The dead-end of EU referendum politics

D.J. Webb

I am starting to agree with Sean Gabb that the EU issue has become a distraction. If I summarize Dr Gabb’s views rightly, he has eloquently explained how the EU institutions, including the European court, amount to a check on the UK government. In the absence of effective politics in the UK, this check is often the only way of limiting power grabs.

Plans to introduce minimum alcohol prices have been put on the back burner as they would conflict with EU law. Hardcore pornography is only available in the UK owing to the liberalizing effect of EU law. Although membership of the EU is inferior as a check on government to a full restoration of the Common Law, it is often better than nothing.

However, the UKIP shenanigans have convinced me that EU membership or non-membership is a “wonkish” issue that gets in the way of the creation of genuine anti-state politics. Douglas Carswell joined UKIP seemingly with the aim of turning that party into a single-issue organization, solely focused on the forthcoming referendum on EU membership.

Yet under Nigel Farage, UKIP had become a broader challenge to the élite, embracing issues such as immigration and political correctness. These issues could form the basis for a proper working-class-based movement to create a free society, one where we are no longer told what to think on cultural issues.

In fact, this broader movement is more important than the EU membership issue as such. Calls to move UKIP into centre-ground territory in order to appeal to a majority (and not just the 12% who voted UKIP) in the upcoming referendum could see UKIP move into the same narrow “centre ground” inhabited by all the other political parties.

The wider political issues UKIP has begun to give voice to are visceral and not wonkish. Working people don’t get agitated by EU membership, even if they don’t approve of it — but they do get agitated about our politically correct commissars and the uncalled-for transformation of our cities. It seems Carswell has joined UKIP in order to ensure that these issues don’t get a public hearing, and that the whole EU referendum debate proceeds like an extension of a think-tank discussion on issues such as regulation, red tape and legislative subsidiarity.

My concern is that after the EU referendum is lost — Britain will vote to stay in amid a fog of disinformation claiming that 3 million jobs would go on day one of exit from the EU — UKIP will have lost its raison d’être. What would a post-referendum UKIP be for? UKIP is faced with the threat of becoming nothing more than an extension of Carswell’s own ambition, pride and hubris — with the “Northern” working-class UKIP voters abandoned as issues such as political correctness are dropped by the party.

In fact, even if the EU referendum is lost, there would remain a need for an oppositional force. Nigel Farage came close during the election campaign to calling for an end to the Race Relations Act — not in order to foster prejudice, but because there doesn’t need to be a Race Relations Act, and in a free society the state should not be creating privileged groups among the citizenry. This issue will remain relevant beyond the referendum. It may be that EU membership limits what can be done in this regard — EU laws may require some equal opportunities legislation — but a look at Eastern Europe would show that many EU states have much lower levels of regulation of cultural expression and intercultural interaction than in the UK, showing that progress could be made even while in the EU.

The spat within UK may reflect Carswell’s recognition that he gambled on a Conservative defeat in the election, and in fact did not win his own seat of Clacton as handsomely as he may have hoped. Surely he would not have left the Conservative Party had he known the likely outcome of the election. His capricious refusal of Short money available to political parties — Short money would not exist in a libertarian society, but that is a separate issue — also shows he is by no means working for UKIP. If £3m is available for UKIP and UKIP could employ officers full-time on the basis of this, then Carswell is acting against the party’s interests by refusing to take it.

I think it undeniable that Nigel Farage is UKIP: he is the only substantial figure in UKIP. Carswell is the author of wonkish, think-tank-style books on electronic voting and similar reforms, but he does not articulate the wider sense that the political élite is intervening too deeply in private life via political correctness and hysteria on race. In fact, he has made clear his own support for the political élite’s agenda in that regard.

Consequently, I feel Carswell is attempting to destroy UKIP, just as it has successfully built a significant working-class base throughout Northern England. A withdrawal from the EU is key to UKIP’s policies, but it seems to me to be essential for Farage to make clear that this is only one of many issues, and that the wider campaign against state intervention culturally is of greater significance.

We must not be distracted into wonkish in-and-out debates on the EU. It is only worth withdrawing if after leaving the EU, an attempt is made to take down our own Civil Service and push through massive deregulation measures both economically and in terms of the political and cultural agenda. The likelihood is that the political will isn’t there for that — and that exit from the EU would be problematic in that context. What about a referendum on race relations instead?


  1. Or a referendum on gay marriage, tv licenses, or the death penalty; among other issues?

    • Well, the point is Simon, those are all valid issues for dissent in the UK today – but Carswell doesn’t want to get into any of this stuff. All of this is more important than the EU.

  2. I’m a UKIPper since formation and proud of it. If we lose the referendum-we’ll carry on,just as losing sides always do after elections or referendums.

    • The problem for UKIP is there are too many people who cannot bear to be disloyal to the Conservative Party, and conjure up all manner of self-justifications for why they must vote for it “this time”, every time.

