I recently wrote a short comment piece for the Telegraph on the question of franchise in the forthcoming EU referendum. So far so yawn, right? Except that, I soon discovered, nothing angers Telegraph readers and assorted UKIP trolls more than seeing a slightly unconventional opinion pertaining to something EU-related conveyed by someone with a foreign byline.
You want to dismiss food banks as a lifestyle choice? Go ahead, be their guest. Offers to machine-gun refugees back to Libya? It's a bit of a laugh, innit? But try and explain the sense of unfairness felt by many long term UK residents from the EU in being denied a vote in the In/Out poll, which would have a pretty enormous impact on their future, and you'll soon unleash a (misspelled, ungrammatical) zombie apocalypse, my friend.
The negative reactions, which made up most of the 3000 comments (and counting), fell roughly into three categories: the really dim trolls spluttering with incoherent indignation, the 'aggressive victimhood' outers ("How dare, HOW DARE you scaremonger about EU citizens being deported?" Er...I didn't. "How dare, HOW DARE you try to subvert democracy with your DEMANDS??" Er..what?), and the righteous whiners ("Well, if you want to vote so much/like this country so much why don't you become a British citizen, eh? Ehh??" Er...that's what I, like, tried to explain in the piece?).
So far, so fun and games. No threats or violent language or anything. A light day at the office, really, for any aspiring Katie Hopkins of the liberal, pro-EU left. But on a more serious note, here are some interesting considerations that seem to me to emerge from the strength of the reaction and the nature of the criticism.
First of all the 'aggressive victimhood' outers are spoiling for reasons to cry foul at whatever decision is taken about the running of this Referendum, as a dress rehearsal, one imagines, for the gigantic cry of IT'S NOT FAIR AND IT SHOULDN'T COUNT which would follow a majority vote in favour of staying in. The question, the franchise, the date, these will all be battlegrounds on which they will fight to the death to make sure the vote is skewed as much as possible in favour of a NO answer or they WON'T PLAY ANYMORE and WILL TELL THEIR MUMMIES.
Secondly, most outers of all flavours are absolutely incensed by and terrified at the prospect of non-Brits skewing the result of the vote. I find that fascinating.
Let us assume that by non -Brits they mean just EU citizens (none of my critics had a convincing answer as to why Irish & Commonwealth citizens should be allowed to vote on the Referendum, which, as things stand, they are). Of non Irish EU citizens, only 1.3 to 1.5 million are on the electoral register for the local and European Elections and only a fairly predictable proportion of them would bother to use their vote.
Even assuming those would then vote en masse in favour of staying would it really be enough to skew the Referendum result? Really? Wouldn't that indicate that, instead of the 'groundswell' of public opinion which is meant to have justified, indeed demanded that the country sets off on this Referendum adventure, support for leaving the EU is in fact a wafer-thin construct, a vocal minority view fanned by a majority of the print media?
That in turns would mean that Britain will have spent an inward-looking decade tearing itself apart over nothing, whilst all the while haemorrhaging influence in Brussels and clout and visibility in the wider world.(Ooopsie!)
A final observation is that the pro-EU side should perhaps abandon its higher principles, its reliance on reasoned arguments and verifiable facts and stats in favour of a little emotional terrorism and scaremongering of its own. No one else is going to play nice here.
The pro-EU side could, for instance, mount an emotional case for preventing anyone old enough to have voted in the 1975 Referendum from voting again now, unless 16 and 17 year olds are also given a vote. After all the oldies' own future will not be affected by the result of the vote whilst it will impact disproportionately on 16 and 17 year olds, for better or for worse, for many decades to come.
At the very least an army of self-involved, whiney teen-agers should be recruited for a loud and proud IT'S NOT FAIR franchise campaign.
It doesn't hurt ( AND IT'S NOT MY FAULT, ALL RIGHT?) that they tend to also be more pro-European. Let's show the 'aggressive victimhood' outers that two can play this game