So the EU referendum campaign is under way. And the Remain campaign is in trouble.
That may seem a bit premature but I mean it. I've just heard Michael Fallon on Radio 4's Today programme trying to make the case for remaining in the UK and he was dreadful. First, he has that weird media training that the whole Tory cabinet seems to have had which, whatever they say, just sounds like they're saying, I am doing my best to be extremely patient with your impertinent questions, you revolting oik. It's not a good tone to strike. But second, and much more important, he was completely unable to offer any positive reason to stay in the EU.
Do they not remember the Scottish Referendum? The whole strategy of the No camp was fear and negativity. They kept warning that an independent Scotland would face all sorts of unknown threats and uncertainties. They listed huge numbers of ridiculous questions as if they were insolubly complicated - 'How much would a first-class stamp cost in a separated Scotland?' screamed the unionists in philatelistic horror. They thought that would be fine. They started the campaign with a healthy lead and were sure that fear would be a better strategy than positivity. But they didn't bank on the Scottish Yes campaign running a almost entirely positive campaign, imagining the joys and dignity of an independent Scotland, engaging and enthusing people right across the country, halving the 20% lead when the campaign started to 10%.
What did Michael Fallon say on the Radio? He talked about the uncertainty and risks of leaving the EU. He warned that we'd not shake off the EU anyway because we'd have that huge trading area on our doorstep. He denied that there were security risks in remaining in the EU because we've opted out of Schengen anyway. He said he shared the Prime Minister's frustration with European bureacracy ('no one likes harmonization or directives,' he insisted) but he said it's better to be in, trying to influence the EU to get better than staying out with no influence.
He said nothing positive about the EU or about Europe at all. In fact, he portrayed it as a nothing more than a frustrating, terrorist-ridden, meddling bureaucracy but better than devil you know.
Is that the best they can do? Cameron promised the renegotiation and referendum in January 2013. They've had over three years to think about this.
Their problem is that the Out campaign have some very positive things to talk about: security, sovereignty, self-determination, an end of regulation, control of our borders, control of our own laws.
Now, these things are mostly untrue - the idea that we will regain full autonomous sovereignty as a country is ludicrous (particularly with TTIP going through its final stages); we're not really going to stop all immigration, unless we want our economy, schools, health service to collapse; Iain Duncan Smith's extraordinary remark that we are at prey to terrorism because of Europe is laughable given that the worst terrorist attack we've suffered was carried out by people who migrated from Leeds.
But at least they sound positive. And, as became very clear from Boris Johnson's weaselly article in the Telegraph this morning, the more pleasant sides of the Out campaign can drive a wedge between Europe and the EU by praising the joys of the former ('the home of the greatest and richest culture in the world') and disparaging the EU ('a slow and invisible process of legal colonisation').
The remain campaign needs to find a positive vision for Europe. And the problem is we have a Tory government; the Tories have been batshit crazy about Europe for thirty years, divided like no other party in Britain on the issue, and the last thing David Cameron is going to want to do is start hymning the joys of European harmonization because he knows there's a real risk of his party tearing itself apart. So he is hobbled, incapable of offering a positive vision. I don't know what Jeremy Corbyn is going to do; I think his instincts on this issue are probably quite torn and he still has problems bringing the parliamentary party with him. Apart from the SNP, the Lib Dems are probably the most instinctive pro-Europeans (at least they were under Nick Clegg), but they are still suffering from their collusion in the 2010-15 Coalition.
So who will speak for Europe? And who will speak for the EU? Someone must - and if they do, I hope they'll stop talking about free trade areas and instead say something like this:
The EU is a huge bold and beautiful project. It's the most ambitious attempt for nations to come together in a spirit of genuine equality and mutual respect, to put aside their differences and find what links them. It is a way of acknowledging the terrible things that have happened in our collective European past and tries to create a future without them. Yes, the EU seeks harmonization on a huge range of issues, and that's a wonderful thing, because the EU is founded on the principle that the rights of a worker to be protected from harm at work in Sligo are the same as those of a workers in Bucharest. That we all deserve the highest possible standards of health, education, justice and welfare; that we should be protected collectively so no one - whether terrorist or thief, gangster or businessman - can exploit differences between us to pick off the weakest. That the freedoms that have been so richly articulated by European culture - the freedom of thought, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of movement - should be applied universally, supporting with the greatest vigour and enthusiasm the dignity of each of us as thinking, loving, creative people. Which of these freedoms is too good for Britain? Which protections do our workers not deserve? The answer is none. The EU is a beautiful experiment in human freedom and dignity and, as one of the founders of modern democracy, we should be joining hands with our European partners to continue to shape our common future.