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. @ MitM

    I don’t think Angela Merkel and David Cameron are advocating the same position, after all the UK can only dream of a recovery like Germany’s.
    ————
    Merkel is singing the same song as DC about a global race to be competitive which means poorer conditions for workers & greater profits for the top tier. Read her (IMO nauseatingly pious) speech to the Davos elite!

  2. MinM

    Are you implying that Breivik’s actions in Norway were a logical, understandable reaction to “dismissing concerns”?

    I can’t see any other point that you are trying to make.

  3. @Amber

    Competitiveness doesn’t equal poor working conditions.

    If that were true then the places with the best working conditions (Google, Facebook) would be the least competitive, and that can’t be the case.

  4. Paul

    When you just dismiss people’s concerns and make them feel like they aren’t listened too, they turn to anger and lash out. Isn’t that morally correct, no, does it happen, yes.

    I don’t think people care too much about actual ethnicity a few do sure but they are very small, it’s the economic and social consequences of such mass immigration that is the problem.

    One of the supposed benefits is that immigrants come here and work, but that ignores the obvious that it puts up UK unemployment.

    Too many on here just spout the same old lines about “oh well the country as a whole benefits” and back it up with arguments that don’t make sense and even if the country as a whole was better off that doesn’t stop the individual from hurting, and when put into desperation take the extreme action we’ve seen.

    Looking back to Germany, would Hitler have risen to power if it wasn’t for the tough economic times? I’d guess no. I doubt the UK would ever elect a Hitler, but other countries, Greece, France etc would I bet.

    Because when people feel they are cornered, not listened too, dismissed like rats they lash out, part in fear, part in anger. Now you can make all the arguments you like, and win plaudits amongst your peers on here, but to people actually suffering as a result, words mean nothing.

  5. Question for SNP and UKIP supporters on here:

    A few months back the SNP was in some trouble about whether an independent Scotland could automatically remain in the EU. How does the other way round play – would Scotland vote to stay in a UK outside of the EU? If not, which would UKIP voters prioritise – retaining the union or leaving the EU?

    Sorry if that sounds like an elephant trap for UKIP – I’m not trying to ask if you’ve stop beating your wife – although in the wider world I think it might be a trap – but I genuinely wonder if this is an undebated aspect of EU membership.

  6. Surely someone who supports UK independence should also support Scottish independence? It would be hypocritical to support one and argue against the other.

  7. @ Statgeek

    I agree with you. Merkel appears to disagree:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jan/24/angela-merkel-davos-austerity-continue

    Merkel has insisted there can be no let-up in the painful economic reforms being driven across Europe, despite union leaders warning that the risk of social unrest in southern European countries is increasing.

    In a keynote speech at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting, Merkel insisted it was vital to keep driving down labour costs to make Europe more competitive.

    “Were we to meet halfway, we would have accepted that Europe will not be competitive globally,” said Merkel, adding that this would cause unacceptable damage to Germany’s exporters.

  8. It makes sense if you are in favour of scottish indpendence, but not leaving the EU.

    But I really can’t find any logical argument why someone who wants the UK to leave a Union of countries, would oppose Scotland leaving what is essentially a union of countries.

  9. @ MitM

    Surely someone who supports UK independence should also support Scottish independence? It would be hypocritical to support one and argue against the other.
    ————-
    And vice versa; that’s why Labour in Scotland are pleased about Ed Miliband seeming to be consistent regarding Scotland remaining in the UK & the UK remaining in the EU.

  10. Amber

    But remember not to fall into the trap Anthony mentioned, support for a referendum does not equal support for independence. I think Ed did look a bit bad for denying a referendum personally.

    I support a referendum because I believe we the people should have a say, we only have representative democracy because continual direct democracy wouldnt work in practise, but I think direct democracy should be used on more big issues.

    However on an in out referendum, I really don’t know how I’d vote, there’s so much I’m grateful to the EU for, but things like free movement of people to me personally sours the EU greatly.

    I think a good status for the UK-EU would be one similar to China-Hong Kong.

