A cynic’s guide to winning an EU referendum for a pro-European Union prime minister. So far, David Cameron is following my simple, step-by-step guide to the letter. How much longer will it last, I wonder?
1. Announce that there will be an EU referendum years in advance, when it looks like you won’t be in power to push such a referendum through.
2. Spend years doing nothing to renegotiate with the EU, on the basis that the referendum probably won’t happen anyway.
3. When this plan inexplicably fails and you fluke a General Election win through fear of the SNP, it’s time to move to Plan B.
4. Don’t ask for anything the British people actually want, as part of your proposed renegotiation. Anything we want, the EU won’t let us have.
5. Ask for things which are generally meaningless or semantics.
6. Find a couple of minor issues that the other leaders will fight you on.
7. Win those battles, largely because the concessions involved are tiny.
8. Come back from Brussels trumpeting the ‘success’ of your renegotiation with the EU.
9. Tell the British people how amazing your ‘new deal’ actually is.
10. Make sure that the referendum question makes no mention of the two alternatives: EU membership, or free trade agreement. Mention only the EU. People vote for the status quo if you don’t make the alternative clear.
11. Who should vote in the referendum? There’s a clear strategy to ensure this is weighted in favour of the pro-EU camp:
a) Announce early that the decision on Britain’s future should be one for British citizens
b) Set the earliest possible date for the referendum to be held
c) Wait for the pro-EU House of Lords to amend the Referendum Bill to allow more people to vote
d) Tell everyone that your timescale won’t be derailed, so you won’t wait to use the Parliament Act to force the legislation through
e) Cave in to the demands, allowing a wider electorate to vote
12. Now the real campaign starts. You’ve got to portray yourself as a eurosceptic who’s been persuaded that actually, we now have a great deal with Europe.
13. Whatever you do, do not tell anyone that you have another Plan B up your sleeve. You know perfectly well that you could get a good free trade deal with the EU if we were outside it, but don’t let that one slip. Make people feel that they’d somehow be isolated if we left.
13. Scaremongering and denigration will now take you the rest of the way: repeat a big enough lie often enough, and people will believe it. Now where have I heard that phrase before?
14. Scaremonger about non-existent jobs that depend on EU membership. They don’t, of course, they depend merely on trade with the EU which would be unthreatened if we were to leave.
15. Scaremonger about every ‘good thing’ that the EU does for us, and forget that every benefit of the EU is only a benefit because we’ve handed the power over from Westminster to do it better ourselves.
16. Denigrate your opponents. They’re extremists, the lot of them. Racists perhaps (the closet variety). Of course they are; they don’t agree with YOU, Dave. The people who want to trade with the wider world and emerging markets, avoiding insular narrow-minded EU protectionism? Why, they must be little Englanders!
17. If a newspaper goes against the EU, it’s a gutter tabloid and the press should be more responsible. If it comes out in favour of the EU, that’s responsible journalism.
18. It has to be socially unacceptable to accept you want to leave the EU, so smear early and smear often. Imply that a ‘No’ vote is a vote for racism, to prevent more people putting their heads above the parapet.
You can read the rest of this article on my Huffington Post blog here.