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. Back from hols and de-jet lagged.

    I think it was a very bad mistake for EdM to rule out an referendum- Mark ferguson gets it spot on here IMHO


    Politically/ economically that is: I think it will have some bleed over into the polls in coming 12-18 months but not sure how much.

    A good day for Cameron.


    I agree Ed`s actions could impact Labour in the short-term when there was no need to rule a referendum out…Over the longer-term,it depends on where the economy and Europe are in 2015.

  3. Ed Miliband was absolutely right not to copy the Tories.

    If Miliband offered a referendum now he’d look weak and opportunist, instead he’s actually adopted a principled stance which people can choose to agree or disagree on.

    Cameron may get a short term bounce in the polls over this, but mark my words, when people actually start thinking about the consequences of today’s speech (especially the erosion of workers rights and environmental protections which Cameron wants as part of the negotiations), the tide of public opinion will turn firmly against from him.

  4. Something that has yet to be mentioned in the light of Cameron’s speech: by making the referendum a key plank of his 2015 election platform he would seem to be making it very hard NOT to include UKIP and Farage in any debates that do take place. Unless of course the polling affect of his new commitment is to almost wipe-out UKIP support, which is perhaps unlikely?

  5. EM can just say;

    It is and has been for sometime Labour policy to have a referendum on any major treaty change, so Cameron is catching up with us.

    If as other EU states are saying there needs to be major major changes then we would put it to the people because there would be a genuine need to.

    If it is only minor changes then we can either adopt them or not. The EU will be happy to let us drop out of anything that is of little value.

    What Cameron is offering amounts to nothing more than a phoney choice, we will let you vote on minor changes that won’t amount to much and we know you will vote yes.

    A transparent attempt to gain popularity from a hugely unpopular PM”


  6. AW
    @” 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”

    Agree with this very much.

    It is time now to let the Foreign Office Review of Competencies proceed & report-and to shut up about EU for a while.

    I see this speech as similar to the Lansley incumbency at Health-getting the foundations laid , getting the flack out of the way. Now we need the equivalent of Hunt on europe-quiet , below the radar, getting on with implementation.

    @”Their vote is driven more by concerns over immigration, disillusionment with the government and general unhappiness with modernity. ”

    Yes all your analysis has emphasised that.

    …..but the UKIP bods on tv today have been grinning from ear to ear-so they presumably see a resonance for them in this speech.

    Fascinating-can’t wait to see the UKIP VI trends-if the answer is a lemon, you will be covered in glory AW.

  7. @ Rob Sheffield

    I am surprised that you do not back Labour’s position. Given you have often said you expect another coalition after 2015, surely Ed M’s position on the EU will be attractive to both the LibDems & the Nats (assuming Scotland votes to stay within the UK).

  8. Blimey, there’s some froth and over-excitement on here today, isn’t there?! Cameron makes a speech on the EU that is, despite the high falutin rhetoric, aimed primarily at his backbenchers, restless members and recently departed supporters, now of the UKIP parish, and we think that the tectonic plates of British politics have shifted. Well, I may well be confounded by the next few opinion polls, but beyond a mild twitch here and there, I’d be amazed if there was any great movement. Why do I say that? Because the vague promise, broken before remember, of an In/Out Referendum in five years time, on terms yet to be re-negotiated, isn’t likely to excite many of the locals at my legendary, yet mythical, Skinners Arms.

    I can imagine old Reg, leaning up against the bar, holding court as such; “Why have we got to wait five more years to tell the bu**ers we want out of this bleedin’ Common Market? How many more Rumanians are going to come over here and take our jobs in that time and how much more of our money are they going to waste as well. It’s all a load of bulls*i* anyway because they’ve promised a Referendum before and then turned turtle on it. Can’t believe a word any of these politicians…blah blah de blah….”

    Meanwhile the small group of regulars listening start to lose the will to live. One turns to his fellow tippler and whispers, “Oh Gawd, old Reg on his hobby horse again. He can’t stand the EU and keeps banging on about it as if it’s all that matters. Me, I couldn’t give a monkey’s really as long as I can keep my job and make ends meet………………………….”

