You’d need a heart of stone not to laugh at the death of the People’s Vote
BY TOBY YOUNG
It was the second-best piece of news this week after Boris’s Tuesday night victory in the House of Commons. On Sunday, the Observer ran a story about the ferocious in-fighting that had broken out in the People’s Vote campaign. Roland Rudd, the multi-millionaire Chair of Open Britain, the organisation that controls the campaign, sacked four of the directors over the weekend, including James McGrory, the campaign director, and Tom Baldwin, the communications director. This followed a failed boardroom coup against Rudd led by Alastair Campbell and Peter Mandelson which the Mail on Sunday wrote about the week before.
On Monday, the story got even better. Rudd was due to address campaign staff at the People’s Vote headquarters in Millbank Tower on Monday morning at 9am, but after he discovered that McGrory and Baldwin had turned up to work – in effect, refusing to recognise Rudd’s authority – he refused to enter the building and instead gave an interview to Sky News. In response, dozens of staff staged a walkout and set up shop in the café of the Tate Britain round the corner.
It sounds like the Remain equivalent of the Judean People’s Front versus the People’s Front of Judea, but there’s an important point of disagreement between the two factions. Rudd wants the People’s Vote to stop pretending that it’s campaigning for a second referendum for purely ‘democratic’ reasons – because Leave’s 2016 campaign was dishonest, because the public is now better informed, because people should have a ‘final say’, etc., etc. – and come clean about the fact that it’s pro-Remain. The other side, by contrast, wants to keep up the masquerade.
Rudd is clearly right about this. No one – and I mean, absolutely no one – is fooled by Campbell and Mandelson’s spin. Indeed, one of the things that makes Remainer MPs and their powerful supporters outside Parliament so appalling is that they pretend to care about democracy while, at the same time, completely ignoring the result of the largest democratic exercise ever conducted in this country. Nearly all the leading campaigners for a second referendum said they would respect the result of the first referendum before it took place – and many of them stood on a platform of doing precisely that in the 2017 General Election. Yet they never had any intention of keeping that promise. If you’ve got the stomach for it, watch this video:
Even though no one believes the People’s Vote campaigners want a second referendum because of their passionate commitment to democracy – or that they’d respect the result of that contest if it didn’t go their way – it’s symptomatic of the contempt in which they hold the British public that they want to maintain this charade. Just as they believe the electorate was too thick to know what it was voting for in 2016, so they think they’re too stupid to see through their nonsense about why they want another vote. In fact, the only people they’re fooling are themselves.
But there’s another, deeper reason for the implosion of the People’s Vote campaign –it’s been an abject failure. The reason the bigwigs are all falling out with each other is because it has become clear in the past week that they’re not going to get their precious second referendum. Their last hope was to amend the Withdrawal Agreement Bill as it snaked its way through Parliament making its passing contingent on a ‘confirmatory vote’ – a typically weaselly way of describing another referendum – and a rally was organized in Parliament Square to show just how much public support there was for this amendment. But the rally came and went and in the days that followed it dawned on the Remain Alliance in the House of Commons that they just didn’t have the votes. That realization was instrumental in persuading Jo Swinson – previously a stalwart advocate for a People’s Vote – to do a volte face and support Boris’s call for a General Election. In the forthcoming contest, the Lib Dems will campaign on a platform of revoking Article 50, dispensing with any need to hold a second referendum.
Assuming the Tories win the election, which I think they will, the People’s Vote won’t have any future in its current incarnation – and that, too, appears to have entered into Roland Rudd’s calculations. After we’ve left the EU, there will inevitably be a ‘re-join’ movement and it looks as though Rudd wants the People’s Vote campaign to morph into that. A hopeless cause, given that the price of re-joining will be to replace the pound with the euro, become part of Schengen and abandon all our vetoes. But at least we won’t have to unpeel layers and layers of spin to discover what the ‘transfer-sovereignty-from-the-British-people-and-give-it-to-the-EU’ campaign is all about.
Farewell then, People’s Vote campaign. You won’t be missed.
Toby Young is a broadcaster, writer and journalist. Follow him on twitter: @toadmeister