The first campaign – supports 1971 Commons vote to join

Faced with adverse opinion in parliament and amongst voters the Government decided that a campaign was necessary to prepare public opinion for entry and through the public to bring pressure to bear on MPs. The campaign lasted nearly two years was timed to peak just as the Commons voted ‘in principle’ to join at the end of October 1971.

Early in 1970 the Government assigned to the campaign a secret unit in the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) devoted to Cold war propaganda and known as the Information Research Department (IRD). It was responsible for rewriting most civil service material into more persuasive forms, twisting the arms of editors and producers up and down the country, making unattributable briefings, preparing allies like the European Movement and CBI and generally putting in place the infrastructure for the public part of the campaign over the summer of 1971.

It sounds rather sinister because of its history and that it worked covertly. In reality, it should be viewed as an internal de-facto communications agency perhaps one led by Peter Mandelson. It was certainly effective

We know this now because Sir Con O’Neil’s secret report of the 1971 campaign was released in 2002 under the 30 year rule. It is clear from the report that campaign from the beginning was deliberately supra-Departmental, driven by a senior minister, Lord Whitelaw and not stinted for either money or political support.

Public opinion 1971

In 1971, public opinion moves in favour of joining the EU

It was effective achieving parity of opinion where there had been 2-1 against. Would it be politically acceptable now?

Here is a timeline of the first campaign EU Campaign