    HK is “part of” China, but has its own currency, and Chinese citizenship doesn’t automatically give you right to work/live in Hong Kong.

  11. Billy Bob – is a really dumb way of looking at it. Imagine, for the sake of argument, that the Conservatives did something that made half of UKIP voters switch to voting Conservative. You might still find that only 8% of UKIP voters say it makes them more likely to vote Conservative, because the UKIP voters it converted to Conservatives wouldn’t be UKIP voters anymore!

    Blurgh. I hate “make you more or likely to vote X” questions. Cameron has announced it already, it isn’t a hypothetical policy anymore, if it actually changed minds it will show up in the actual voting intention question.

  12. Colin
    “Not anticipating any change in Lab VI as a result of Referendum stuff.
    The interesting point is movement from UKIP to Cons-or not , as the case may be.
    Base line is the YouGov POll before last-ie:-
    2010 Vote.
    Cons to UKIP 18% pts
    This was 13% this morning.”

    You will of course know the typical historical outcome when parties vacate the middle ground and appease their own extreme wing.

    Warm feeling inside the tent. And the cold blast of electoral rejection outside.

  13. @MiM

    “It would be hypocritical to support one and argue against the other.”

    Not at all. For some, a UK independent of the EU’s issues is all they want. By UK I mean all four countries. It’s not hypocritical to want that. It might be to argue that one lot has no right to support it, while one supports some other type of independence.

    Surely the European Union wants to operate independently from the rest of the world on some issues? Is that hypocritical?

  14. @Lefty L

    “Warm feeling inside the tent. And the cold blast of electoral rejection outside.”

    Reminds me of a quote from an old political hero of mine, Lyndon Johnson. Commenting on internal party dissent, LBJ said this: –

    “Better to have them inside the tent pissing out than outside pissing in”

    Should Cameron win the 2015 election and get to hold his in/out Referendum in 2017, I suspect he’ll have a fair few of his backbenchers outside the tent pissing in by then,

  15. @Amber

    I think she means from the perspective of competing with the middle and far east nations.

    Labour costs aren’t just about wages though. They can be about insurance, employer NI contributions, expensive, but bureaucratic health and safety regulations (as opposed to simple, inexpensive and just as safe regulations).

    Tax reductions too. If taxes can be reduced by lowering welfare costs, then employee’s net income rises at no cost to employers.

  16. Statgeek, I find it is hypocritical to say that the UK has a right to govern itself but Scotland does not.

    As per your example, actually I think for a lot of people world goverment would be desirable, as you could crack down on tax evasion and implement new or higher taxes as the laffer curve would be diminished.

  17. Unfortunately when there is advocacy of tax cuts, in practice it tends to be for the better off. Thatch cut income tax for the wealthy to 40p, but nearly doubled VAT hitting the poorer proportionately harder. Nulab slashed capital gains benefitting the better off while implementing stealth taxes hitting the less well off proportionately more. Thry only put the top rate up judt as leaving office. You can see similar stuff currently.

  18. @ MitM

    But remember not to fall into the trap Anthony mentioned, support for a referendum does not equal support for independence. I think Ed did look a bit bad for denying a referendum personally.
    ———-
    Of course; Ed M will have considered this before taking the position he did; & he’ll have to deal with the consequences come 2015.

  19. @ Statgeek

    It is still an erosion of conditions for the workers, whichever pieces of the ‘total cost to employ’ you hack back or salami slice away.

  20. I don’t think so (not in the examples I gave).

    Where have the employees conditions been eroded?

  21. @MitM

    True, there is a problem in analysing data in that immigration is indeed an aspect of the EU. Another problem is that in the data used, the question asks what do people think are the most important issues facing the country.

    And of course many say the economic situation is important currently. But this doesn’t mean they will vote accordingly.

    Thus, a babyboomer with a nice pension and property may indeed feel the economy is a big issue for many, but may still vote for what they consider to be the more important issue for them personally, for example avoiding mansion taxes and the loss of their benefits etc.

