore, is incompetent campaigning from both sides – although the need to overcome the status quo effect imposes greater demands on the “out” campaign. Equal incompetence means we lose. Either way, though, the anti-EU movement is being poorly served. And if we can’t even trash the OE nonsense, we deserve everything we get.

Similarly arguing that the EU can be reformed has the same effect when trying to win a referendum. No wonder the pro-EU Telegraph is so enthusiastic in adopting such tactics.

Interestingly, and far more dangerously, Business for Britain whose Chief Executive is Mathew Elliot who is very keen to be the official out candidate for a referendum uses precisely the same arguments and terminology as pro-EU Open Europe and the Telegraph. Business for Britain’s daily email briefings are virtually identical to Open Europe’s.

No doubt Tory central office will be over the moon if Elliot would be the official candidate for the out campaign in a referendum.

Any genuine euroscepetic knows that the EU hides in plain sight that its raison d’etre is all about political union and has been from the outset. To ignore that as a eurosecptic movement could be described as dishonest. Thus by neutralising the economic arguments it allows us to concentrate on the fundamental principle that the EU is all about political union by its own admission.

Neutralising the economic arguments involves invoking the Norway Option, and more specifically Flexcit, by adopting the off the shelf EEA solution as a temporary measure allows us to negate the inevitable FUD threat in a referendum.

And it is a threat that the pro-EU press such as the Guardian and City AM fully recognise. If they didn’t they wouldn’t spend so much time in trying to undermine the argument.

With this mind, it is interesting that the Telegraph uses the phrase “Norway model” rather than the usual term “Norway Option”;

The so-called “Norway” model – leave the EU but remain part of the European Economic Area.

A quick internet search suggests why; a search for the term ‘Norway Model’ is likely to result in links to copious pretty Norwegian women:

Conversely a search for the ‘Norway Option’ results in this and this:

This is cynicism by the Telegraph of the highest order, and this is an example of the dirty tricks we face. The eurosceptic movement as a whole needs to wise up…otherwise we will lose.

What Happened To British WW2 POW Camps?

As part of my history degree, which I completed some 20 years ago, I was tasked to write a 20,000 word dissertation during my final year on a subject of my choice.

I chose what was then a relatively little-studied subject of UK prisoner of war camps during the second World War. At the time the 50-year rule had just lapsed so many a happy hour was spent in Kew’s National Archives studying and documenting WW2 official top secret documents which had just been released.

Although the history of the British in German POW camps is more familiar to us, not least through popular films such as The Great Escape and The Wooden Horse, less well known is the fate of the Germans and Italians, their treatment and the escape attempts in camps based in the UK.

Indeed the subject was so bereft at the time of books on the subject that much of my dissertation had to be derived from primary sources such as; official documents, site visits such as to Easton Grey Camp based at Malmesbury, Wiltshire and personal interviews across England, Jersey and France.

With this in mind I thought I would mention this piece on the BBC website which has an interesting, albeit rather brief article, on this very subject.

Shameless And Cynical?

The fine line between which areas are appropriate or not with which to criticise a politician is sometimes difficult to ascertain. For example are the family members of politicians off limits to criticism? It could be considered that politician family’s privacy should largely be respected. Michael Portillo put this point rather forcefully earlier this week to Daily Mail columnist Sarah Vine over her vindictive criticism of Ed “two kitchens” Miliband.

But in contrast what happens when said “happy family” is used as electioneering material such as by Cecil Parkinson and Chris Huhne only then for us to later find out what a sham it all was? Does criticism then become justified?

Very obviously the bereavements suffered by both Gordon Brown and David Cameron over the loss of a child should be completely off limits. Yet while both men would understandably at times wish to be open about such a loss, there is always the difficulty of determining if such openness is being done for political reasons.

And this brings me onto Farage. I always remember that leading up to the 2010 election, Farage gave an interview to Camilla Long of the Sunday Times. What stuck in my mind was not that clearly the article in question had an agenda to undermine Farage but that it did so by openingly mocking the fact that he reportedly had testicular cancer in his youth.

