Last night, the new Conservatives for Reform in Europe group sent out an email to Tory councillors seeking their support (the full text of which is copied below). Having only recently launched, CRE is in a race to catch up with the pro-Leave Conservatives for Britain, which has been recruiting Eurosceptics since last summer.
There are four interesting things to note about the email:
1) It’s from Eric Pickles – a figure who continues to be popular among the grassroots. As a former Party Chairman, and someone who is stylistically very different from the sometimes more remote style of the leadership (and much of the pro-EU movement), he’s a canny choice for them to try to maximise their appeal to Conservative councillors.
2) It’s openly in favour of a Remain vote. There has been a bit of a spat going on around CRE in recent days – their founder, Nick Herbert, has left open the door that “if we cannot secure the reforms Britain needs many of us would be prepared to leave”, but Guido reported yesterday that the group had formally registered with the Electoral Commission as a campaign to Remain. Any lingering pretence of reserving judgement is rather blown out of the water by the email’s declaration that “we believe that on balance it is better for Britain to remain in a reformed Europe rather than out on our own” - before the EU reform package before it has been finalised, never mind agreed by the European Parliament and others.
3) They’re careful not to breach Party neutrality. Evidently the authors of the message are aware that more than a few of those they are writing to will be supporting Leave, and they are therefore careful not to break any rules, going out of their way to state: “As you will be aware, the Conservative Party will not officially campaign on either side for this referendum. Every Association will have members who want to stay in Europe and those who want to leave the EU. The usual channels are therefore closed and one of the many challenges for our campaign is to build our own network. That is why I am contacting you using an email address available in the public domain – not one supplied by the Party or indeed your Local Association.”
4) The pitch is about personal loyalty to Cameron. The email is shot through with attempts to frame the referendum as a verdict on the Conservative leader – “we support the Prime Minister in his battle”, “Our Prime Minister’s proposed reforms”, “If you support the Prime Minister and our campaign”, “Signing up is a show of support for the Prime Minister”. That may work on some recipients, but it’s equally likely to irritate those who might feel it implies backing Leave somehow makes one a disloyal Conservative.
I am writing to you as Patron of Conservatives for Reform in Europe, a campaign launched a few weeks ago by a group of Conservatives who believe that change and reform of the EU is vital for the future of Britain. We support the Prime Minister in his battle to achieve a better deal with our European partners.
Many of us are deeply sceptical about the EU, but we believe that on balance it is better for Britain to remain in a reformed Europe rather than out on our own.
The proposed reforms
Our Prime Minister’s proposed reforms will:
Protect our sovereignty by removing the UK from ‘ever closer union’
Boost competitiveness to create jobs and help British business
Keep us out of the single currency and secure the pound
Control immigration from the EU and end ‘something for nothing’ welfare
Getting in touch
As you will be aware, the Conservative Party will not officially campaign on either side for this referendum. Every Association will have members who want to stay in Europe and those who want to leave the EU. The usual channels are therefore closed and one of the many challenges for our campaign is to build our own network. That is why I am contacting you using an email address available in the public domain – not one supplied by the Party or indeed your Local Association.
Support our campaign
If you support the Prime Minister and our campaign, I would love to hear from you. To join our campaign, visit our website to sign up. And if you’d rather we didn’t use your Council email address you can input a different one there too. If you’d like to email me direct, I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When the Prime Minister announced the referendum, he was fulfilling a pledge we, as a Party, made to the British people before last year’s General Election. If the current media speculation is accurate, this referendum will be in June, within weeks of the May elections in which I know you will be campaigning in and playing your part. You can read more about what Brexit would mean for Britain in this excellent speech delivered by my chum the Rt Hon Nick Herbert MP earlier this week.
I do hope you will join me and support our campaign.
The Rt Hon Sir Eric Pickles MP
PS: Signing up is a show of support for the Prime Minister and his proposed reforms – we hope that you will join us.”