The government’s EU “remain” booklet hits the doormats…and it is spookily reminiscent of its 1975 counterpart

P1010392 (2)Here’s the very booklet I received yesterday from Her Majesty’s government. It’s a rather dry looking document, but the message is clear, as it is repeated, more or less, three times on the cover of the booklet:

Why The Government believes that voting to remain in the European Union is in the best decision for the UK.

…on the front and:

The Government believes that voting to remain in the European Union is the best decision for the UK.


The Government believes that it is in you and your family’s best interests that the UK remains in the European Union.

…on the back. So you have to have the memory of a particularly forgetful goldfish to miss the message.

The document is also at pains to point out:

The UK has secured a special status in a reformed EU.

This is all spookily reminiscent of the “remain” 1975 European Community referendum leaflet sent out by the government, which I am old enough to remember, which said:

…the Government, after long, hard negotiations, are recommending to the British people that we should remain a member of the European Community.

I’m struck that the 1975 government pamphlet puts virtually the same arguments as the 2016 booklet.

I’m in favour of “remain”, so I approve of the booklet – it argues the points well. I applaud David Cameron and co. for being bold in their communication with citizens.

But I can’t help but thinking that that canny old fox Harold Wilson was right to send out “yes” and “no” leaflets to households in 1975. It probably helped the “remain” case in the end.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist and member of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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  • Eddie Sammon 13th Apr '16 - 10:11am

    I disagreed with Cameron and the Government getting the taxpayer to pay for this. Referendums should be free and fair, otherwise it is a small step towards Putinism where unfair elections can be held because “the government is not neutral”.

    How much will it help anyway? Can’t the Remain camp find £9,000,000 from all its powerful friends?

    The content of the booklet might be OK, I’ve already had someone leaning towards Brexit ask me whether the information in the leaflet was true. I’ll check it out later, but I’m backing Remain anyway.

  • nigel hunter 13th Apr '16 - 10:14am

    I can agree with you. Harold Wilson put the opposite case. If Cameron does not reciprocate it can be seen as IN propaganda only. The fear is we have moved on since then, new people, more educated, more biased towards certain beliefs, would it have the same conclusion?

  • Someone very wise (possibly Norman Stanley Fletcher) once said “never believe anything until it’s officially denied”.

    Given the general view of the political classes (justified or not) the government’s decision to use taxpayers’ money to put their case for “remain” will undoubtedly be portrayed as “the elite” using our money to help themselves.

    The government “information” booklet will be judged in retrospect as a colossal error of judgment if “leave” wins. And it will be judged an act of political genius if “remain” wins.

  • Richard Underhill 13th Apr '16 - 11:05am

    BBC2 on 12/4/2016 @9 pm is doing a well researched job from BBC interviews and after the 50 year rule and the 30 year rule about government papers in archive at Kew.
    ‘Europe: Them or Us’ with Nick Robinson is a series, but has already missed out the actions of Harold Wilson in trying to negotiate entry when in power between 1964 and 1970. With the help of cartoonist(s) it depicts him as “sitting on the fence” but was that ever his true position? With a background in economics and having worked as a civil servant under Beveridge it is at least possible that his main objective was Labour party unity, which made agreeing with his Tory opposite number on anything rather difficult and on such a big issue almost impossible. Therefore his own history as Prime Minister in the 1960s should have been included in the history.
    Russell Johnson MP said that “Liberals are like the nose on your face, out in front and (roughly?) in the centre”. This is true of the six Liberal MPs who divided the House of Commons in favour of entry in the 1950s. It is also true of an MP who found the pressure from Labour whips unbearable and defected to the Liberals.
    Time to Explain: An Autobiography by Christopher Mayhew (ISBN: 9780091684402)
    There was another MP founded a predecessor of the SDP, fought and won a parliamentary bye-election, joined the SDP and merged into the Liberal Democrats.
    Many people have noted that Winston Churchill was a cabinet minister in the Liberal government 1914-1916 and served on the western front in France. He came to power in 1940 after the Norway debate with the support of patriotic Labour MPs and of former Prime Minister David Lloyd George MP. As a peacetime PM Churchill offered a coalition and one cabinet post to the Liberal leader, which was declined.

  • Richard Underhill 13th Apr '16 - 11:08am

    The Scottish referendum is also relevant to this thread.
    There was more time and massive demands for more facts from the electors.

