Monday, 16 May 2016

#EUref: pick a side

A headline in yesterday's Telegraph that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will refuse to 'share a platform' with David Cameron when campaigning for Britain to remain in the European Union will have come as no surprise for anyone who has followed the rise of Corbyn, and seen him to be the lightweight, petulant egotist that he undoubtedly is.  However, it was – in my view – indicative of how widespread certain misconceptions about referendum campaigning have become.

In writing before about how the conflation of a national plebiscite with traditional party politics has seeped into the mainstream, I have laid much of the blame for this at the door of the SNP – but this way of thinking is becoming more and more prevalent across the political spectrum, and I think it bears another look.

He gets it…

For the benefit of those who haven't quite grasped this yet, it is worth making very clear that in a referendum, there are only two sides.  You do not get your own side, all to yourself.  This means that if you are a Labour MP or activist who is campaigning for 'Remain', you are on the same side as David Cameron; you are on the same side as George Osborne; you are on the same side as Theresa May; you are on the same side as Ryanair.  You may not like it, but you are – because, on this one issue (even if on nothing else), you want the same outcome as them.

You could avoid that by being a Labour MP or activist who is campaigning to 'Leave' the EU, of course.  But then you would be on the same side as Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson, George Galloway and Katie Hopkins.  Whether you like it or not.

It is a common obfuscation to claim that even if you agree with the Prime Minister that Britain should stay in the EU, you fundamentally disagree with him about what the EU should look like, and what Britain's role in the union should be – and that this makes your position distinct from his.

The referendum is not about that.  This is a single-issue vote; Remain, or Leave.  Pick a side.  There is no third option where you get to say "I'm basically Remain…  But not like he is!"  Remain is Remain; it's as simple as that.

This, after all, is surely the point of holding a referendum on the topic at all?  It (in theory, at least) allows the campaign to strip away all the other gumf and focus purely on the issue, getting away from the "we are the good people, and that makes us different from those bad people" bloviating that we see so often in day-to-day party politics.

In refusing to put aside his differences with the Prime Minister in order to campaign on their one point of common ground in the run-up to this vote, Corbyn shows us that keeping his image intact is more important to him than the cause he professes to support – and once again makes the conversation about him, rather than about the topic at hand.

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