    I shall keep you all updated on the these Skinners Arms anecdotes all the way up to 2015! lol

  9. @ Crossbat11

    Blimey, there’s some froth and over-excitement on here today, isn’t there?!
    Not from Anthony, though.

    The Tories always get a little bounce from David Cameron making big speeches which are well covered in the media. Sort of like the conference bounce that both Parties get. I think that’s what we should expect over the next week or so.

    After the dust settles, Labour could be back to an 11 point lead?

  10. @Amber

    It’s possible that by taking this route EdM won’t be the person with the most MPs after the next election! So it won’t matter a fig whether its attractive to the much reduced Lib Dems or much increased SNP presence in the post-election HoC.

    THAT is the problem with this tactic!

  11. @Rob Sheffield

    I agree with you regarding Miliband’s stance.

    As does George Eaton over at the New Statesman:
    “The Tories have Miliband exactly where they want him.”


  12. @ Rob Sheffield

    It’s possible that by taking this route Ed M won’t be the person with the most MPs after the next election!
    Anything is possible, Rob but I think that Ed M has maintained a consistent position on the EU; therefore the issue is already ‘priced in’ to the Labour VI.

  13. Recent polls show a majoriy favour staying in the EU. That’s what will happen if we don’t have a referendum.

    i can’t see too many of those wanting to stay in switching to the Tories because labour don’t favour a holding a vote that might take us out.

  14. Above my name [i.e. “Howdy PauCroft”] it gives me the option to LOG OUT. So why does that not equate to me being loggeg IN??

    I demand a recount. Or advice.


    One thing I’ve not heard picked up on is that DC has done the opposite of triangulation. With this poicy he has put Clegg in a position where he could no longer be bound by his pre-2010 thinking that the LDs would deal with the largest party. They can’t do that now and neither can the Tories deal with them.

    In other words even if the 2015 result is identical to 2010 – and how unlikely is that?? – the LDs would only have Labour as an option for a partnership.

  15. Interesting piece in the New Statesman, not a Tory supporting paper I suspect, qhich says that Ed M has got it wrong in not also offering a referendum. Looks like Labour has some in house problems.

  16. Paul Croft
    I don’t understand your ‘back to the future’ problems, as I view them, with captcha.

    I have not had to be pestered with those for years. Is anyone else so plagued?

  17. Howard

    Me neither, which is why I am asking why I am still being forced to use the little buggers.

    Even more disgraceful when I am principal monitor and it has distracted me from my monitoring duties.

  18. @ TOH

    Ed M had some in-house commentariat problems when he decided to vote against the de-coupling of welfare from inflation. There was much talk of him having walked straight into Osborne’s ‘trap’. But, if he did walk into a ‘trap’, he seems to have walked out the other side of it relatively unscathed. Perhaps I will be saying the same about David Cameron’s referendum ‘trap’ before long.

  19. If EM doesn’t see the need to tag along with a five year referendum plan announced by his opponents how on earth can that be “wrong” or a “tactical error” just because some observers disagree with him?

    Is no politician allowed to have some basuc core principles to stick to?

    I have never had a single conversation with anyone who has suggested they want powers brought back to the UK from the EU and it seems clear that a najority would vote to stay in now – WITHOUT amendments.

    So what is the point?

    Well, the UKIP threat to the Tories – and Labour don’t need to p;ay this game any more than the L Ds do.

  20. @Amber Star

    You may be right although i do not see Cameron’s speech today as a trap set for Labour, I think he genuinly believes this is the best way for for both the UK and Europe.

    On the welfare trap i actually think that will come back to haunt Labour, but we are bound to disagree about that.

  21. If Ed Miliband had not answered whether he was in favour of a referendum, the Tories would have been after him for weeks or years up to the election. So if Labour were unlikely to offer one, it was better to say so now and if people don’t like it, they can use their vote for an anti-EU party.

  22. The Tories keep laying traps for Labour ( remember the 1% welfare payment rise ) but the wily EdM keeps dodging them. He will do again this time. Ed is showing himself to be quite adept at avoiding traps.

  23. @Amber Star – Snap!

  24. HA !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    As soon as mentioned my responsible role as SENIOR MONITOR the codes disappeared.

