We won’t get any actual polling numbers until tonight or tomorrow, and certainly won’t get a clear handle on any impact upon voting intention until at least tomorrow, but here’s a few initial thoughts on the European referendum.

Referendums are popular, but most people don’t care much about Europe. Polls consistently show that people support the idea of a referendum on Europe, but they also show people would like a referendum on almost any subject you care to ask about. This is because a poll question asking “Should there be a referendum on X” is the equivalent of asking “should you be allowed a say on this, or should politicans decide it for you.” Hence polls showing people approve of the referendum don’t necessarily show that people think it is an important issue and are crying out for a referendum on the subject. Asked about what the most issues facing the country are, Europe comes low down the list. Asked what the important issues facing people themselves and their families, it is even lower down.

More important will be the impact on perceptions of Cameron. That isn’t to say the announcement won’t have some impact on the polls. If we go back to Cameron’s European “veto” in December 2011 it produced a significant boost in Conservative fortunes. However looking at the underlying figures, this mainly seemed to be on the back of improved perceptions of Cameron: people thought he was more decisive, a stronger leader and so on. Keep an eye his personal ratings this time – will it make people see Cameron as a strong and effective leader, will it make it look as if he has more purpose and drive, is more in control of events?

…and on the Conservative Party. The same applies to the Conservative party, which at time in past months has seemed riven by internal dissent and splits. If the announcement can make the party more united and loyal to its leadership it will probably improve perceptions of the government’s competence and capability, one of the key problems that has been facing it since last year. On the other hand, they need to be careful not to bang on about Europe too much…remember it is not a particularly salient issue, the general public care more about the economy, pensions, crime, health and so on, so if the Conservatives now proceed to obsess about the issue it will only make them look out of touch.

It may bring back some UKIP support. As we’ve discussed before, despite its genesis as a anti-EU party, support for UKIP is not actually driven by opposition to the EU. Counterintuitive it may be, but most people who vote UKIP do not think that Europe is an important issue facing the country. Their vote is driven more by concerns over immigration, disillusionment with the government and general unhappiness with modernity. Nevertheless, some are driven by Europe, and the referendum may well chime with the worldview of some others.


356 Responses to “Some thoughts on Europe”

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  1. @Pablo420

    “Labour lead at 10 – Latest YouGov / The Sun results 24th January – CON 33%, LAB 43%, LD 10%, UKIP 9%; APP -30
    So, no discernible impact yet…”

    Nor do I think there is likely to be one either, so you may well be able to drop the “yet” qualification. The sort of polling surge normally associated with a political “event”, think “EU veto” and “Osborne’s Budget Omni-shambles”, tend to have instantaneous effects if they’re going to have any effect at all. Voters are likely to react quickly if their opinion is moved on an issue and, now we’ve seen only a negligible to non-existent effect in the two polls conducted in the immediate aftermath of Cameron’s speech, my view is that we won’t see one at all. The political caravan moves on, although Cameron has certainly bought some internal party peace for a bit. Maybe that was the extent of his ambition with his speech; who knows?

    The relative stasis in the polls since March 2012, and the extent to which they have appeared stubbornly impervious to events in the meantime, is hardening up my hunch that the only thing that will change them significantly between now and May 2015, certainly in the Tories favour, is a sustained and rapid economic recovery that translates to improved living standards for the bulk of the electorate. I think the Coalition has got about 12-16 months to achieve this before I suspect the electorate will have finally made up their minds about both them and the Opposition. That’s a very, very tall order, both politically and economically in my view. Not impossible, I admit, but I can see where the bookmakers are coming from now when they’re calculating their odds on the outcome of the next election.

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  2. The last question does not really elicit a proper answer in regard to an in/out vote on a reformed EU. It is not that there is a better way of putting the question, it is just that the people answering won’t know what Cameron would be asking them to back

    It is highly possible that Cameron won’t be able to negotiate the EU that he wants. Also while there is a renegotiation, it is possible that other countries may also have demands that the UK does not like. Cameron may therefore end up in a position of having to hold a referendum he did want to hold, which is that the UK government opposes the new EU treaty and recommends a no vote. With a second question being that if there is a no vote, would you wish to remain in the EU Yes or No.

    I really don’t think that Cameron and senior Tories have though this through properly. They seem to only be thinking of what the Tories can do to try to win a 2015 election. This can only work, if there are successful negoations on EU changes before May 2015.

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  3. @CrossBat – The polls in March had Labour and the Tories both neck and neck, with the LIbDems languising on 9.

    Now we’re around a 9 point gap between the two main parties and the Lib Dems soaring at 10.

    Much can change in the space of 6 months.

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  4. Given that Labour is actually (or is at least seen to be) refusing a referendum I would have expected it to do two things.

    1) Tell Cameron to ‘get real’, stop obsessing about the EU for party political reasons and talk about the things that really matter to people. In which case I would have expected them to try and say a lot more about things like Andy Burnham’s speech on the NHS which hasn’t made the splash one might expect,

    2) Have positive policies which deal with the anxieties expressed by MinM. Rightly or wrongly people do feel that immigrants take jobs. It would need a lot of polling evidence to convince me that they follow arguments about immigrants creating them. They may also blame immigrants for the increasingly poor quality of the jobs that are on offer.

    Personally I would like to live in a society where everyone of working age had a right to meaningful work or training. And while this may seem Utopian I believe that Austria, for example, has some kind of guarantee of apprenticeships and that would be a start. The difficulty with so much of the current attempts to get people back to work seems to me to be that so much of it involves meaningless activity which benefits no one but ticks the boxes.

    So overall I would like to see labour make a concerted effort to change the conversation and address the issues that probably underlie the European debate from the point of view of its own supporters (which are probably not the same as those which underlie the debate for Conservatives)

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  5. @R Huckle

    It is nice to see YouGov asking the electorate to use their imagination, but apart from a few marginal effects, the main difference is among Tory voters – which makes sense really because they are the ones imagining a Tory government after the next election.

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  6. COLIN
    “Let’s see if a Socialist can find “other levers” .
    Here’s one. The value added elements in the UK and other Western economies are the Veblen elements in the market, inessential materially but highly valued economic goods in, not only the perception, but also the necessary social positioning and enjoyment and communication of status of everyone in society, but espectially of the leisured classes. Taken at another level of analysis, expenditure on goods which signal status and function are both a necessary information system and a management factor in the distribution of production and marketing activities. In terms of poltical process, society at large recognises and responds to this process, in creating production systems, and thus employment, which both heightens distributive and latent wellbeing benefits of consumers, and maintains a fair and true market.
    Any politician who thinks China is not open to movement towards this model is lacking in insight into the way our own society and economy have evolved (read Marx and Weber, the latter notably on the Rise of Capitlaism and the Protestant Ethic” or more recent literature in the same line, e.g. Bourdieu, “Distinction”, or even thought about the way we live.
    Merken and Cameron are not well advised to go down the low wages don’t matter, and still less, low wages are how to compete with the Eastern megapowers route. Rather, they need to encourage more value added in the Chinese consumer market, by encouraging the dominance of the UK designer industry, the invading forces of Burberry and the power of anti-piracy agreements in international trade.

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