Anyone who recalls the visceral splits that rent the Conservative Party in the Major years over Europe will be desperately anxious that the party avoids a repetition of those titanic and internecine struggles. On the other hand, given that the Tories hold a potentially winning hand at the moment over Europe, how best might we exploit it?

Iain Dale, who has done so much to raise the profile of political blogging in the last couple of years and with whom I agree and disagree in about equal measure, writes in today’s Daily Telegraph advocating that the Tories adopt the proposal by the Liberal ‘Democrats’ that there should now be an EU referendum, not on the narrow issue of the EU Constitutional Treaty of Lisbon but on the whole principal of our membership of and relationship to the European Union.

With that proposition I profoundly disagree, believing that it plays into the hands of all our opponents at once.

Do not get me wrong: I long for the day when a free and independent Britain shrugs off the thrall of the 1950s Socialist Behemoth that the EU represents and resumes control of its own destiny once more. But that process will take far more than just one referendum, however propitious the moment might superficially seem to Eurosceptics just at the moment. For I believe that we delude ourselves if we think that we can win with just one shove. No: winning such a referendum will take careful thought and preparation and much work to get us into a position where it might be won for sure. It is surely premature for us to believe that that moment has come.

Alex Salmond understands this: just look at his approach to the issue of independence for Scotland which involves the death of the Union by a thousand cuts. He knows only too well that a referendum now would sink him and his party. But in 2010/11 matters may be very much more favourable.

But what of the arguments on an EU Referendum as they stand today?

We must look at the immediate tactics of this game and how those might best be developed to serve the purpose of getting a referendum on The Lisbon Treaty, which I profoundly believe to be inimical to the interests and independence of the United Kingdom, and, as substantial by-product, aiding the election of a Conservative Government.

As against the Labour Party the issue is a clear winner. Save for some honourable patriots such as Gisela Stuart (left), Frank Field, Kate Hoey and a few others, they have shamefully, dishonourably and dishonestly overthrown an important manifesto commitment. In a contest where the honesty and honour of and trust in the Labour Government in general and Gordon Brown (personally) in particular are going to be at the forefront of the campaign, his abandonment of that commitment thrusts an enormously potent weapon into Cameron’s hands. Notably it enables him to campaign on a matter touching the EU which is, subject to one significant problem, largely risk-free and which all polls indicate has the overwhelming support of the British people.

If we now start to campaign on the basis of wanting an “EU: In or Out?” referendum, that narrow but lethal issue will simply get utterly lost in the background noise. In addition it will enable Labour to seize back the EU agenda and try to reopen the splits which so damaged the Conservative party before.

Indeed every time that disloyal fool Ken Clarke burbles on yet again about how silly Tory policy is on Europe, his Europhiliac ramblings will be paraded up and down by Labour and its lickspittle propaganda arm, the BBC, till they are blue in the face, to the considerable detriment of the party. It will also enable Labour to parade the usual bogeymen: loss of jobs, loss of trade, loss of influence and all the other lies they routinely deploy in this argument. The Lisbon Treaty will sink from view.

If, however, we stick with the narrow issue of the Lisbon Treaty and Brown’s dishonesty over it (the ammunition for which is now stored, ready and waiting, and is of veritable Woolwich Arsenal proportions), enormous and bloody wounds may be inflicted on the body of Labour and upon its claim to be honourable and trustworthy. It has the significant advantage of being an issue which is readily and easily understood by the public at large. And if, as I am convinced is the case, the public now disbelieves Gordon Brown on the issues of trust, honesty and honour, it is an issue which will be entirely consonant with the electorate’s views.

The Liberal ‘Democrats’ also committed themselves in their 2005 manifesto to holding a referendum on the EU Constitution and thus join Gordon Brown in dishonour and dishonesty by having resiled from that clear promise. That position offers the Conservative party a potent weapon against the LibDems whom they must resoundingly defeat at the next election if they are to regain power. They, however, have understood (doubtless from having sampled the mood on the doorsteps and looked at the opinion polls as well) that the public wants such a referendum.

Their way out of the damage which their shameful about-turn entails is to shift the argument from the narrow one of the Treaty to that of the EU as a matter of principle. Here they can campaign on ground which they can present as both honourable and consistent. Why then should the Tories adopt their proposal and allow them off the spike upon which they have impaled themselves? Leave them there and let them suffer. After all they are our principal enemy in huge numbers of English and Welsh seats: why play their game?

I turn now to UKIP. It will be understood that I sympathise with their main raison d’être: getting the UK out of the EU. But I am not and never have been a UKIP voter and do not propose to become one. I prefer to work to persuade Conservatives by argument from within that our national interests can be best preserved outwith the EU and thus to change their policy to that end.

It is also UKIP’s policy that there should be a referendum on the EU as a matter of principle. If the Conservative party were now to accede to such, UKIP would seek to claim that as a victory for them and their position. Why should we run the risk of allowing them such an opportunity? It might even help them to improve their electoral position.

Iain Dale reckons that by offering an “EU: In or Out?” referendum we can knock UKIP out of the game and recover the bulk of the 600,000 votes they took (almost certainly entirely from the Conservative Party) at the last election and that that is justification for agreeing to such a referendum.

I respectfully beg to differ. It is time now not to pander to their one issue but to call their bluff. UKIP members and prospective voters are now faced with a real problem. They know only too well that they have no prospect whatsoever of getting an MP into Parliament, let alone winning power and that the only way to get a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty is by transferring their vote to the Conservatives who are the only show in town which can deliver one.

We should now force them to make their minds up: vote UKIP and risk damaging the Tories so that pro-EU parties win the next election (I am contemplating both a Labour victory and a hung Parliament here) and end forever any chance of stopping the EU dead in its tracks. Or vote Tory and elect a government that has promised a referendum on the Treaty. And if they neglect the chance to vote for a chance of a referendum on the Treaty, we can justly say that they are not serious about the issue of stemming the EU tide.

Let us face it, having a vote on the Lisbon Treaty, which all believe would result in a resounding vote for its rejection, would be a major, even mortal, blow to the European Union and damage enormously the position of both Labour and the LibDems on Europe as both would be forced to acknowledge the strength of the result and modify their policies accordingly or risk more opprobrium on the matter. Such a blow would be a prize worth having on the road, long thought it may be, to getting us out of our entanglement with this moribund dinosaur.

It is a prize that UKIP members and voters ought to think is worth having if they are genuine in their opposition to the EU: let them vote Tory this time, even if the vote is only lent, and force them to put their money where their mouth is.

There is one fly in the ointment for the Tories and that is the matter of what to do in the event that they come to power after the treaty is ratified. This is something I have posted on several times (see below) and do not propose to rehearse once more, save to say that the present fudge and waffle will not do if we are to have a consistent and rational policy and retain our own honour on this issue.

That will involve a clearly defined, step-by-step policy on the Treaty being set out so that voters may have a clear idea of the road map the Tories will follow depending on what the circumstances are when they achieve power. To be consistent this will involve promising a referendum post-ratification.

This will have the enormous advantage of enabling us to say that, when we know the result of that referendum, we will listen carefully to its message and adopt policies towards The EU that are consonant with the opinion of the electorate thus expressed. It would be a refreshing change for the voters to be treated with respect in this way and can do us nothing but good. How can we lose by that?

[See here, here, here and here]