But first, some background: Tom has found one pronounced example of anti-EU fruitcakery here. Annoyingly, more of the same been deleted by the moderators at the Telegraph under this post by Mick Fealty.
I've spent the last couple of years arguing that hi-traffic blogs should delete comments ruthlessly, leaving only responses with actual content. I know Mick agrees with me (we've jointly-authored a pamphlet to this effect). But it means that all of the CAPS LOCK ON COMMENTS ABOUT HOW THE EU IS AN EVIL CONSPIRACY have been deleted from under that post.
When I worked for an MEP a few years ago, I had a meeting with an anti-flouridisation campaigner who seemed reasonably rational at first, but the more I probed the more that I found that he believed that the Illuminati / Four-by-twos / EU were one-and-the-same thing - and were secretly plotting to poison us all.
It all makes being pro-EU a good deal easier. Your vocal opposition are always at least 50% clinically insane, and for this reason, we will always win arguments that are settled in a rational way (this excludes referendums, obviously).
Having said that, Heath's referendum in the 1970s was partly won because pro-Europeans decided to turn the spotlight on the quality of their opposition. One newspaper cartoon (can't remember where or by who now) showed an anti-EEC march being led by Enoch Powell and Tony Benn with an assortment of Nazis, Communists, Trotskyists, Anarchists (replete with beret, beard and bomb) the IRA and other sections of political life that are an outrage to the British sense of it's anti-political self.
Maybe a referendum is a good idea then? OK, we'd lose. The vote would ...
- not actually be about whatever it is supposed to be about
- only a fraction of the people voting would be able to pass a simple test about what the EU is and what it does
- would allow no weighting for strength of feeling and offer no scope for trade-offs
- be decided largely by newspaper proprietors who have a massive vested interest in limiting EU broadcast regulations
- provide xenophobes with an opportunity to place themselves in a position of leadership
But it would absolutely poison the Conservative Party for a few more years. It would provide nutters with the illusion that they've won an argument - and that the Conservative Party is their vehicle for doing it again and again.