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Martin Vickers MP: Voters are ahead of the game on Europe. They don't want to wait four years for a referendum.

VICKERS MARTINMartin Vickers is Member of Parliament for the Cleethorpes Constituency.  Follow Martin on Twitter.

Turning the clock back to October 2011, when I was one of the 81 rebels who voted for an In–Out EU referendum, I referred during the debate to having attended a Civic Service the previous day and, even for me, as a confirmed Eurosceptic who voted to leave in 1975, being surprised at what I described as ‘the real people of England’ - because every person I spoke to was urging me to vote for the referendum; I never had any doubts that I would do, so but their support and encouragement spurred me on.

During the weekend after the recent county council elections, I read and listened to more reports and analysis on them than is good for anyone. Then later, in need of some light relief, I settled down to watch the ‘Antiques Roadshow’, and couldn’t help thinking that here again were gathered the ‘real people of England’ – loyal, hardworking and, whatever their voting habits, conservative by nature; many of them would have voted for UKIP – for most of them that would be a first. The challenge for the Conservative Party is to make sure that it’s the last, but with the European elections coming next year that is going to be extremely difficult. Vote for the same party twice running, and it can easily become habit-forming.          

My constituency takes in part of North & North East Lincolnshire Unitary Councils who had no elections this year, though in April UKIP secured their second seat in a North East Lincolnshire by-election – both in seats that more often than not return a Tory so on 2nd May. So my centre of attention focussed on the neighbouring Lincolnshire County Council area, where UKIP scored spectacular, but, in the main, predictable gains.

The area around Boston was where the most spectacular gains came. These were the predictable ones, given the levels of immigratin they have experienced in recent years. Large cities can absorb immigrants in a way that small provincial towns can’t. Local public services struggle, resentment grows.

The public look and see a link between ‘Europe’ and immigration, ‘Europe’ and the inability to deport known terrorists and criminals, the link between ‘Europe’ and an obligation to pay benefits to those who have not contributed. Whether these links are real or perceived matters not; they are deeply ingrained in the public consciousness.      

The Prime Minister has set out a perfectly logical, sensible way forward, and with an in/out referendum guaranteed by a future majority Conservative government it should be a good package to sell to the electorate. The problem is that the public are ahead of the game, and won’t wait for four years. They’ve been let down once too often.  

Leaders of all parties have got to appreciate that millions of the British people regard our membership of the EU as being under sufferance, with even many of those old enough to have voted in 1975 feeling resentful that they were deceived into believing it was a trading arrangement rather than a political project.

The project has developed and moved on without the people giving their consent; after each new treaty there should have been a referendum. I rather suspect that we would still be where we are now, but without the widespread resentment that exists.

At the moment the political momentum is with those who identify with the public, share their frustrations and identify with so much of what they perceive to be wrong, rather than those seeking to manage the realities of a complex world. In the battle between charisma and competence, charisma is in the lead.

If we are to return David Cameron to Downing Street in 2015, we need to deliver a referendum or at the very least set the arrangements into statute. Elvis would say ‘It’s Now or Never’. Perhaps we can’t deliver that, but it certainly needs to be sooner rather than later. 


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