Since it was announced late in January this year that Britain's Labour government would put the issue of European Economic Community membership to a referendum, Britain has inevitably found itself divided into tow camps: those who want to continue and those who want to pull out of the community.
SV AND CU Anti-market posters (2 shots)
Background: Since it was announced late in January this year that Britain's Labour government would put the issue of European Economic Community membership to a referendum, Britain has inevitably found itself divided into tow camps: those who want to continue and those who want to pull out of the community.
With the referendum now less than a week away -- Thursday 5 June -- the pro and anti-Common Market factions are entering the last stages of their respective campaigns ... and both seem confident of victory.
Both the Britain in Europe committee -- the umbrella body campaigning for continued British membership of the European Community -- and the National Referendum Campaign -- opposing British membership -- have received equal financial help from the British government. But in terms of private finance, the Britain in Europe campaigners have secured far greater backing than their rivals.
In addition, the pro-Market campaign has found wide-ranging support from many established bodies. Their headquarters are situated in central London ... in the impressive offices of the European Movement in Whitehall Place. In comparison, the anti-marketeers run their hectic campaign from the cramped basement offices of solicitor and campaign leader, Christopher Frere-Smith.
But, whatever the disparity in finance, both factions have found more than enough enthusiastic campaigners. In big-name terms, the pro-marketeers -- led by Sir Con O'Neill -- have the active support of prominent political figures like Home Secretary Roy Jenkins, former Conservative party leader and Prime Minister, Edward Heath -- the man who took Britain into Europe in 1972 -- and the present Conservative Party leader, Margaret Thatcher. In opposition, the anti-market campaign stars include Industry Minister Anthony Wedgwood-Benn, Employment Minister Michael Foot, and former Conservative rebel Enoch Powell -- now Member of Parliament for an Ulster Constituency.
Central issues have ranged from rising food prices, loss of political sovereignty, unemployment threats, to international stability, vastly increased commercial markets and greater economic security. Each issue raised by each side has found an overwhelming response from their rival. Accusation, refutation and counter-accusation have flown thick and fast from opposing platforms ... while national television coverage has brought the campaign -- with all its claims and threats -- into homes throughout the country.
The whole referendum issue has seriously rocked the ranks of the Labour Party ... almost split down the middle into pro and anti-market factions. Prime Minister Harold Wilson -- who led the re-negotiations of Common Market entry terms and who proposed to his Cabinet that Britain remain within the European Community -- has been forced to suspend the tradition of ministerial responsibility over the issue. Faced with a major rebellion, he has also granted ministers' permission to oppose each other in public during the latter stages of the campaign. Not only is the referendum a precedent in British history ... so are the consequences of the campaign.
Early during the national debate Mr. Wilson was forced to sack Secretary of State for Industry, leftwinger Eric Heffer, for his outspoken comments in Parliament. Whatever the results of Thursday's referendum for Britain's position in Europe, the results of the whole campaign for the British Labour party could turn out to be very damaging in the long-term.
The Labour split is mirrored in other organisations. The trades union movement finds itself in a state of disarray ... as do members of Britain's Communist Party ... and to a lesser extent the Conservative Party rebels have given rise to some disquiet among their leadership.
On a national basis, too, regions are split. Anti-marketeers have claimed overwhelming victory in Scotland and the support of the Scottish nationalist groups. Similarly, Plaid Cymru -- the Welsh Nationalist Party -- has come out against British membership of the Common Market. They say that taking the result of the referendum on a national basis will ignore immense regional feeling on the issue.
In all, the referendum campaign has brought together some strange bedfellows whose close proximity has not always proved conducive to quiet campaigning. Anti-market meetings have more than once been broken up by factions of supporters. Early in the campaign, National Front followers -- ardent anti-marketeers -- disrupted meetings addressed by leftwing supporters. Other temporary alliances have caused surprise: the linking of committed leftwinger Tony Wedgwood-Benn and rightwinger Enoch Powell on the same platform is unprecedented.
Without doubt, the referendum campaign has roused very strong feelings in Britain. It has emerged as yet another of those issues "to split whole families". It has introduced radical -- if temporary -- changes in constitutional precedence and practice ... and engendered new factional groupings cutting across class, party allegiance and regional bias. Almost as important to Britain's future as the referendum itself, will be the longterm effect of the campaign on British life.