    Its nice to realise that I am indeed essential to the smooth running oif this site but I am humble enough to guarantee a refrendum on this for 2018 – roughly… might be 2023

  25. I think the idea that UKIP voters don’t think Europe is an important issue is a canard.

    Specifically, the statistics show that:

    68% name the economy as one of the most important issues facing the country
    52% Immigration
    46% Welfare dependency
    38% Cutting the deficit
    27% Europe

    What this doesn’t take into account is that many of the more “popular” issues are seen as linked to Europe – both because some are directly related to European policy (like immigration) – and because others are markers for hatred of European-style socialism and “human rights” (like welfare, deficit reduction and to a certain extent economic freedom and recovery).

    Thus, a harder line on Europe, especially one that emphasises free markets, business-friendly policies, and repatriation of immigration policy, is likely to appeal to UKIP voters across a broad range of issues.

    It is also likely to appeal to working class Labour voters, worried about the very same issues (and who generally distrust Europe), and create distance between the Conservative and LIberal Democrats, further isolating the latter.

    Smart strategic move by Cameron, I would say.

  26. @ LizH


  27. It’s interesting that Anthony warns us that the EU has low salience, so then we get a stream of people suggesting that Ed has tanked and there is no hope for Labour.

    I want to avoid debate on PMQ’s, as I know Anthony doesn’t like this, but my take on this is slightly different. I thought the big questions were all left for Cameron, and went unanswered. When you call for a negotiation and then an in/out vote, you raise the clear prospect that you will be badgered to state what you consider a good or bad outcome of the negotiations.

    Saying that you want to stay in the EU simply won’t cut it – you’ve explicitly said you don’t want to be in the EU as constituted, which is why you want to renegotiate. So the Tory position logically, now must be that, as it stands, they wish to leave the EU. After a successful negotiation, they may wish to stay, but Cameron has just opened up a very large can stuffed full or worms, and dived straight in.

    By contrast, Milliband has apparently rejected a referendum – but he hasn’t. He rejected an in/out referendum. To my knowledge, he hasn’t rejected a referendum on any future treaty changes, and within a year or three there will almost certainly be an opportunity for Labour to announce a vote if need be.

    Reactions to this are pretty predictable though. Those who thought Ed would lose are saying Ed will lose, while those who like Cameron say he has done well. I would be surprised if there wasn’t a rapid poll boost, but strategically Cameron has now placed EU withdrawal on the table. He has built UKIP’s foundations for them, and helped make their stance acceptable.

    Strategically I feel this is a great blunder, but overall I suspect there won’t be a great impact on the next election from this.

  28. @TOH – “Interesting piece in the New Statesman, not a Tory supporting paper I suspect, qhich says that Ed M has got it wrong in not also offering a referendum. Looks like Labour has some in house problems.”

    There will be, but each side has it’s tactical obsessives – those who believe what the polls say in 3 – 7 days time are what should define policy.

    Strategists take a different view and think longer term, and try to avoid behaving like panicky old women with every VI poll that comes out. [Apologies to old women at this point].

  29. Good on you Paul! I could on understand this captcha nonsense, but apparently you don’t have to use them any more.

    I came back to the blog to slightly clarify the opined words from Rutte, Dutch PM, as I have now read them in Dutch, which, in my experience, is more than BBC reporters are capable of doing.

    He said that he ‘applauds the debate that DC wants over the functioning of the EU. What would not be good would be if the UK left the EU, neither for the UK nor the EU. ‘ He said that DC had given a ‘sharp (i.e. trenchant) analysis’ of the present EU and the Netherlands agreed that it could function better.

    But (and here’s the bit they missed out) he thought that ‘it was not permissible to give ‘sundry opt-outs’ whereby countries could pick and choose and not conform to components of agreements that everyone else was implementing.’

    He ‘hammered’ for a stronger internal market and a more efficient commission. The states should in connection with that goal look at what each state could do better towards that goal than ‘Europe itself’.

    I also read the French, German , Spanish and Italian Foreign Ministers statements (had to look hard as it’s not big news everywhere – as one might expect!!) and they all sang from the same hymn sheet.