  • Richard Underhill 13th Apr '16 - 11:20am

    Paul Murray 13th Apr ’16 – 10:36am If you believe in anything, believe in the Uncertainty Principle as explained, accessibly, by Professor Stephen Hawking in A Brief History of Time. This is a man who is willing to point out his own mistake(s) and able to tell us, with hindsight, where Einstein was right, where he was wrong and where he failed. Politicians might like to note three, brief, biographies of Albert Einstein, Galileo Galilei and Isaac Newton. He has met a previous Pope, but did not suffer the fate of Galileo.
    The current pronouncements of the International Monetary Fund show uncertainty affecting our economic prospects, caused firstly by the calling of a referendum and secondly by the risks of exit.

  • As a former Huddersfield lad, I have to say that Harold Wilson is a greatly underestimated Prime Minister who presided over a great deal of social reform in the sixties – and above all – had the sense to keep us out of the Vietnam war despite the economic pressure of the US President LBJ.

  • I don’t remember the Yes leaflet. I do remember writing to the EEC for free information about it.

  • Paul Walter Paul Walter 13th Apr '16 - 1:09pm

    David Raw
    Completely agreed. I’m a great admirer of HW. He won more general elections than Margaret Thatcher and did a great job straddling the divisions in the Labour movement.
    I met him once in the Scilly Isles and chatted with him at length. He was very proud of his roots. “I’m from ‘Uddersfield” – he said with great aplomb!

  • @ Paul,

    That’s good to hear. Happy memories. Yes I too was lucky enough to meet Uncle Harold (as he was known in Udders). It’s his centenary this year – so proud to have HW and Squiff as too PM’s with Udders connections…. and of course HW had Liberal roots…… and if it hadn’t been for my affection for Donald Wade and Richard Wainwright I might have followed him.

    Also, met him in the Scillies, queued up behind him in the Co-op, (he kept the Co-op stamps). He happily chatted and posed for a pic with Dad and HW’s dog Paddy. When we mentioned that Uncle Harry had played for H. Town against Arsenal in the Cup Final he produced a photo out of his wallet of the great 1926 team which won the title three times running. We had a great non political chat as only football nuts can. Up the Town !!

    Not many years ago I met Mary Wilson in the Scillies and have to say what a lovely nice lady she (still) is (now at the age of 100).

  • paul barker 13th Apr '16 - 2:44pm

    The basic division between Nationalism & Internationalism is pretty long-term; the issues havent changed much in 40 years. The big changes over that time are of scale, The EU itself has grown from 9 Nations & 200 Million people to 28 & 500 Million. At the same time lots of similar Pacts have sprung up all over the world, following a similar path to The EU but a long way behind of course. Good examples would be Mercosur & Unasur in Latin America.
    A big risk of the next Half Century is that the world will be dominated by India & China, both of which have shown a willingness to bully smaller, weaker countries. The EU is part of a wider solution & another step on the road to a unified Planet.

  • Richard Underhill 14th Apr '16 - 9:52am

    ITV News on 13/4/2016 showed the Stronger In battle-bus arriving in Canterbury with Amber Rudd MP and a group of campaigners with T-shirts. They did not try to engage those committed to Leave. Interviews showed that students had not registered. Why not? One said he is “too lazy”. The ITV News commentator said that David Cameron has himself to blame for the reform of the registration system.
    This seems like USA, where campaigners need to run registration campaigns. In the UK there is not much time before 23 June 2016. A role for Bite The Ballot?
    Previous TV footage of David Cameron had students shouting about the date, “why 23 June? We have exams on that day!”

  • @Eddie “I disagreed with Cameron and the Government getting the taxpayer to pay for this.”

    Remember, the electorate were demanding a say (or check) on Westminster’s powers to further hand ‘sovereignty’ to the EU; not an in/out referendum. Hence perhaps the entire referendum should be funded by the Leave campaign…

  • Denis Loretto 14th Apr '16 - 1:19pm

    Apropos the echoes of the 1975 referendum, it is well known that Harold Wilson was far from being a euro-enthusiast and caused some surprise when he not only called the referendum to avoid splits in his own party but then advocated a “yes” vote, rather than sheltering behind a neutral banner. According to his confidant Lord Donoughue, Wilson was of the belief that “a victory for the ‘Nos’ would empower ‘the wrong kind of people’ in Britain; the Benn Left and the (Enoch) Powell Right who were often extreme nationalists, protectionist, xenophobic and backward-looking”.

    Has anything changed in 2016?

  • Simon Banks 15th Apr '16 - 3:40pm

    I thought the booklet argues its case quite well. Its case for Europe is not, of course, a Liberal Democrat case.

    So in 1975 they thought it should be “the Government are” and not “the Government is”? Or was that the royal we?

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