Diary: A referendum on Europe? Just be careful who you ask

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The Independent Online

Calls for a referendum on whether Britain should leave the European Union are usually heard coming from the right – from rebel Tories and the UK Independence Party.

But soon, voters of a yet-to-be-chosen parliamentary seat will be targeted in an unusual political experiment in which they will be invited to vote in a referendum organised along similar lines to a parliamentary by-election. The question on the ballot paper will be a bald one, asking whether they want to stay in, or come out of the EU. The votes will be counted on a Thursday night.

This gambit is being organised by a campaign called People's Pledge, which held a launch event in the Commons yesterday. It is dedicated to lobbying for an official, UK-wide referendum, something no government has been prepared to offer since 1975 because of the risk that the public might defy the advice of the political class and vote to leave. The campaign has gathered almost 100,000 signatures.

Unusually, it is not the exclusive preserve of the anti-EU right, although some usual suspects, such as the maverick Tory MP Douglas Carswell, are involved. Speakers at yesterday's launch included the former Labour Europe minister, Keith Vaz, pictured above, well known as a Europhile, who thinks that a referendum would clear the air and allow a "balanced debate" about Europe.

Publicity for the campaign is being run by Ian McKenzie, a former special adviser to John Prescott, who wrote on the LabourList website yesterday that "economically, it would be madness to turn our backs on a €10 trillion market with 500 million people in it".

It has long been a right-wing assumption that the public would vote to leave the EU if they were given the choice, because Europe is seldom mentioned in political discourse on these islands except in a negative context. But that proposition has never been tested. When it came to a real vote, voters may well decide not to risk seeing their standard of living drop for the sake of national sovereignty.

Hilton's advice is never that smart

The world of politics was curiously under-represented in GQ's list of the 50 best-dressed men in Britain, which appears in the latest issue of the magazine, out on Thursday. The only political entrants were the Tory MP Zac Goldsmith at 24, and the Labour MP Chuka Umunna, at 34.

But when it comes to the worst-dressed, the men of Westminster are up among the winners, with two names in the top 10. Labour's shadow Foreign Secretary, Douglas Alexander, makes the number eight slot, while David Cameron's strategy director, Steve Hilton, is right up in second place, behind the R&B star Chris Brown.

The difference is that Hilton dresses badly on purpose as part of his life's mission to change the Tory Party's "nasty" image, while poor old Dougie Alexander tries to dress well.

Give Guido enough rope...

The blogger Guido Fawkes has failed so far to find the seam of public support he was looking for when he started a campaign to bring back hanging. Saturday will be the last day that anyone can sign the e-petition he launched on the Downing Street website, which needs 100,000 signatures to have a chance of being debated in Parliament. With four days to go, he is only just over a quarter of the way there, having attracted 26,284 signatures by late yesterday afternoon, more than 7,000 behind a rival petition calling for the ban on capital punishment to remain.

Mohan fails to lighten the mood

Dominic Mohan, the editor of The Sun, was due to have Sunday off at the weekend, so imagine the surprise of Sun hacks when their leader turned up to do a day's work. His purpose was to try to restore morale after the previous day's shattering news that four Sun journalists had been arrested on the strength of information passed to the police by their employers.

Jobbing hacks at The Sun have endured months of feeling under siege, but at least they could feel that being inside the newspaper's fortress-like Wapping headquarters was some kind of protection. Now they have seen four colleagues chucked off the ramparts by their own bosses. Nothing Mohan could say was ever going to dispel the gloom.

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