    In other words ‘No more cherry picking (actual German words) .’ but of course prepared to discuss how the EU could function better.’

    That’s my take anyway.

  30. @ Alec. Agree with your post 5.03pm, apart from the poll bounce. I don’t think there will be one, as any referendum is too far away. People are more concerned about how they are going to pay their winter energy bills and other more fundamental life issues.

  31. You still need to enter a correct CAPTCHA code. I tried not entering one or entering Tories are rubbish and it would not post.

  32. An interesting day. In a way the delay in the speech and the release of snippets and the drip-drip speculation has robbed it of its impact.

    But the underlying headline – “Cameron makes In/Out Referendum Tory Party Policy” is a momentous change.

    There are certainly pitfalls for Cameron, but so far he seems to have played his cards better than some here predicted.

    The key question is about Tory Party unity. Will the change of policy bring everyone together because they all support the idea of letting people decide? Or will it push everyone apart because they split 50/50 on their answer to the actual referendum question?

    I think some of the “questions”, particularly about not holding a referendum until after the election (what else can he do? he’s in charge of Tory policy but the Tories don’t have a majority in this parliament and this policy contravenes the Coalition Agreement), are just fluff.

    I am also not sure about the issue of salience, and therefore the effect of a change of policy on the electorate. What matters is not how salient the issue is to voters as a whole. What matters is how salient the issue is to voters who currently do not plan to vote Tory but might conceivably vote Tory because of the change of policy.

    Instinctively, I can’t help thinking that the new policy (if it doesn’t blow up in his face) could appeal to two groups of people who are very important to Tory party fortunes. UKIP defectors and working class Labour-Tory floaters. Even if the change in policy only changes the votes of 1% of the entire population, if those changes are disproportionately in those groups then it could really be significant.

    I think particulary of Plymouth, my own city of residence. Working class, Labour/Tory merry go round where the LibDems barely existed even before their post GE meltdown. There are plenty of people here who don’t have much, don’t much like governments of any stripe and don’t particularly care to follow party politics. But there is a pretty strong eurosceptic streak. What if these voters say Europe isn’t important to them because, like UKIP, they feel that “all the parties are the same” and “my vote isn’t going to change anything on Europe”. Being given an actual choice – do you want a referendum on Europe? – could possibly increase the salience of the issue for them.

    Too early to say. So far the wind seems to be blowing Cameron’s way – but has he just urinated into it…….

  33. Alec (and other fans of PMQ)

    I think one will reach better informed general views on political opinion development if PMQs are avoided as I do, and have done for years now. I think most floating voters are at work, and when snippets come on the news, they may not even pay a moment’s attention. Only if someone drops a stink bomb on their heads (remember Blair) is there attention paid to the snippet that might image attention.

  34. Does anyone have time for the Gang Hut mentality in the Commons? I personally find it an embarrassing to watch what is little more than a bunch of public schoolboys behaving badly.

    I had hoped the devolved legislatures would show Westminster how to behave but they have also now de-evolved to similar childish barracking and heckling.

  35. Good Evening All.
    The BBC man, N.Robinson says on the news that Labour are saying that ED M did not really say that he was ruling out the Referendum. Maybe Rob SHEFFIELD is correct.

  36. I suspect that in the next few days the pro-EU business lobby will be out in force.

    Anyone with significant business in the EU would be horrified at the very real prospect of an EU exit.

    I wonder if the Conservative Party will find it harder to raise money.

  37. @Alec
    “….those who believe what the polls say in 3 – 7 days time are what should define policy”

    Reading through the comments here, I don’t think a single one has been framed in those terms, even implicitly. We all I think know that it’s how this plays in 2015 that will matter. If your interpretation is different, you should address your comment to someone specifically.

    “Ed has tanked and there is no hope for Labour”

    Again, I fail to see such comments. I think there’s plenty though that might be paraphrased as “there is a bit less hope for Labour than there was”. Neil A has it about right IMO when he focuses on the impact that even a 1% swing in VI could have.

