A surreal note is sounding within political discourse right now: the idea that, with the economy stagnant, household budgets under pressure, and cuts in local and national Government expenditure taking hold, a fringe issue which is more of a hobbyhorse for those on the margins should be the one that gives an advantage come the next General Election. It has to be the EU (again).
And this strange belief – that offering voters an in/out referendum on EU membership will prove a winner – is now being touted seriously by pundits who are intelligent enough to know better. Like our old friend Dan, Dan the Oratory Man over at Telegraph Blogs, who asserts “The party which offers a referendum on leaving the EU will gain a hefty electoral premium”.
Hannan is joined by the unfortunately named Harry Phibbs (he does?), who goes completely OTT by proclaiming “EU referendum pledge could be the key to Conservative victory – as well as British independence”. Ah yes, this weapons grade drivel depends on such canards as the idea that somehow the UK lost its independence when we weren’t looking.
And that’s the problem: this idea requires a raft of deceit to keep it afloat. Part of this is the patently ridiculous idea that the country is no longer independent – accepting the premise of fringe parties like UKIP – and another part is the forlorn hope that the electorate can be kept ignorant about what the EU really costs them (not very much) and its benefits (considerable) long enough to win the vote.
So what is that cost, per person? Well, in 2009 – for instance – the sum was €62.7, which at current exchange rates is around £50. That’s right, the EU costs the average UK taxpayer around a Pound a week. Against that you can put the cost of those mobile phone calls, cheap flights, booze cruises, freedom to buy property, safer cars, and perhaps most of all the spread of the English language.
Of course, telling all of this sends the likes of Hannan and his equally eccentric sidekick Douglas “Kamikaze” Carswell off into frothing tirades, howling about “propaganda” and re-stating their vision of being more like Norway, where they have no say in any aspect of how the EU is run, but pay more per capita towards the EU than we do in the UK.
And that kind of information in the hands of the electorate might just stop any party from gaining “a hefty electoral premium”. One can only imagine the sea change in Hannan’s popularity, to urge a vote on EU membership only to be undone by the horrors of the real world intruding on the public consciousness, and therefore to commend what will be seen as a huge waste of money.
But at least, if it’s called waste, he’ll be able to blame the EU. No change there, then.