In many ways, it feels as though the country has turned full circle from the late 1990s. Back then it was pretty miserable to be a right-winger, losing elections heavily, facing an almost impossible route back to power, losing referendums, being told from all sides that the great debates were permanently settled and you had lost and so forth. There was much talk of “this election will be the last fought on ideology”. Eurosceptics were bluntly told that their opinion was invalid because so many had voted for pro-European parties. There was a real sense of having it crushed down that not just a battle but a war had been won and a new permanent settlement was here to stay.
However, what is definitely different is the media reaction and coverage of those who lost at the ballot box. It was never mentioned then that in 1997 Tony Blair and New Labour swept to power with the backing of about just 30% of the total electorate. Instead New Labour swept all before it. The Welsh devolution referendum passed by 50.3% on a 50.22% turnout. But very few talked about the “49.8%” or the “75%” or whatever the percentage of the total population of Wales was. The media did not go hunting for regretful Yes/Yr voters. The referendum had to be followed up by primary legislation but few argued that it was only “advisory” and that Parliament should not enact it. Those who did were dismissed as anti-democrats who were disrespectful of the will of the people. There was no talk of further referendums on the final settlement or when question marks were raised about what had influenced voters.
(Ironically the one referendum whose implementation did get challenged a lot was the only one that did have the backing of over 50% of the total electorate, namely the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland.)
You can see from this why so many Eurosceptics are both gung ho and apprehensive about the current situation. Having been on the other end of the stick, they know all too well the importance of getting the great democratic mandate enacted as quickly as they can. They have little sympathy for those who showed them none. But they also don’t feel as confident in their position as New Labour did. And they fear that victory will be snatched from their hands. They’ve lost time and again on European treaties. They’ve seen politicians promise referendums only to not deliver them, sometimes taking refuge in how proposals have been repackaged. They are aware of how pro Europeanism has consistently been much stronger in Parliament than in the country. And they see a significant chunk of political opinion that claims to want to have a say in shaping Brexit when it actually wants to stop Brexit altogether. Few believe that Gina Miller brought her court case merely because she wanted to see a debate in Parliament but because she and her supporters were trying any method they could to derail Brexit altogether.
(The full piece is at “Arise Lord Brexit“.)