  22. @Carfrew
    “Unfortunately when there is advocacy of tax cuts, in practice it tends to be for the better off. Thatch cut income tax for the wealthy to 40p…”

    She also cut basic rate from 33% to 22% as well as increasing the tax threshold.

  23. MiM,

    Studies show that immigration increases the total number of jobs in the economy (even more than the jobs taken by the immigrants). This is because their spending increases aggregate demand, and more immigrants are of working age than the population as a whole (so they create jobs more efficiently).

    In fact there was a recent study that showed that the long-term government debt position would have the lowest trajectory with higher immigration. I wish I had kept the link!

    It appears that people commonly believe the reverse, that there is a fixed number of jobs and so “common sense” dictates that immigrants take jobs away from the rest of the population. Does anyone know if there is polling evidence on this belief?

  24. @ Statgeek

    Of course the examples you gave reduce the conditions of workers. Their pensions, unemployment security, health service, transport service etc. is all reduced to compensate for lower insurance & lower taxes.

    If Merkel & Cameron want Asian total cost to employ then they must reduce the cost of living to Asian levels. Of course, the quickest way to achieve the necessary reduction in costs of living (including reduction in property & other asset values) is for there to be riots, revolution & even war. Perhaps that is a price worth paying to keep German exports flowing to Asia.

    Personally, I’d prefer we used other levers to resolve these ‘crisis of capitalism’ issues.

  25. Yes, I didn’t say the poor worse off. I said she the rich were better off and the benefits for others weren’t so much. That’s what tends to happen with Nulab too. For the less well off there is a lot of taking with one hand and giving with another.

    So it’s one thing to talk of cutting welfare to cut taxes, but if those In work loss top-up benefits, and see VAT go up not so good for them.

    Similarly when it comes to parties advocating policy, they talk about only cutting needless bureaucracy that has no benefit to the workforce. What could be wrong with that? What may happen in practice of course may be rather different. Which is a big factor in VI. What is actually going to happen, as opposed to what is proposed.

  26. @Amber

    Nice 1. From paying a little less tax to another major European war, all in one fell swoop.

    Big businesses paying their taxes is one way. If corporation taxes are collected, employment taxes can fall. Organisations can add shares on top of wages to encourage job security and staff loyalty.

    Levers for growth. Slightly better than ‘having at those nasty companies’ with more and more regulation. They’ll only dodge and avoid, and employ more expensive lawyers to win the cases. Give them the incentives to avoid those routes and more people win in the long-term.

  27. @ Statgeek

    Big businesses paying their taxes is one way. If corporation taxes are collected, employment taxes can fall. Organisations can add shares on top of wages to encourage job security and staff loyalty.
    ——————
    Yes, indeed. If business owners & investors were willing to accept a lower return (via taxes) &/or devote a larger share of profits to employees (by paying them more or giving them £ for £ shares to sell rather than wages) then there would not be a problem.

    But Merkel is not making a proposal like yours. She does not mention trade-offs which would retain workers’ compensation & conditions by substituting one thing for another as you advocate. She wants to reduce the cost of labour to Asian levels.

  28. AMBER
    Re Merkel Davos plea to global international companies to employ more young people in Europe, to bring them “jobs, peace and hope…I welcome anyone who will give a helping hand to young people.” i.e. we bleed them out of the jobs market (60% of young Spaniards now unemployed) and have “the corporate sector” take care of them.
    If, as STATGEEK posted, she is concerned for Europe to compete with far eastern economies, as well as the social costs which he refers to in the cost of labour, how do you factor in the value added elements of the post-harvest cost of food (widely varying between southern and northern countries) in European agriculture and the food market? This gives rise, for example, to 1 point something of the national labour force employed in agriculture in the UK’s relatively large scale mechanised agriculture ( v. about 6% in France), but high levels of employment in the processing, packaging, transportation and marketing sectors, employing lots of people but sending up the cost of food. In Japan and the US for the past half century at least, Governments have heavily subsidised their farmers, including in the case of US the hidden subsidy of undercutting 3rd World food crop prices by the US purchase of rice in particular.
    I don’t mean this to be a ramble into the complexities of 3rd world agricultural employment and marketing, but rather to ask, given the cost in our economies of high foord prices which reflect post-harvest employment and value added (and similar costs in other sectors, e.g. waste management) not incurred in the labour costs of the far east manufacturers, will “low wages and unemployment don’t matter” ever work?

