Benn and the Referendum

13 Apr

I have written before about Tony Benns Diaries, which are a wonderful read. He was of course a key player in the 1975 EU Referendum.

In November 1970, Benn wrote to his constituents suggesting the idea of a Common Market ( remember that ) referendum. Harold Wilson told him he couldn’t do it( suggest it ), but when it came to shadow cabinet Callaghan famously calls it ” a little rubber liferaft which we will all be glad of in a years time”. By January 1971 he is trying to convince Roy Jenkins of the merits of a referendum, but Roy fears it will split the party ( argh what foresight ). On the 29th of March 1972, the shadow cabinet votes 8 to 6 to support the idea of a referendum. A week later Benn”phoned Rupert Murdoch about the referendum, thinking it was about time I got some press support.”On the 7th of April he meets Murdoch, who is opposed to the idea “because he is in favour of entering Europe”. Oh how times changed.

Then Roy Jenkins resigns and blames the referendum idea.By 1975 back in Government Harold Wilson announces the referendum and the idea that Ministers will be able to speak and vote as they choose fit. Cabinet on the 18 March though voted to accept the renegotiate terms by 16 to 7.Two days later Wilson is furious at those anti-marketeers. He had assumed they would have a spokesman but instead they have used the ability to speak to , well , speak.

The referendum itself was held on the 5th of June. Benn sends the morning shouting “No to the Common Market” through a loudspeaker, being driven around Bristol. The following Monday Wilson offers Benn the role of energy ( from Industry) a demotion at best. Unsure of whether to accept Benn tries to contact his wife who is in a meeting, her”first thought was that I had been assassinated, which in a way I had”. The next day he accepts but the anti-marketeers are routed in the reshuffle. “Wilson gives Benn’s head to the City” runs the Guardian.


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