Doesn't happen often, but this morning a constituent engaged me in political discussion. He accusing me of being dominated by the 'whips' and not representing my constituents. Its true that I believe I have a responsibility to support my party in the lobbies. But I do not think this is contrary to the interests of my constituents. I pointed out that its not possible to represent all of my constituents on all issues all of the time because they hold divided opinions. In any case, its not possible to know what is majority opinion. I then asked for an example of where I had voted contrary to what he (or I) thought to be the right course as a result of pressure from the whips. It was then that we cut to the chase. It was all about an In/Out EU referendum. I had not joined the 81 rebels who voted against the Government over such a referendum earlier this year. It rather surprised my constituent when I said I did not support an In/Out referendum because I think, at present, its a thoroughly bad idea. And that I thought the 81 rebels were wrong.
Actually I am thoroughly Eurosceptic. I would be content to support an In/Out referendum if the Government holding it committed to opening negotiations to withdraw if the 'Out' vote won. But I cannot support an In/Out vote if one of the two possible outcomes is likely to be ignored. Such a situation would lead to a massive loss of confidence in our system of democracy. In my discussions with Ukip friends over many years, I have explained that this is one of the two main reasons why I disagree with them.
The second reason I oppose an In/Out referendum has its roots in the 1975 vote on whether to stay in (the EEC in those days). I campaigned for an 'Out' vote then and we were routed. It was the biggest 'green light' to European integration imaginable. I fear the same would happen again. Despite what many campaigners for a referendum claim, I believe the 'In' side would win - and if it did the inevitable result would be another 'green light' to integration. Another case of the result being the opposite of what's wished for. Anyway, I spent 30 minutes chatting to my constituent. I don't think we managed to persuade each other of much. But I thought it was a better debate than the one in the House of Commons.