It looks like today will mark the beginning of two political campaigns. The first is for the next general election, as Cameron announces a key plank of the Tory Party’s manifesto. The second is for the referendum we have long been promised. It is true that the issue has been much debated, but now is the time to start fleshing out the arguments in favour of leaving, and dealing with the great many practical issues which will arise come that glorious day. As the EU Referendum blog noted recently, there are hundreds of treaties to which Britain is party, due to its membership of the EU, which will need to be pored over to discover what will be necessary for Britain to function outside the EU. We have had a little taste of such problems in the disputes between Alec Salmond’s SNP and the Commission over the status Scotland would have vis à vis EU membership, if she became independent of the UK.
The issue of a referendum will certainly have an impact on the next general election, but what kind of impact will depend on how Labour and the Lib Dems react. In the 2005 election, we saw how Labour nullified the Tories’ advantage by also promising a referendum. This removed the issue from the debate, and by the time Labour betrayed their promise and cancelled the referendum, there was nothing anyone could do but howl in outrage at such perfidy.
The other party which will be greatly effected is UKIP. If the Tories are promising a referendum, voters who would otherwise have supported UKIP will be under great pressure to support the Tories one more time, and if the day comes for the referendum, then it could be argued that UKIP achieved its primary goal. Certainly the pressure from UKIP has forced Cameron’s hand. However, between the next general election and now, there will be a Euro election, in which UKIP is likely to do very well, and Cameron’s promise need not change that at all. Indeed those voters who swing between these two parties have just as much reason to support UKIP in 2014, in order to make the point very clear to the Tories that they need the UKIP voters on board.
As for the Lib Dems, not much need be said. They can swing either way in this debate, as is clearly illustrated in the old party leaflet in which Nick Clegg demands this very referendum. The party has always proclaimed itself to be deeply pro-Brussels, but it sometimes pays lip service to democratic principles. So, whether or not it decides to back a referendum being held, we know which side it will support in the referendum.
Finally, I wonder what will be the impact on our own nascent libertarian movement, if today’s speech marks a significant mile-stone? In recent times, many libertarians have joined UKIP, in the hope that the party would develop into a predominantly libertarian party, and no doubt because of the close affinity between libertarians and the right-wing which grew up in the long, dark years of Labour mis-rule. However, with Cameron’s promise of a referendum, he may just have shot the UKIP fox, in which case; where does this leave UKIP’s libertarians?
As the title notes, these are just my immediate thoughts, but something just happened in British politics which may lead to new alliances and alignments, both within political parties and without. From the above, it is no doubt clear that I am wholly in the pro-independence camp with regard to the EU, but I am aware that not all libertarians feel the same way, or do so with less emphatic commitment. The recent brouhaha within UKIP has strengthened my belief that libertarians need to develop their own political identity in British politics, even if at any given moment or on any particular issue such a force would find itself closely aligned with another, perhaps larger political group.