  38. I was going to comment on DC’s speech today but the 1971 Norton Commando motorbike I brought at auction has just turned up. So Cameron,Miliband or motor bike no contest it’s off to the shed, now where’s those imperial nuts and bolts and my Whitworth spanners no metric European bit’s on this bike.

    I agree; the PM may have added 2 or 3% extra on the tory vote from Lab

  40. @Phil Haines – much as we all really know that the world revolves around UKPR, my comments were directed to the outside world and the world of party spin doctors in particular.

    Both parties have been guilty of hugging hoodies and marching offenders to cash point machines, and sometimes they make much bigger mistakes in the name of headlines, like scrapping the 10p tax rate to announce a cut in the headline rate, or announcing an in/out referendum without knowing what the settlement on which we would be voting will look like.

  41. @Paul Croft

    It may be a local browser cache showing the logged in state, while the remote site (UKPR) does not have you logged in.

    Try a CTRL + F5 to reload the page from scratch.

  42. @Chrislane1945 –
    “Good Evening All.
    The BBC man, N.Robinson says on the news that…”

    ….he’s already spoken to several Tory MPs who are saying that Cameron needs to spell out what powers he wants to repatriate and in what circumstances he will vote ‘no’, with Robinson quoting one as saying he needs to answer these questions ‘if we are going to trust him’.

    I was struck with the eerily identical nature of these questions to the ones being asked of Cameron by Ed M at PMQs.

    Cameron has now cranked up the pressure on himself from his own side, and it is a pressure that cannot be relieved. He has marched his troops to the top of the hill and will soon find out what many of them think of him.

  43. @Alec

    Well all I can say is that my criticism of Miliband on this (and up to now I’ve been pretty supportive of him on other issues) is very much in terms of the way Labour is being strategically positioned on the wrong side of the argument as it will exist in 2015. By then the (for now quite justified argument) that five years is far too long a period of uncertainty will have lost much of its weight. It’ll be down to two and a bit years max.

  44. Prediction:

    Con 35%
    Lab 41%
    Lib 10%
    UKIP 9%

  45. @The BBC man, N.Robinson says on the news that…”
    ….he’s already spoken to several Tory MPs who are saying that Cameron needs to spell out what powers he wants to repatriate and in what circumstances he will vote ‘no’, with Robinson quoting one as saying he needs to answer these questions ‘if we are going to trust him’.”

    They all need to read the speech again . This bit :-

    “In Britain we have already launched our balance of competences review – to give us an informed and objective analysis of where the EU helps and where it hampers.

    Let us not be misled by the fallacy that a deep and workable single market requires everything to be harmonised, to hanker after some unattainable and infinitely level playing field.

    Countries are different. They make different choices. We cannot harmonise everything.”

    and wait for the review to be completed :-


    It’s all under control-time for DC to say “calm down dear” again.


    I agree that Ed Miliband seems to be on the back foot in terms of the ‘trust the people’ concept.

  47. @Alec,

    I don’t know which MPs they spoke to, but I’d bet my eye-teeth that they were in the “Out, Out, Out” camp.

    Given that they are likely to vote “No” the EU membership regardless of what Cameron negotiates, the real meaning of these rumblings are

    “We want the Tory Party to officially support the No Campaign”.

    That can’t and won’t happen and they know it. I think it’s just the usual “b***ards” doing their usual thing. Most eurosceptic Tories will be delighted with the PM’s move.


    @” Labour is being strategically positioned on the wrong side of the argument as it will exist in 2015.”

    But this is the theme which runs through every Labour “policy initiative”.

    ie-this is what we would do NOW-not necessarily what we would advocate at the GE.

    Balls is always doing it.

    It cropped up again just the other day-Timms said they WERE against the cap on benefit uprating & would continue with full indexation-only to have a “Party spokesman” clarify -oh he meant TODAY-not in 2015 necessarily .

    Now we have the same thing over again on the EU referendum issue. Not TODAY-but who knows in the next Parliament.

    I don’t blame them for not committing to big stuff just yet-but they are getting dragged more frequently into these pointless ” what we would do today” statements -which are actually of no relevance to anyone.

  49. NEILA

    @”Most eurosceptic Tories will be delighted with the PM’s move.”

    Chuffed to bits !

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