In terms of the depths that the media can sometimes plummet to we can compare this to the media treatment of the great Victorian statesman, Gladstone. He was at times vitriolically disliked – Queen Victoria famously commented that “[Gladstone] speaks to me as if I were a public meeting”. Yet despite the remorseless abuse from such satirical publications as Punch rarely, if ever, was Gladstone’s disability mocked – that he lost fingers on one hand due to a shooting accident.

Interestingly where Farage is concerned we move on five years from 2010, where we see today in the Telegraph it has extracts from Farage’s new book, where very ‘candidly’ he talks about his health:

Mr Farage, now 50, says the plane crash, combined with the effects of another car accident in his twenties, “has left me with a body 20 years older”.

It’s worth noting that the car accident in question was the consequence of being too drunk and walking out in front of a moving vehicle. However:

The National Health Service “almost killed me”, Nigel Farage says today as he reveals that his body is now so frail that he could be registered disabled.

It is indeed curious that while UKIP still haven’t publicly put forward any coherent polices in the lead up to a general election, despite a promise to have a manifesto published by their Spring Conference in Margate, Farage has managed to have another ‘leader’s book’ published – essentially an updated version of ‘Fighting Bull’. Maybe it’s a coincidence but it conveniently ensures that the spotlight is largely on him running up to an election.

So we have to consider that with ‘timing’ being everything in politics whether the release of his new book, titled ‘Purple Revolution’ is candid or simply just shameless and cynical. A line seems to have been crossed over whether Farage and his health difficulties are now being exploited as an attempt at electoral gain. The title alone suggests an attempt to own the rise of UKIP and the eurosceptic movement.

It’s also interesting that Farage has agreed to have the book be serialised for money in the Telegraph – a paper which is usually hostile to UKIP and nominally a Conservative supporting paper.

With this in mind it is indeed interesting that Farage has a great to say about his poor health, including revealing that his body is now so frail that he could be registered disabled. This rather contradicts his message at UKIP’s Spring Conference at Margate recently:

There has been a lot of speculation about where have I been, why have not been on the television all the time. This has been led to my opponents to spread some speculation about my health that I am seriously ill and that is why I have not been seen.

I hate to disappoint my opponents but can I make it clear that rumours of my demise have been greatly exaggerated.” 

So not only is the timing curious but someone it appears is making things up as he goes along. Farage then continues:

An MRI scan followed at the private London Bridge Hospital, and I was referred to Mr Bhupal Chitnavis, a top-dollar consultant neurosurgeon. He said he was shocked by the damage to my neck and that, if I wanted, he would sign me off as being partially disabled for the rest of my life. I certainly did not want one of those blue badges — it would be conceding defeat — but it was a shocking moment.

Now there’s no doubt Farage suffered injuries as a result of the plane crash:

Where the issue lies is his casual link deployed between being a Blue Badge holder and being registered partially or fully disabled.

Leaving aside the sentiment that apparently being a blue badge holder means conceding defeat – no doubt that 2.58 million blue badge holders would contest otherwise and would probably take offense at the term “those blue badges”, being registered disabled is different and is a misleading term.

Under the Equality Act it has such a varied broad definition, that it could apply to anything, including those perceived to be disabled and those associated with a disabled person (e.g. a parent or partner). The principle of the Equality Act is that discrimination on grounds of disability happens in all sorts of ways to all sorts of people.

The real test in our view of being genuinely disabled is whether you qualify for a Blue Badge and or DLA/PIP benefits. Here the criteria is far more strict; as an example if you have a permanent or substantial disability which means you can’t walk or find walking very difficult you are still required to take further assessments before a blue badge is issued.

As is obvious by the above photograph with Farage walking away from a plane crash and his current twitter status – “back on the campaign trail” – he would have absolutely no chance of being eligible for a blue badge.

We only conclude then that what we have is a rather shameless and cynical appeal for the sympathy vote.