No one knows when exactly the European Union referendum will be but there is a widespread consensus that the Prime Minister would like it to be held in the summer, preferably June. Whether or not it will happen then is dependent on whether the deal that David Cameron has made with the rest of the continent is good enough to secure an ‘in’ vote; after all, Cameron will campaign for an ‘in’ vote almost in complete irrelevance of what the actual deal is.
So far most of the cards are in the government’s hands; the state, most of the country’s leading politicians and most of the rest of the establishment are backing the EU. The media is more evenly split nonetheless, as the Daily Mail’s much-derided “Who will speak for England?” front page recently emphasised. But nonetheless the battle for ‘Brexit’ will be an arduous one.
So far the most likely candidates to lead the ‘outers’ are: Nigel Farage, a man who, despite achieving political resurrection, isn’t known for being the voice of reason in many debates; Douglas Carswell MP, who is somehow both UKIP’s sole MP and is in a civil war with his own party; and Daniel Hannan MEP who is below most of the contestants on Celebrity Big Brother in public name recognition (indeed most of the remaining candidates would suffer the same problem). Most of UKIP’s leading names would fall into one of these categories hence they are not choice for being the figured head for Out.
The Labour Party, despite some Eurosceptic signals recently with Corbyn’s new regime, seems very much likely to side with the In campaign. Corbyn, like his late mentor Tony Benn, has some strong anti-EU tendencies which have become more neuralgic with the recent waves of cuts imposed from the centre on much of the European periphery – Greece being the most notable and tragic example of this. If he were not leader he would probably, as George Galloway has, advocate an ‘out’ vote. Nonetheless Labour continues to be an overall pro-EU party. The same is true for the Europhile stalwarts that are the Liberal Democrats and the SNP, who have claimed that were Scotland to vote to stay but the rest of the United Kingdom voted to leave then Scottish independence would be on the table again.
Therefore, the only place where a successful champion of the Brexit campaign, which is crying out for some actual leadership, could be found would be amongst the more Eurosceptic Tories. Many have looked to Boris Johnson to ride in on his white horse and save the day. This would be ludicrous. The campaign is suffering from a lack of gravitas and the last notable thing the Mayor of London did was knock over a ten-year-old in Japan. Again, most of the candidates are regarded as eccentric or heavily incompetent.
Instead the candidate which is both the most realistic and viable would be Theresa May; the Home Secretary has become the longest serving politician in that position for over a hundred years. May is the only potential leader of the campaign who actually is currently in a position of genuine power. This is a vital point as caution is what currently will sway things for Britain to stay in the EU. The electorate needs assurance that leaving the EU would be detrimental to the economy and people’s living standards. People vote according to the economy; the election demonstrated that. Having somebody with actual credibility would ease many people’s uncertainty. During her incumbency she’s come to be seen as one of the most prominent members of the cabinet, indeed she must be the best known female member. In fact as a women she’d provide an important counterbalance to a rather(thus far at least) male-centric debate. This would be particularly beneficial to the ‘Brexiteers’ as an excellent contrast to Farage’s perhaps unfair image of boorish male chauvinism.
Of course this would be no panacea for those advocating fir Britain to leave the EU; there are two rival out campaigns locked in an internecine war, the aforementioned vast apparatus that Cameron has in his arsenal and the simple fact of loss aversion. Loss aversion will perhaps be what will win it for the In-campaign, as people cannot know for sure what the future would be like outside of the EU.
However if the campaign to leave the EU was united around a relatively well-respected figure that would be a sound foundation on which to build a campaign. This won’t of course be a panacea and they’d should for a considerable portion of the cabinet; Michael Gove and Iain Duncan Smith would also be beneficial.
At the moment the polls are about 10 percent in favour of ‘in’; the Scottish referendum began with ‘Yes’ 20 points behind and ended with ten points between ‘Yes’ and ‘No’. If the Brexit campaigners exploited the same methods and sense of insurgency they could end the debate on the EU forever.