This morning's launch of the ‘People’s Pledge’, the campaign for a referendum of Britain’s EU membership, was in some ways a classic Eurosceptic affair.
The audience was mainly white, male and over 50.
The Hooray Henry/white van alliance was embodied in the description of Facebook and Twitter as “those new fandangled things” by a young member of the campaign team.
And chairman John Mills’ claims that the “bias is quite substantial” at the BBC’s Today Programme, and that he is “not at all sure the [corporation] fulfils its role of being objective”, seemed to cement the fish and chips odour of the event.
But is that really such a bad smell? As “usual suspect” (her own words) Ruth Lea said: “what unites us on this campaign is this overwhelming requirement for the people of Britain to have their say”.
Lea, an economist, told attendees that she “understand[s] that different people have other views”, claiming that there are several members of the campaign who actually support continued European membership, although most of the front-line are sceptics.
Indeed the most powerful speaker, London Assembly Member Jenny Jones of the Green Party, was far from a usual suspect. She exhorted the public to think of the “sheer waste”, both financial “and in terms of food and so on”, that the EU generates.
She claimed that she had discovered that the shift in venue of single European meeting from Brussels to Strasbourg had cost €1.2m, while she described the sight of MEPs and Commissioners flying in and out of work, with the commensurate carbon emissions, as “awful”.
And she concluded with the point that featured most heavily among all the speeches: it is “offensive”, she argued, that “27 unelected commissioners make most of the decisions” that regulate our lives. Over half of all laws, in fact, are made in Brussels.
As Mills himself said: “This is not just a campaign about EU membership, it’s about democracy and accountability.”
The challenge for the People’s Pledge campaign now is to create the “grassroots” movement which its co-founder Chris Bruni-Lowe aspires to. As the YouGov survey which it commissioned shows, there is overwhelming support for a referendum in the 60+ age bracket, with 70% in favour and only 7% unsure. On the other hand, only 49% of 18-24 year olds want a referendum, with a huge 26% unsure.
If the People’s Pledge can indeed “take its message to the doorstep” and broaden the campaign to include all parts of society, it appears to have a sure-fire winner on its hands.
The danger is that its organisers further stoke political disillusion among mainly older, white, working class voters, and then fail to deliver the channel through which this anger can be vented.