Leading article

Cameron is the only leader who can deliver an EU referendum. Why is he ashamed to say so?

25 April 2015

9:00 AM

25 April 2015

9:00 AM

The election campaign is becoming increasingly dominated by a small party whose raison d’être is to preach independence from membership of a union it claims is hindering national ambition. But the party is not Ukip, which had been expected to play a big role in this election. It is the Scottish National Party, which seems ever more likely to hold the balance of power after 7 May and is determined to use it ruthlessly to its own advantage and to the furtherance of its sole objective: the dissolution of the United Kingdom.

Nicola Sturgeon has been the only party leader talking about the virtues of national self-government, and she has met with reasonable success. No one else seems to be trying it. Nigel Farage is fighting the campaign as if it were a by-election in South Thanet. The EU has scarcely been mentioned by his rivals — along with all other issues that relate to the outside world. The orthodoxy is that voters are, in effect, stupid and can only handle one word at a time. Labour wants that word to be ‘fairness’; the Tories want it to be ‘stability’. Those seeking a wider, more substantive debate will have to wait until the election is over.

It is hardly as if the issue of an in-out referendum has been neutralised. David Cameron, in committing himself to such a poll, seemed to be in a strong position over Ed Miliband, who has declined all pressure to follow suit. Cameron can justifiably say to anti-Europeans that a vote for him is the only way to ensure that the country has a chance to reject EU membership. For EU supporters, he is offering the chance to settle the matter of Britain’s membership for a generation to come. And for sceptics in the middle who want to be part of the EU, but a reformed one, he is promising renegotiation of Britain’s terms.


Ed Miliband’s position, by contrast, is simply one of denying the people a say on an issue which divides the country — on the basis that voters cannot be trusted with such questions. It is entirely believable, should Labour come to some sort of pact with the SNP after the election, that we will end up having two referendums on the subject of Scottish independence, with the EU question remaining unresolved. Even the pro-EU Greens want an in-out referendum on the — for them, unusually solid — grounds that the issue of Britain’s membership will be an issue until it is seen to have renewed democratic legitimacy.

Ironically, Europe would have been more in the news had there been no general election campaign. A casual observer of the headlines over the past three weeks could be forgiven for concluding that Greece’s economic problems had been solved — or at least that the matter was under control and negotiations with the ECB going well. In fact, Greece has never been nearer the door to an ignominious exit from the euro, and is on the point of defaulting even on its IMF loan, due to be repaid on 12 May. The Syriza government, now well past its honeymoon period, is rapidly losing its powers of persuasion.

The British jobs miracle continues, but under EU rules it has become our most powerful tool of foreign aid. Mr Cameron is right to boast about the two million extra jobs he has created (see page 10), but he doesn’t say that half of this rise in employment is accounted for by immigration. To paraphrase Dr Johnson, the noblest prospect an unemployed Spaniard now sees is the easyJet to London. Cameron now pledges another two million jobs, which implies (under the EU’s freedom of movement) another million immigrants. They’ll need houses, schools and hospitals. We can welcome them, by all means, but let’s be honest about what must be done to accommodate them.

David Cameron ought to be turning European turmoil to his electoral advantage. With Ukip at around 13 per cent, he would win a strong Conservative majority if only he could persuade a quarter of Ukip’s potential voters over to his side. Contrary to talk about the left being in advance, the conservative parties (the Tories plus Ukip) between them are registering a substantially bigger slice of the vote than in 2010.

Conservative strategists like to compare this year’s election with that of 1992, when John Major appeared to be in deadlock with Neil Kinnock in the polls, and yet went on to win a 21-seat majority (as Bruce Anderson recalls on page 12). They are partly right: this election is like 1992, but they have the wrong one in mind. It is more like the US presidential election of that year when an independent conservative candidate, Ross Perot, took enough votes away from George H.W. Bush to hand Bill Clinton victory.

A decade ago, David Cameron turned around a leadership election he appeared to be losing by making a brave speech at the Conservative conference. He has never been in greater need of a game-changing moment. He has made the bold and necessary decision to promise a referendum on EU membership, which itself demonstrates a substantial vote of faith in the public. A faith that Ed Miliband simply does not share. Europe deserves to be an issue in this campaign — and the Prime Minister quickly needs to make it one.

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Show comments
  • berosos_bubos

    Europe and the EU cannot be used inter-changeably as they are completely different. This is a common tactic of the europhiles. A referendum on the EU has no electoral value until the establishment are believed to want to campaign for ‘out’ as an ‘in’ will change nothing and fix nothing and the ‘outers’ will never win otherwise. Bearing in mind we were conned in the first place we should just leave after electing a political party that pledges to do so.

