If you ever feel the urge to run a failed Out campaign in an in/out referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU, here’s how to do it in two easy steps.
First, make Out-ism all about immigrants and foreigners. Indelibly associate it with gripes about how many people speak English on your train to work, mutter about abolishing protection from racial discrimination in the workplace, stuff your mouth full of dog-whistles and blow until you can blow no more. Neglect to make a positive case for replacing the protectionist, monolithic, anti-democratic EU with an outward-looking, free-trading approach to the whole world. Provide no messages to the wavering, softly eurosceptic millions other than those which confirm the fears raised by the In camp’s scare-mongering.
Second, having built such a poor platform, insist on an immediate EU referendum. In return for your support for a minority government, demand a vote on a timescale that provides for no campaign period beyond a couple of weeks, no time to build a big Out coalition across party lines and no opportunity for anyone to undo the damage your focus on foreigners has done to distract from the positive case for independence.
Of course, while such an approach is a recipe for failure in a referendum, it may simultaneously be a recipe for maximising support for your party among the 20 per cent or so of voters whom you hope will hand you the greatest partisan advantage, and to hell with the impact on our chances of actually leaving the EU. But to make that trade, you’d have to put party before country – and that would be wrong. Wouldn’t it?