Government’s £9m EU referendum propaganda is a betrayal of trust

Her Majesty’s Government is to spend £9.3m of your money campaigning for the UK to remain a member of the European Union.

Prime Minister David Cameron announced last night that the British Government will spend £9.3m of taxpayers’ money on a targeted campaign to win June’s referendum on EU membership.

In a clear example of a broken promise, the Government is to spend £6m on a 16-page glossy brochure which will be sent to every household in the UK warning:

If the UK voted to leave the EU, the resulting economic shock would put pressure on the value of the pound, which would risk higher prices of some household goods and damage living standards. Losing our full access to the EU single market would make exporting to Europe harder and increase costs.

Last June, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond stood in the House of Commons and said:

It will be for the ‘yes’ and the ‘no’ campaigns to lead the debate in the weeks preceding the poll . . . I can assure the House that the government has no intention of undermining those campaigns

It seems the Government’s idea of not undermining the Leave campaign is to also spend £500k on design and a further £3m on producing a website and promoting it via social media. Facebook adverts have already appeared on some users’ News Feeds.

Given the strict spending limits (imposed by the Government) on both campaigns, the use of taxpayers’ money to campaign to remain in the EU gives the status-quo supporters a significant financial advantage. The Times claims that Remain’s total spending power will, therefore, be in the region of £33m, while the Leave campaign will only be able to spend £18m. The group which receives the official designation for each campaign will have their spending limit capped at £7m – over £2m less than the Government is spending on their own campaign.

Chairman of the Public Administration Committee Bernard Jenkin (a Tory MP) said:

Of course this is completely outrageous. In this one act, the government is going to be spending more than the official Leave campaign will be allowed to spend. It’s not as though the government isn’t already influencing the debate. This is not about a level playing field . . . and there’s a whiff of panic about it.

Meanwhile, one of the co-founders of the Grassroots Out campaign (which is hoping to be awarded the Electoral Commission’s designation as the official Leave campaign) Peter Bone (another Tory MP) said:

[This is] immoral, undemocratic and against what the government has promised. Many recent polls have shown that the majority of the UK public are actually in favour of leaving the EU so to spend their money on a pro-EU propaganda exercise is an inexcusable waste. The prime minister promised parliament that no taxpayers’ money would be spent promoting remain or leave. If this is not reversed it will seriously damage the prime minister’s reputation.

Despite promising that the Government would not interfere in the campaign in an official capacity, we have already seen that pro-EU cabinet ministers have been allowed to be briefed on pro-EU matters by their (taxpayer-funded) civil servants, while pro-Brexit cabinet ministers’ (taxpayer-funded) civil servants are not permitted to assist their political masters in preparing arguments for Brexit. This pro-EU propaganda, however, is on an entirely different level.

Whether you agree with Remaining in or Leaving the EU, you must surely agree that there are many, many better ways the Government could have spent £9m of our money. British voters were promised a free and fair in/out referendum, the result of which would be legally-binding. Free it may be, but, if the Government is using taxpayers’ money to favour one side over the other, then it is certainly not a fair fight.

And, if they can go back on their word with the Government now undermining one side of the debate, how can anyone trust them to honour the wishes of the British people if they vote to Leave the EU on 23 June?

Medway Messenger: Friday, 8 February, 2013

Holidays yes, membership no

I WAS bemused and frustrated by Cllr Juby’s latest nonsensical musings (Messenger, February 1).

The message he seems eager to portray is that the EU is a controversial institution, but Europe’s a nice place to go on holiday.

It is a nice place to go on holiday and I frequently do. In fact, only July was I in Spain, celebrating with the natives when their national team became the greatest in the world after winning the UEFA European Football Championship in Kiev.

However, that does not stop myself and thousands of others in Medway from being opposed to membership of a supranational body for democratic and economic reasons; for the £50 million the EU costs Britain on a daily basis, for the saturation of the employment market by open borders which has led to lower wages as more candidates vie for jobs, and for the sovereign powers the EU steals from nation states with every treaty and directive.

This is not simply a swipe at Cllr Juby – even if his attempted defence of membership was, frankly, absurd.

All three main parties have adopted a nanny state, government knows best attitude to the EU, denying us a referendum on membership at every opportunity.

David Cameron’s recent speech did little to allay fears of alienated Conservatives over his party’s position and is nothing short of a fudge.

No one in this country born on or after 6 June 1957 has been allowed a formal vote on membership of the EU and that is something which must change now – not in five years.

Alan Collins, Goudhurst Road, Gillingham

Party identities in the coalition era

As we enter the Party Conference season, I have already seen the predictable Liberal Democrat comments against the Conservatives, and Conservative comments complaining about the same.

I may be in a minority, or I may be in a majority, when I say: er, so what?

Throughout the duration of their existence, the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats have been two separate parties, with two differing sets of policies and driven by two different sets of ideologies.

In May 2010, despite a swing to the Conservatives of 5%, David Cameron’s party fell 19 seats short of achieving an overall majority in the House of Commons. As a result, Mr Cameron offered to enter into negotiations with Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrat to form a coalition government in the national interest.

After concessions were made on either side, the new coalition government took power on 11 May, led by the Coalition Agreement hammered out in the days preceding.

Note the terminology used: coalition, agreement, national interest.

On 11 May 2010 the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats did not merge as political parties and cease having two differing sets of policies driven by two different sets of ideologies. No, these still exist, and there is no reason why they should not continue to do so.

After the election, both parties recognised the need to form a strong, stable government to take the difficult decisions necessary for Britain. For the Liberal Democrats, that meant stomaching cuts and, most controversially, tuition fee rises. For the Conservatives, a referendum on AV and a constant voice of conscience from their junior partners.

More than two years on, and following a few setbacks, it would be fair to say the honeymoon is a near-faded memory. Each party feels reason to feel annoyed with the other, though are (usually) careful when considering whether (or not) to make their feelings public.

Being in government under such an agreement is not a reason to stifle free speech, the bedrock of British society. The Liberal Democrats feel aggrieved over reform of the House of Lords, let them say so. The Conservatives feel aggrieved over their response in opposing boundary reforms, let them say so as well.

It may make good reading in the media, it may even play in the hands of the Labour Party, but it is not going to stop the business of coalition government and making the important,difficult decisions between now and 2015.

And, crucially, sitting in a circle around a purple dinosaur singing “I love you, you love me” is not going to change the fact that, in 2015, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats are going to be fighting two different campaigns, with two different sets of policies driven by two different sets of ideologies.