It’s an exciting day for the People’s Pledge today. Following on from the successful result in Thurrock this past April, we are announcing our next set of local EU referendum votes, all of which will be held on the same day and spanning three conjoining constituencies – an escalation which will see the polling of roughly 130,000 voters. The seats that have been selected are Cheadle, Hazel Grove and Manchester Withington, all three with an incumbent Liberal Democrat MP. For those of you not aware of the result in Thurrock or our campaign’s in general, let me give you a little refresher.
The People’s Pledge is a cross party campaign for an EU referendum; it has nearly 110,000 supporters nation-wide and is one of Britain’s largest single issue pressure groups. The aim of the campaign is to return a majority of pro-referendum MPs in the next parliament all of whom “pledge” [on paper and video] to vote for a referendum at the next available opportunity. We already have 69 MPs supporting the campaign, including Natascha Engel MP (Chair of the influential Backbench Business Committee), Keith Vaz MP (Former Europe Minister) and Jon Cruddas (Labour’s new policy chief). The Pledge was supported by the candidates that finished first and third in the London Mayoral race – Boris Johnson and the Green party candidate Jenny Jones. Boris’ signing of the Pledge was described by the Spectator’s political editor James Forsyth as a key moment in the history of the Conservative party — the moment when the party’s balance of power tipped decisively in favour of a referendum.
Without a doubt the success of the campaigns first referendum in Thurrock has played a part in building the recent momentum towards an in/out referendum, and looking at the current atmospherics a referendum seems inevitable; not ‘if’ but ‘when’. In order to understand the sheer scale of the task ahead, it is worth understanding what was achieved in Thurrock. When we began the campaign we had no canvassing data, no local base, few listed supporters, the MP and rival PPC were against an In/out referendum, and we were unsure of how we would be received locally. Over the seven week period we knocked on 46,000 doors, set up a local office, signed up nearly 11,000 people to the Pledge and received the support of the local Labour councillors. The results themselves were overwhelming. Nearly 15,000 people took part, with 90% voting that “voters should be given a national referendum on UK membership of the European Union”. The turnout was 30.4% - quite significant considering this was not a legally binding referendum. Only some weeks later after the local elections results were announced did we really grasp the significance of what we had achieved. In the Thurrock constituency the council elections had an average turnout of 24.6% - in many wards more people signed the Pledge and subsequently voted for a referendum than voted for the winning local candidates. I will keep speculation on this point to a minimum, but without a doubt we were able to motivate more people to vote on this issue than many “experts” and pundits had predicted. A high single figure turnout – with the polling day on the Thursday before Easter- was to their minds “the most we could hope for”.
Now with the announcement that we are running three simultaneous referendums there will come equal if not increased pressure – quite simply, this has never been done before. I intend this campaign diary to be less of a 'how to' and more of a record of events. You will not find endless arguments about the need for a referendum; our case on our website is there for anyone who wants to read it. I hope this diary will instead provide broader analysis of political and local campaigning - in equal measures. The success of the People’s Pledge is imperative to furthering the case for an EU referendum. The strength of our campaign team and the grassroots Pledge concept has given the fight for an EU referendum serious traction for the first time in years, and we look forward to taking that fight to the people, as it is well past time for this debate to move beyond the political class and out into the public domain.