I met up with Nikki Sinclaire and her team in Manchester yesterday, it was great to catch up with the people I'd worked with as Nikki's campaign manager in the general election. Other aspects of the afternoon and evening I found quite disturbing though.
We met up in Manchester to leaflet the Labour Party conference inviting delegates to join us at Nikki's EU referendum fringe meeting yesterday evening. The campaign is demanding a straightforward referendum on whether we should be in or out, and in just over a month of actively seeking signatories, she has gathered over 20,000. The aim is to get 100,000 which could trigger a House of Commons debate on the issue. If only a few more supposedly withdrawalist MEPs were campaiging as hard as Nikki then progress would be so much swifter. But quaffing champagne and chomping foie gras in Brussels seems to have seduced so many other MEPs into a startling level of inactivity.
I have some concerns about the referendum option, shared by a couple of people at the meeting last night. If the campaign succeeded who would frame the question? It could be worded: "Do you want the UK to remain a member of the European Union?". Or it could be worded: "Do you want to see the UK isolated from the rest of Europe?". Let's face it if they can hold second referenda when the first result is not the one they want, that scenario is not implausible.
The second concern is the resources for the two campaigns. After many years the European Union admitted that they had pumped massive resources into the campaign for Britain to stay in the EEC in 1975. By comparison the out campaign was funded largely by individuals digging into their own pockets and savings.
If those issues can be addressed then let's have the referendum and finally, whoever wins a properly balanced and fair referendum, we can say that people have had their say, now let's just get on with it be that in the EU or outside.
What really shocked me yesterday was standing outside the Labour conference. It felt a bit like being in some kind of low budget film about the living dead. I've never seen so many zombie like, miserable politicos as I saw leaving Manchester Central yesterday. But I suppose after losing an election, then listening to the new leader spouting empty rhetoric about wimmin, gays, lesbians, BMEs and talkin' 'bout my generation, that would finish off even the most optimistic. I swear I saw a couple of speech bubbles above delegates' heads bearing: "Oh no, Ed Miliband, what have we done?"
At least a few years ago Labour delegates used to resemble living, breathing, real people. I know because I've picketed a few over the years. But the last two I've stood outside, yesterday being the worst, I think they've attracted political clones and professionals interested only in a career, little about genuine beliefs or principles. But this year they are particularly hurting as they are, for the first time for many, losers. Like the Tories in the 1980s their years of government have attracted a bunch of chancers and now it's over and I suspect, over for many years.