  3. I agree with David. Leaving the EU is something to be done by a Government of National Recovery. But it isn’t the first thing, and it isn’t to be done by the present gang.

  4. I agree in general with Sean’s view that leaving the EU will not make things better, and probably make things worse, in terms of actual liberty in Britain; indeed I think I have partly contributed to this view with my own comments. This is partly because I believe, and have long argued, that the current wave of illiberalism, or tyranny, or whatever we call it, is a product of the Anglosphere. That is, it is not being imposed from without, but from within.

    When I was young and considered myself somewhere on the Left, indeed, I was actively in favour of the EU. But this was itself for a libertarian reason; I believed that the European influence would be to some degree liberalising and although I now favour leaving the EU for libertarian reasons, I do think that the EU did to some degree have that effect. However, it is now essential to leave at some near time to avoid being trapped inside a superstate, many of whose authoritarian repressions will, ironically, be the product of the terrible Anglosphere (particularly, American originated) philosophy we call things like PC, Cultural Marxism, 3rd Wave Puritanism, GramscoFabiaNazism, etc.

    I am however and have been for a long time deeply sceptical of a referendum. I believe it will be lost. With all the main political parties except UKIP in favour of the EU, with most of the media, especially the BBC, in favour, it will be very hard to win. The EUphiles know that they do not need to really win the argument; just portray leaving as a dangerous leap into the unknown to generate enough “wobblies in the polling booth”. There will be massive quantities of money on the pro- side, the anti- side will be portrayed as racists and bigots, cranks and loonies. Once the referendum is lost, it is likely to kill the debate entirely, and thus the hope of leaving. I think EUsceptics should have dropped the red herring of the referendum a long time ago, myself, and worked towards having a party- even a new one like UKIP- who would campaign to get elected in Westminster on an “out policy” rather than a “referendum policy”.

    As to Carswell, I just don’t know. Philosophically, he is a sort of Gladstonian liberal, or a whig. He certainly does not share the concerns of many Kippers regarding what is perhaps the real issue, immigration. That is, he is like many libertarians (unfortunately), an open borders man. I do not myself share this view.

    And speaking of myself- and I will not say much about this so as not to bring disrepute on the LA- I have become rather strongly ethnic nationalist over the past few years. I have done my best to avoid doing so to be honest, but it seems increasingly to me that discussions about liberty are more and more deck-chair rearrangement on the Titanic when every year it looks more likely that the peoples of Europe- and thus the substrate of liberalism- are not going to recognisably exist for much longer. I said a few days ago that I think the tipping point may already have been passed. But considering that nobody at the Establishment level is even allowed to talk about this without being destroyed, the future in this regard looks fairly bleak. Carswell has some good ideas regarding UKIP as a kind of Gladstonian party for the working classes, but without addressing the elephant in the room that I’ve just mentioned, I think any such vision is incoherent.

      • Yes, but don’t forget, most people are not media obsessives, and don’t even follow the news closely. In 6 months’ time the non-resignation will have been forgotten, and Farage will be leader and it will seem just normal. That’s unless Carswell is expelled from the party… which could generate further ructions.

  5. Clearly the EU is not the sole issue however structurally speaking it will actually increase state power rather than put a check on Westminster, despite some incidental gains. Therefore it is on fact a very important issue.

    See my short article as to why:

    I agree campaigning on introducing a referendum was bad strategy as it will play out as you suggest. That said I reckon if the leave side wins marginally they’ll claim fraud or too much money (sic) spent by the leave side and re-run until the correct answer is arrived at- note Ireland and the Nice Treaty.

  6. I agree that a referendum is simply a political move to strengthen Cameron’s pro EU position. He will win it and the issue will be closed for decades more.

    However the idea of the EU as a check on the power of the British government is absurd. The EU is probably the biggest reason that we don’t have proper politics in the United Kingdom. Besides the very limited discussion of our EU membership, the recent general election centred mostly on issues like hospital administration and rent control. The sort of things that would be quite boring at council level, never mind at national government level.

    The British government still theoretically has the power to initiate military action (though not necessarily the will or the means) and the power to leave the European Union. It doesn’t have any other meaningful powers over things like trade, immigration or the death penalty. It can’t even reject climate change dogma assert the supremacy of our own legal system. And even if we appear to retain control over issues like gay marriage, watch as one by one all the countries of the Union fall into line over the next few years with similar “controversial” discussions but the same eventual outcome.

    The EU is no kind of check because it is fundamentally undemocratic itself. It limits the madness of our own government in the way the Soviet Union limited local despots across it’s member states which while not entirely useless if you are a Turkmen or Belarussian (both of whom fared badly after the fall of the USSR) i none the less inhibiting, not preserving the freedom of it’s people.

  7. It also appears to be an argument that was quite popular amongst Tories in the 1970s who saw it as a way of limiting the power of Labour and the unions at home. Thatcher was an enthusiastic supporter.

    Doing something wrong, even for the right reasons, always comes back and bites you eventually.

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