Today’s Dutch referendum on the EU’s expansionist agreement with Ukraine really is the people’s referendum.
It wasn’t triggered by politicians or political parties, but by a determined group of well-organised, highly-motivated individuals.
GeenPeil, a project stemming from the popular Dutch blog GeenStijl, collected some 420,000 signed, verified, signatures triggering this referendum. It is an extraordinary achievement that highlights how western democracy is evolving.
The internet truly is the gamechanger of our time. A small collection of individuals with an idea can find thousands of other kindred spirits who join them in championing a cause. That develops, becoming tens of thousands and then allowing a message to reach out to millions.
This revolution is sweeping Europe as we speak. Just look at Beppe Grillo’s Five Star movement in Italy, who harness a system of direct democracy amongst their supporters. When Five Star had MEPs elected to the European Parliament, the party asked supporters to vote on which group they should sit with. Supporters had their say and the Five Star Movement now sit alongside Ukip.
Without the internet, the development and growth of Ukip in Britain would have been far tougher. YouTube gave speeches I made in the European Parliament a platform, reaching out to new audiences not just in the United Kingdom but right across the world. Most encouragingly, these are young audiences, a generation who are now able to access virtually unlimited quantities of information. The internet takes western democracy into a new sphere. Unchartered territory with exciting possibilities.
Our own British referendum on EU membership illustrates the point perfectly. It was Ukip’s people’s army that forced the Prime Minister’s hand and ensured that he delivered on his In/Out referendum pledge – a referendum he had previously spoken out against and did not support until the people’s voice grew too loud to ignore.
The era of top-down political operations is ending. Mass membership, open, accessible political movements are the future. Membership structures that are low-cost but allow involvement for those wishing to participate from the comfort of their own homes is where politics is headed, engaging an entirely new section of the population who have been left behind by the distant, remote current political structures.
We’ve seen the way that Arron Banks’ Leave.EU have harnessed the power of Facebook to create a social media following that is bigger than any British political party in mere months. Grassroots Out have reached out directly to those who have not typically engaged in British politics, holding packed public meetings across the United Kingdom with speakers from all parties and none, creating a mass movement of supporters who want out of the European Union.
The future for Ukip amidst this backdrop of change is one of new opportuity. As a relatively young party, the people’s army is not constrained by traditional structures and foundations of conventional Westminster thinking. We are free to take a fresh approach and blaze a new trail. And we intend to.
Ukip will be doing everything we can to get the UK out of the EU in the forthcoming referendum, a referendum I believe we will win. Once we have returned power from Brussels, we in Ukip can then become a force for change that delivers powers downwards, back to those who should always be in charge: we, the people.