Margaret Thatcher showing off her pro-EU credentials in the 1975 referendum. pic.twitter.com/jrX2Oyz7Hj
— TSE (@TSEofPB) December 27, 2015
This week William Hague explained why he would vote for the UK to Remain in the EU in the upcoming referendum, as a former Tory leader and Foreign Secretary this inevitably led to a lot of comment about someone who has been considered a Eurosceptic voting for Remain.
For me the most illuminating comment came from Mark Reckless, the former Tory MP who defected to UKIP and subsequently lost his seat in May, Reckless said
â€œ[Hague] used to be a patriot, now heâ€™s selling out his country.â€
The inference being Hague is no longer a patriot because he is planning to vote for Remain. Questioning the patriotism of Remain voters will ultimately backfire, insulting the voters is seldom a vote winner and will put off potential voters, and as Doctor Johnson observed, patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel
People can hold different views for principled, honourable reasons. People also change their minds on major political issues, something Mark Reckless himself did when he defected from the Tory Party to UKIP, he would have been upset if senior Tories like William Hague had questioned his patriotismÂ when he defected. As the picture in the above tweet shows, Tory leaders do have a history have of changing their views on the EU.
Language and tone will be important in this referendum, so as a corollary, Remain should avoid the language of David Cameron on UKIP when talking about Leavers, it will have the same impact as Leavers questioning the patriotism of Remainers.