    • ClausewitzTheMunificent

      Yes, but good luck getting that through an Englishman’s (or British man’s) skull. Living on an island makes them very suspicious of “Europe” and God forbid “Continent”. Makes you wonder if they aren’t more closely related to the Sicilians. Moreover, Britain cannot fix its immigration problem by leaving the EU. Leaving the EU would be a good move, because it would weaken this awful institution, but the people who conned national governments in the EU all over the continent still mostly control the “commanding heights” of government, and their idea is to get as many immigrants from outside the EU into the EU as quickly as possible. Thus in Britain this might just lead to more “Asians” to pick up the slack. After all, it’s not racist to decry Christian Poles (even though they make finding a job difficult), but you try stopping anybody other than a European.

  • Peter Gardner

    I heard an interview on the radio today with a retired Australian independent MP. One of his points was that the majority of MPs, if they had to stand on their own merits, would not be elected. Most are just lobby fodder. So it is with British politics. We need far more members of parliament to show independent critical thinking and vote according to the needs of their electorates. That is who they are elected to represent. They are not there to support the government but to hold it to account. They are not there to support their party leaders. The 70% of laws enacted in Britain are from the EU and nodded through parliament in obscure committees while the majority of MPs remain in ignorance of them. This is no way to govern any country, never mind Britain, but it is what we have got.

    Parliament has been supine for too long. We need parliament to assert its sovereignty. We need parliament to be telling the government what policies are to be executed, not the other way round. We do not want a house dominated by the government, particularly one that enacts policies bartered between party leaders in dirty backroom deals to produce a government programme nobody voted for and which can still be rammed through parliament against the interests of constituents.

    If we had true sovereign parliamentary democracy in Britain, the SNP would be nothing to worry about.

    .

    • Alas, it will take more than a generation to have enough of the legislators you describe, because a lot depends on the school system.

      The stronger minded will spit in the eye of the politically fashionable, and those who are not as strong will cower and then kowtow to the politically fashionable.

      So, shall we make a list of parliamentarians in the English speaking world who command respect, and then make it clear that those who don’t measure up, that they are being held accountable.

      Yes, this will likely result in short lived political lives, but given what’s at stake, egos put in place is better than keeping deadwood in the system.

      • Peter Gardner

        That was the aim of the recall procedure that Daniel Hannan proposed and which Cameron promised to introduce but did not. It would give constituents the right to remove an MP for bad conduct, eg., abuse of expenses, and in certain circumstances, failure to properly represent their interests.

        • This discussion took place in Canada, and the usual suspects would say, if someone was elected with less than half the vote, all the rest who voted for other candidates would insist on recall.

          The populace has power, and as long as so many are willing to let others think for them, that power is handled clumsily, rather than adroitly.

  • JoeCro

    I am not convinced the European issue is of pressing concern to most voters. Putting Europe at the heart of an Election Campaign would be a mistake. The EU exists, if the UK is serious about remaining a serious player in diplomatic and economic terms it would be foolish to leave, the social and economic consequences of withdrawal are frightening.

    • John Carins

      It’s time for people to see the connection between EU membership and the damage that it does to our own Union. We cannot have both.

    • MA0

      “…the social and economic consequences of withdrawal are frightening.”

      Not as frightening as the consequences of appeasement. The EU’s Napoleonic train-wreck is around the next bend.

  • WTF

    No, immigration is the primary issue and from that EU is the biggest factor that creates problems of too much immigration and then we get into the costs of mass immigration in health, education, housing etc, etc.

    Cameron wont discuss any of these primary issues as he needs cheap labour at any cost for his mates like Miliband want it for votes and thats why the only difference between Labour and the Tories is the motivation behind similar policies.

    • John Carins

      Cameron’s inability to stem immigration will be contributing factor to him not winning or having to form a coalition Government. He is an idiot.

  • English_Independence_Movement

    Why? Because he doesn’t want to: he wants the UK to be irretrievably part of the United States of Europe and he’s prepared to lie to your face to get it.

    • RPrior

      Nothing Brave about agreeing to a Referendum – unless he is obliged to honour the results and make an exit of the EU – if that is what the people vote for.

    • pp22pp

      I vote UKIP over the immigration issue.

  • Blindsideflanker

    The game changer would be to offer the English their own Parliament, but it seems that English constitutional matters aren’t to be debated in this election , even on this St Georges Day.

    It also seems that the expatriate Scots who run the Spectator don’t want to wish English people well on their national day.

    • SNP UPRISING

      Like the vast majority of Scots in support of independence, I’d like to wish the people of England ( minus Cameron, Osborne & Johnson ) all the best for St George’s Day.

