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Richard North, 16/01/2013  


FT 015-neg.jpg

Have you ever checked the date of an article, only to find that it bears the day's date, when the content seems several days old? So it is with the Financial Times which was late yesterday flagging up the probability that the "colleagues" were abandoning the idea of a treaty change in the immediate future.

This, if course, was picked up by the loss-making Guardian last Friday, and even then we observed that this was old news.

Nevertheless, it doesn't do the legacy media any harm to get its creaky brain round the idea that we are not going to see a referendum in a hurry, and to begin to explore the possibility that Mr Cameron might not be able to hijack and IGC to force his renegotiation, simply because there will not be one in the immediate offing to hijack.

Fortunately, we can rely (or so we currently think) on a referendum being a long-term option, which gives us time to think through the strategy and really start to put down a solid case, leaving the europhiles to flap around and expend their energies, doing nothing other than reveal their hand prematurely, while Clegg wibbles to absolutely no effect.

Thus, we can ignore Hannan (as we usually do) and his happy-clappy ideas about being nice to each other, and sending a happeee message to the great unwashed. We can also take under advisement the nostrums of Allister Heath, who seems to be worried by the idea of the europhiles recruiting ex-thief Richard Branson to front their campaign.

Heath also seems to be seduced by the idea of a gimmick-filled campaign, run by Tory-boy wizzkids, presumably unaware that the short-lived and unlosable No to AV campaign is no model for the long-haul slog and the hard pounding that will be an EU referendum campaign.

For once, though, there is a chance that the tide will turn in our favour, not least because, as we noted yesterday, Cameron seems to be boxing himself into a corner, while the "colleagues" don't seem to be inclined to help him out.

Flash tactics might work in a short, sharp campaign, where the issues are straightforward, and there are no lasting penalties from a decision, and you have the status quo effect working for you. But, in an issue as fundamental as decoupling from the EU, we need to follow the "Stokes precept" and offer a positive vision that will trigger a successful "no" vote.

First of all, though, if there is even to be a referendum, it looks as if we must first ensure that the Tories get elected with a clear majority. That is not going to be easy. One hopes that Mr Cameron will show better judgement than he has previously, and make a credible speech that can be used as an electoral platform.

Failing that, we might well be getting excited about nothing, although the rehearsal has been useful. As each day passes, we get a better grasp of the issues, and we're even getting more exposure for Article 50.

One possible dark cloud, however, is that Mr Cameron will so misjudge the mood on Friday that he will offer an "in-in" referendum, the choice between a renegotiated deal, or the status quo. I cannot imagine that he could be so crass, as he would be signing his political death warrant, and giving UKIP a free pass.

For the moment, though, all we need to do is watch the opposition burn itself out, and then we can get down to some serious work, if indeed there is a fight to be had.

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