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A Referendum






l. Have you ever done a referendum before?
2. Do you know what a referendum is?
3. Have you ever been stopped in the street by a man with a white coat and a clipboard who says to you, ‘Can I just ask you a few questions?’
4. And you innocently say, ‘Yes, well all right’?
5. And twenty minutes later he is still asking you apparently meaningless questions about the papers you read and your take-home pay and the number of pets you have got...?
6. And finally, resisting the temptation to head-butt him, you ask him what it is all about?
7. And you find out that he is only doing street research into television viewing figures, or something equally ludicrous, and you swear that you will never again get involved in such a waste of time?
8. Will you accept our assurance that this present questionnaire is nothing like that at all, and it is just an exercise in democracy brought to you by the present British government in response to a much felt need?
9. So do you mind if we just ask you a few questions?
10. First of all, did you know that there has been a lot of talk recently about whether we ought to have a referendum?
11. Do you know what the referendum would be about if we did have one?
12. Do you care what the referendum would be about if we did have one?
13. Do you feel that the time to have a referendum was at the time when every other country in Europe was being allowed to have a referendum about the Maastricht treaty?
14. And the British weren't?
15. And do you remember that if the referendum in other countries was in favour of the Maastricht Treaty, the result was allowed to stand, but if it wasn't they all had to vote again until there was a Yes vote?
16. With that memory in mind, do you really feel that you would like to have a referendum now, even though it is about something as boring as a single European currency, on the grounds that if the result of the referendum displeased us in the government, we would find ways round it, in the same way as we now introduce legislation by the back door if we can't get it through the front?
17. Did my ears deceive me, or did you say you would like a referendum?
18. How can you possibly justify that?
19. When you say that you would like to have a referendum on anything, because at least it would give you a chance to vote on the government's performance, why do you let that unpleasant note creep into your voice?
20. Because you think that the government are dangling a phantom referendum in front of the electorate in order to make up for the general election everyone would much prefer to have?
21. In that case, let us change the subject and ask you how many pets you have and what kind of pet food you buy?
22. Oh, you'd rather talk about the referendum would you?
23. Well, supposing that we did have a referendum about having a single currency, what kind of motives would most govern your response to the question? Please tick only three of the following.
     a) A sincere and genuine interest in seeing tariff barriers crumble after a logical transition to a pan-European currency
     b) A desire to do away with the intellectually crippling exercise of struggling with things called forints and pesetas and groschen on holiday, not knowing what any of them mean or how much you are paying through your nose for anything
     c) A deep-seated annoyance with the footling little 5p coin we now have in Britain
     d) A growing sense of one's inability to recognise any of the distinguished historical figures who turn up on English banknotes
     e) A general feeling of annoyance that the Scottish banks are still allowed to issue their own notes
     f) A continuing and furious desire to express annoyance with the British government
     g) A fear of not being able to get duty-free on holiday any more.
24. Do you think this talk of a referendum is really a smoke screen for something else, like the Tory Party building an escape hatch for itself in the future?
25. Are you feeling an intense desire to head-butt me and get on with your business?
26. Will you accept my assurance that we are almost finished now and only have a few questions left on ancillary matters?
27. What sort of questions?
28. Well, for instance, would you be more or less likely to vote for Michael Portillo if he changed his hair-style?
29. Do you know off-hand how many people there would be left in the Cabinet if all the people called John and Michael were dropped?
30. Have you ever met anyone who left the Roman Catholic Church because John Selwyn Gummer had joined?
31. If I stop asking you these stupid questions, will you refrain from physical violence?


The Independent Wednesday May 11 1994


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© Caroline Kington
© Caroline Kington