      • John Carins

        Insincerity formed by vested interest. The SNP dragon will be slayed.

        • SNP UPRISING

          ha…ha….. Time for Meds John ?

          • John Carins

            Not really – I have my G&T at about 18.00 hrs

          • SNP UPRISING

            How did you manage to sneak that into the ward ?

          • John Carins

            Ah! from where I’m sitting it’s you who is in the asylum; it’s called Scotland – a country where many have lost their marbles and any ability to think rationally. Daily medication of fried haggis in batter washed down with.Irn Bru. Then you all go for a bit of “trainspotting”.

          • SNP UPRISING

            This coming from the clown that posted about “xenophobic Scotlanders”……You’re an unconscious comic John..It’s just a pity that the irony will be lost on you.

          • John Carins

            Let me remind you that it was you who first accused 3 Englishmen of spouting “Xenophobic anti-Scottish bile”. You cannot complain if the same accusation is thrown back at you. Or is this just proof that your memory is fading in a land of dementia? Oh look there goes the 11.32 to Glasgow time for some more mind bending heroin.

          • SNP UPRISING

            ha…ha…… What a sad UKIP (BNP) little Englander you are John.

          • John Carins

            There is no such thing as “little Englanders”. The English are an extremely tolerant, generous and outward looking people. The English will become even greater when they leave the EU. I would pity my Scottish friends stuck in a moribund EU – but that’s “independence” for you.

    • ClausewitzTheMunificent

      Well as everyone (in Westminster) knows, the English (defined geographically) are constitutionally racist. So it would be far too dangerous for themselves to have their own parliament, or even a confederational system within the UK.

  • greggf

    “….whose raison d’être is to preach independence from membership of a union it claims is hindering national ambition.”

    I suppose the way the rest of the UK feels about the SNP must be similar to the way the rest of the EU feels about Britain…..
    Of course in the latter case we have right on our side!

    • SNP UPRISING

      The SNP are the real Labour Party that the rest of the UK want.

      • teigitur

        Maybe. But I wonder how they intend to pay the bills?

  • Diggery Whiggery

    Is anyone else getting rather tired of the phrase “game-changer”?

    How about miracle.

    • Henryhomer

      2/3 of the electorate clearly don’t much like what the Tories have done for the last 5 years, hard to see anything changing that in the next 2 weeks.

  • Henryhomer

    The fatal flaw in Cameron’s position is that no-one believes him. No-one thinks Merkel will give him anything on free movement of people, no-one believes he’ll get any other meaningful reform by 2017 and no-one believes that having failed he’ll actually campaign to leave. Cameron is pro-EU by instinct and in any case his owners won’t allow him to put their business interests at risk.

    • Blindsideflanker

      Cameron said he would deal with mass immigration, he then went off to ask Merkel and Junker what they would allow him to do, was told that he could tinker around the edges of benefits, so that is what Cameron presented us as his immigration policy in his big immigration speech some months ago.

      He no longer represents us, but represents Brussels polices to us.

      It is also worth noting that Cameron said he wouldn’t permit any more countries to join the EU until the issue of immigration had been sorted out. In the dying days of this Government, they voted to allow Bosnia and Herzegovina to begin the process of joining the EU.

    • greggf

      Despite the fact that support for membership on the UK’s current terms is precarious with voters there is an apparent inability – even a refusal – to address the EU issue objectively. Miliband is the same and, coupled with Brussels’s partisan inertia, the situation will ensure UKIP gain politically.

  • SNP UPRISING

    The SNP are dominating the campaign because the SNP are dominating the polls.

    In 2 weeks time the SNP will utterly destroy the Labour Redcoat TORIES, Blue TORIES, Yellow TORIES and the UKIP (BNP) TORIES in Scotland.

    • Molly NooNar

      3 Cheers for the SNP!

    • John Carins

      has Scotland gone totally Krankie?

      • SNP UPRISING

        No, just yourself John.

        • John Carins

          So the SNP are “yellow” Tories as well. I too hope that the Lab Con get a good trashing. Don’t be too certain of SNP final victory – the real Unionists and UKIP will finish this rebellion.

          • SNP UPRISING

            Bizarre

          • John Carins

            Krankie.

          • SNP UPRISING

            You’ll learn to appreciate living in independent Scotland John.

          • John Carins

            I don’t live in stupid deluded Scotland.

          • teigitur

            Don’t tar us all with the same brush.

          • John Carins

            Didn’t mean to. I know that there are still a lot of loyal sensible people in Scotland. You have though got a fight on your hands.

