In, out, shake it all about: David Cameron in 2013, shortly before committing to an In-Out referendum. Photo: Getty Images
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The complacency of the Yes campaign may yet lead to a European exit

The In-Out referendum isn't a foregone conclusion - and complacy could win it for No.

In the climax of the general election campaign, Tony Blair made a strong case against holding an EU referendum. “Nationalism,” he said, “is a powerful sentiment. Let that genie out of the bottle and it is a Herculean task to put it back. Reason alone struggles.” 

He is right. Even if – as many predict – we vote to stay in ‘the club’ in 2016-17, the echoes of this referendum will continue for years afterwards. Furthermore, as long as the Eurozone remains unstable – which it will for at least a decade – the flame of Eurosceptism will keep burning and the possibility of ‘Brexit’ will linger.

Despite this there seems to be a growing complacency amongst pro-EU supporters that the referendum is a done deal. This is a complacency I hear all the time and at all levels: That when push comes to shove Brits will side with the stability of European membership as opposed to risking economic instability.

Talk to any pro-European politician or business leader and they will tell you - with a wry smile - that the electorate won’t, even can’t, leave Europe. Instead, they will remind you, the electorate will vote with their head, not their heart, when jobs are concerned.

I believe this view poses a greater threat than anything else to Britain’s ongoing relationship with Europe.

If history teaches us one thing, it is that there is nothing inevitable when nationalism is involved. People said Scotland would “inevitably” remain in the union when they voted in their referendum last year. And yes, unionists may have won that day –saved by the last minute interventions of a revved-up Gordon Brown – but, independence now seems more probable than ever.

It is an uncomfortable truth, but Euroscepticism was neither born overnight or with the birth of UKIP. Rather it is an emotional conclusion based on half a century of social turmoil which has forced many to question their place in the world.  For most, European membership is in turn intrinsically tied to immigration, perhaps the most sensitive issue for our country. 

Explaining their confidence, Europhiles tend to cite two facts. First, the idea that people voting in referendums stick with what they know, and secondly, a growing early lead for the Pro-Europeans in the opinion polls.

Both these arguments are shaky. The first is just factually wrong. Since 1846, separatists have won 51 independence referendums around the world. Yes Quebec and Scotland demonstrate voter prudence in national referendums, but people regularly vote en masse for un-tested ideas. Nor is it correct to assume that people see themselves better-off as EU members. For those working in domestic industries, like construction or trade, the threat of cheap migrant labour usually outweighs any benefit they feel from the free movement of goods across the European markets.

And what do the polls really tell us? Whilst the ‘stay-in’ camp commands a hefty 22 point lead at the moment, it was only as recently as 2012 that a majority wanted to leave the EU. Britons tend to be more pro-EU when they feel prosperous and more anti when times are hard. This is mirrored in the upswing in anti-EU support during the early 2000’s and 1980’s. Today, global economic recovery remains sluggish and UK living standards linger well behind 2008 levels. Furthermore there are complexities within the opinion polls. Although the ‘yes’ campaign currently has a comfortable lead in simple ‘leave or stay’ questions, when you ask voters whether they would stay in the EU on current terms, a majority would actually vote to leave (41%).

None of this is to say us pro-Europeans are not in a favourable position to win the referendum. Clearly there is a growing lead for the business focused, outward looking arguments the ‘Yes’ campaign is putting forward.

Instead it is a warning that unless we resoundingly defeat the ‘No’ camp’s ideology of anti-immigration and isolationism once and for all, Euro sceptism will live on well past 2017. In the long term, without addressing growing pro-EU complacency we may be sleep-walking into calamity.

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Labour's establishment suspects a Momentum conspiracy - they're right

Bernie Sanders-style organisers are determined to rewire the party's machine.  

If you wanted to understand the basic dynamics of this year’s Labour leadership contest, Brighton and Hove District Labour Party is a good microcosm. On Saturday 9 July, a day before Angela Eagle was to announce her leadership bid, hundreds of members flooded into its AGM. Despite the room having a capacity of over 250, the meeting had to be held in three batches, with members forming an orderly queue. The result of the massive turnout was clear in political terms – pro-Corbyn candidates won every position on the local executive committee. 

Many in the room hailed the turnout and the result. But others claimed that some in the crowd had engaged in abuse and harassment.The national party decided that, rather than first investigate individuals, it would suspend Brighton and Hove. Add this to the national ban on local meetings and events during the leadership election, and it is easy to see why Labour seems to have an uneasy relationship with mass politics. To put it a less neutral way, the party machine is in a state of open warfare against Corbyn and his supporters.

Brighton and Hove illustrates how local activists have continued to organise – in an even more innovative and effective way than before. On Thursday 21 July, the week following the CLP’s suspension, the local Momentum group organised a mass meeting. More than 200 people showed up, with the mood defiant and pumped up.  Rather than listen to speeches, the room then became a road test for a new "campaign meetup", a more modestly titled version of the "barnstorms" used by the Bernie Sanders campaign. Activists broke up into small groups to discuss the strategy of the campaign and then even smaller groups to organise action on a very local level. By the end of the night, 20 phonebanking sessions had been planned at a branch level over the following week. 

In the past, organising inside the Labour Party was seen as a slightly cloak and dagger affair. When the Labour Party bureaucracy expelled leftwing activists in past decades, many on went further underground, organising in semi-secrecy. Now, Momentum is doing the exact opposite. 

The emphasis of the Corbyn campaign is on making its strategy, volunteer hubs and events listings as open and accessible as possible. Interactive maps will allow local activists to advertise hundreds of events, and then contact people in their area. When they gather to phonebank in they will be using a custom-built web app which will enable tens of thousands of callers to ring hundreds of thousands of numbers, from wherever they are.

As Momentum has learned to its cost, there is a trade-off between a campaign’s openness and its ability to stage manage events. But in the new politics of the Labour party, in which both the numbers of interested people and the capacity to connect with them directly are increasing exponentially, there is simply no contest. In order to win the next general election, Labour will have to master these tactics on a much bigger scale. The leadership election is the road test. 

Even many moderates seem to accept that the days of simply triangulating towards the centre and getting cozy with the Murdoch press are over. Labour needs to reach people and communities directly with an ambitious digital strategy and an army of self-organising activists. It is this kind of mass politics that delivered a "no" vote in Greece’s referendum on the terms of the Eurozone bailout last summer – defying pretty much the whole of the media, business and political establishment. 

The problem for Corbyn's challenger, Owen Smith, is that many of his backers have an open problem with this type of mass politics. Rather than investigate allegations of abuse, they have supported the suspension of CLPs. Rather than seeing the heightened emotions that come with mass mobilisations as side-effects which needs to be controlled, they have sought to joins unconnected acts of harassment, in order to smear Jeremy Corbyn. The MP Ben Bradshaw has even seemed to accuse Momentum of organising a conspiracy to physically attack Labour MPs.

The real conspiracy is much bigger than that. Hundreds of thousands of people are arriving, enthusiastic and determined, into the Labour party. These people, and their ability to convince the communities of which they are a part, threaten Britain’s political equilibrium, both the Conservatives and the Labour establishment. When the greatest hope for Labour becomes your greatest nightmare, you have good call to feel alarmed.