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The 1975 referendum on Britain’s membership of the then European Economic Community has, until recently, been something of a historical footnote – remembered primarily perhaps for Margaret’s Thatcher’s startling choice of flag-branded knitwear when launching the Remain campaign.

However, with a re-run of that referendum due in just over three month’s time, this rather dusty corner of modern British history has moved from sartorial marginalia to the political spotlight; campaigners from both sides are seeking insights from their antecedent’s experiences four decades ago. Dominic Sandbrook’s Seasons in the Sun: The Battle for Britain 1974 – 1979 (Penguin, 2013) leads the field in terms of recent source material, setting the referendum amidst its wider political backdrop and providing an accessible overview of the course of the campaign.

It is a campaign that looks eerily familiar to contemporary eyes. Sandbrook tells of a Remain camp backed by big business, with ‘415 out of 419 chairman of major companies saying they wanted Britain to stay in’, and of Leave campaigners accusing foreign leaders intervening on the remain side of ‘patronising impertinence’. As with today the Governing Party was split, with seven cabinet members and 145 backbenchers siding with out, in defiance of a Prime Minister trumpeting a renegotiation he said had ‘substantially achieved its objectives’.

When Sandbrook turns to the personalities leading each campaign the similarities between Labour in 1975 and the Conservatives in 2016 become uncanny; maverick marmite-man Tony Benn played a critical role in the Leave campaign to the chagrin of his Prime Minister. Benn’s fate – to be publically humiliated by Wilson following the referendum result – is a reminder of the risks taken by Boris Johnson. The fallout from this – over a decade of debilitating infighting as the marginalised maverick, supported by the wilder fringes of the grassroots, tried to win the leadership by shifting the party from the centre ground – is a reminder of the risks the Conservative Party now faces.

Whist the Remain campaign may take some comfort from the similarities between 1975 and today, Sandbrook’s account also contains a key warning for the pro-European camp. In 1975 the road to staying in Europe headed clearly towards sunlit uplands. Historian E.P Thompson is quoted remembering a Remain campaign conducted ‘through a haze of remembered vacations, beaches, bougainvillea, business jaunts and vintage wines’, a potently positive mix in an age when 9 million people holidayed out of Britain’s shores for the first time, turning ‘Benidorm and Torremolinos into household names and bringing back a dubious taste for for sun, sangria and sombreros’. The Remain campaign’s upbeat depiction of a more exciting, aspirational future in Europe contrasted sharply with doom-laden predictions from Leave spokesmen about the consequences on staying in. Ancestors of current slogans can be discerned through the past’s dark, distorting glass at this point in Sandbrook’s story – for much of the campaign Tony Benn was derided in the press as ‘Minister for Fear’.

Whilst providing an excellent overview of the campaign there are gaps in the Sandbrook account, unsurprisingly as the referendum forms only one portion of a book looking more widely at Britain in the 1970’s. Sandbrook starts on an intriguing argument, suggesting that ‘it is not true, as is often claimed, that people were never told about the consequences for British sovereignty’, citing repeated public attacks made by Benn, and by fellow out campaigner Enoch Powell, on Europe’s ‘federal escalator’ and the end ‘of the long and famous story of the independent British nation’. Given the centrality today’s Leave campaign have attached to claims that voters only said yes because they were told that sovereignty would not be affected by membership of common market, it would be fascinating to see this line of argument further developed. Certainly public statements by Harold Macmillan and Ted Heath, making the case for Europe whilst acknowledging some loss of sovereignty, suggests that there is further material to be explored here in future work focused entirely on the referendum.

Overall however Seasons in the Sun serves as an illuminating and entertaining guide to the June referendum’s ghostly predecessor. Does that campaign, fought out amidst a sweltering early summer forty years ago, hold lessons for both sides today? Some things are of course very different – images of Europe’s beaches have turned from sangria-drenched visions of exotic aspiration to unsettling symbols of an institution struggling to cope with migration, and other challenges thrown up by a turbulent 21st century. And yet some persistent truths are discernible, particularly concerning the enduring predilections of British voters. In 1975 those voters favoured the side that spoke of a positive future in a language of economic and cultural enrichment, positive factors that still determine election results in the present day.

The Guardian ascribed 1975’s triumph of optimism to the ‘cheerful hearted’. Forty one years later that cheerful mantle is one again up for grabs – replete, perhaps, with victory laurels for the campaign that successfully seizes it.

Matt Browne is Associate of Bright Blue.