          • teigitur

            Did no-one tell you? We voted against that.

    • John Carins

      Has the fat Pretender gone into exile?

      • SNP UPRISING

        The more vile abuse that is fired at the SNP, the more Scots choose to vote SNP.

        • teigitur

          Here is one who is not.

          • SNP UPRISING

            You are about to lose your one and only, “Fluffy” Mundell.

          • teigitur

            I did not vote Tory at the last election, and will not this time either,with Cameron at the helm.

        • John Carins

          It’s hardly “vile”. Where is your sense of humour? A loss of humour is something that an independent Scotland would have to endure.

  • Molly NooNar

    Cameron doesn’t have faith in the people. It’s why he sent out his Tory troops to confuse, lie and discredit the AV referendum. There was no attempt to tell voters about the system, its benefits and problems and allow them to draw their own conclusion, it was was just full on war against it because it would damage the Conservative party’s permanent status as the status quo.

    The Spectator is right to say that the EU issue is a very important one, but wrong to claim Cameron is some principled leader that values democracy, of course he doesn’t! If we had any say, he wouldn’t have been prime minister in the first place since he didn’t get a majority in 2010! That was despite being up against the worst PM in history, following an economic crash which Labour was largely blamed for, and against a Labour party that people were sick to the back teeth of after 13 years of corruption and spin. The Tories and Cameron have failed! 5 years of being PM hasn’t changed anybodies mind.

  • teigitur

    The Tories need a change of leader more like. To, dare I say it, a Conservative!!

    • SNP UPRISING

      What about “Fluffy” Mundell ??….. But then he’ll be getting his P45 through in a couple of weeks.

  • SNP UPRISING

    We need David Cameron, John Major & Boris Johnson to spout more of their xenophobic anti-Scottish bile……..Every time that they open their mouths the SNP vote increases.

    • John Carins

      The SNP are xenophobic wee Scotlanders – there that should get you a few more votes.

      • SNP UPRISING

        52% and rising.

        • John Carins

          Good. That will keep Labour out and at the same time still make things difficult for the Tories. Still makes you (SNP) all wee Scotlanders though.

    • ClausewitzTheMunificent

      Sure, because one can be xenophobic against the Scots, after living with each other for 300 years how can you see each other as alien peoples?

  • SNP UPRISING

    It’s funny to watch Cameron losing it at the thought of Scots delivering a landslide SNP vote.

    • John Carins

      Cameron could be in No 10 because of the SNP. It is a very likely scenario.

  • SNP UPRISING

    Labour Redcoats are out in Perth and The Scottish Borders campaigning for the electorate to vote TORY instead of the Labour candidate.

    Labour are finished in Scotland.

    • John Carins

      If that is true then it is a good story. For Labour voters at last to put country before party is a phenomenal reaction. This is a sign that not everyone is fooled by the SNP message and that the flame of Unionism will and can be reignited.

    • teigitur

      They are and deservedly so. But it seems we are about to elect worse. Though, I think the SNP will not do as well as they think……

    • new_number_2

      That clearly is the wrong strategy if true. Labour voters should always be encouraged to vote Labour.

  • James

    David Cameron is as much Pro-EU as Ed Miliband – promises of in/out referendum have been stringing the public along for decades while behind our backs they have gone and privatised all our public services including the NHS resulting in higher living costs as well as breakdown of services because corporate profits are increased as a universal health service rather than a national health service. EU reforms is nonsense, more spin to evade the issue to continue the austerity and privatisation plan which is short-term thinking papering over the cracks and will leave future generations in dire straits. The media ought to praise UKIP for giving us a credible fiscal plan and a sensible route back to normality.

  • Roger Hudson

    The statement by Junkers that the UK would get no changes from the EU while he was president should have been like petrol thrown on the fire of the election but everybody ignored it, politicians shy away from the EU question and try to fob us off with silly side issues.
    Bring the EU reform question to front and centre for the remaining campaign time.

  • new_number_2

    “Nigel Farage is fighting the campaign as if it were a by-election in South Thanet.”

    A good and accurate description of UKIP’s election campaign.

  • Mike Barnes

    If Europe is the question, then David Cameron is not the answer.

  • tom kincade

    We have nothing in common with the sassanach so let us go

  • Mr Creosote

    Why no Spectator coverage of Nigel Farage’s excellent speech at the European parliament today??

    Are Cameron and Milliband avoiding the issue of Juncker ploughing through another erosion of our sovereignty?

    the video:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NTwOap7ohc4

  • Socialist agenda

    More Tory lies from a Tory rag..
    Remember this from 2007? Why the wait?
    Tories urge EU referendum
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/6913351.stm

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