  29. AMBER
    Re Merkel Davos plea to global international companies to employ more young people in Europe, to bring them “jobs, peace and hope…I welcome anyone who will give a helping hand to young people.” i.e. we bleed them out of the jobs market (60% of young Spaniards now unemployed) and have “the corporate sector” take care of them.
    If, as STATGEEK posted, she is concerned for Europe to compete with far eastern economies, as well as the social costs which he refers to in the cost of labour, how do you factor in the value added elements of the post-harvest cost of food (widely varying between southern and northern countries) in European agriculture and the food market? This gives rise, for example, to 1 point something of the national labour force employed in agriculture in the UK’s relatively large scale mechanised agriculture ( v. about 6% in France), but high levels of employment in the processing, packaging, transportation and marketing sectors, employing lots of people but sending up the cost of food. In Japan and the US for the past half century at least, Governments have heavily subsidised their farmers, including in the case of US the hidden subsidy of undercutting 3rd World food crop prices by the US purchase of rice in particular.
    I don’t mean this to be a ramble into the complexities of 3rd world agricultural employment and marketing, but rather to ask, given the cost in our economies of high food prices which reflect post-harvest employment and value added (and similar costs in other sectors, e.g. waste management) not incurred in the labour costs of the far east manufacturers, will “low wages and unemployment don’t matter” ever work?

  30. Sorry, double post – vigilance switched off in the early hours?

  31. @ John Pilgrim

    As ever, you go to the heart of the matter. Cost of living, including rent, utilities & cost of food would need to be competitive with Asia. This would require a paradigm (maybe even quantum) shift in the way our economies are structured for food production & processing; & for… actually for almost everything!

  32. Or on the other hand, China and India could raise its employment standards to that of the EU.

    Competition fair; more workers happy.

    (so blame China and India)

  33. @ Statgeek

    Or on the other hand, China and India could raise its employment standards to that of the EU.
    ————
    Actually China & India are probably going to have to do that sooner rather than later.

    But the people who advocate a global race to the bottom are refusing to countenance an equitable mix of protectionism & encouragement to bring about this ‘meeting half way’. It would be the best solution but Merkel appears to have (foolishly, IMO) ruled it out.

  34. @statgeek

    Sure, they could raise employment standards.

    The trouble is, if one leaves it to the markets, this is not a given. We’ve seen this historically and It’s in the interests of business to employ fewer and drive down wages and conditions. They keep finding ways to do it. Hence the rise of interns where now in effect you have to pay to get a job.

    Thus, I agree we need to find incentives and stuff towards a better outcome. But if capital gets big enough to exert sufficient influence on government, that becomes less likely. You are more likely to get the reverse. ..

    In the end it boils down to needing more democracy. But we don’t tend to get much on this from the parties nor questions in polling since polling tends to reflect the agendas set by parties.

  35. Of course they keep finding ways to do it. They are in in for the profits. Just as the employees keep finding ways to avoid putting in 100% of the effort for more money every year. It’s human nature.

    Most of the bigger organisations, and business professionals around the world appreciate that treating staff well results in lower costs in the long run (such as re-hiring, or excessive sick pay).

    @Amber

    Well we’ve had a global race to the bottom on all sorts of things in the past couple of decades. Usually in the name of equality.

    One more won’t hurt, if it’s in the name of equality. ;)

  36. @ Statgeek

    Well we’ve had a global race to the bottom on all sorts of things in the past couple of decades. Usually in the name of equality. One more won’t hurt, if it’s in the name of equality. ;)
    ———————–
    Actually, it was done under the false flag of ‘consumer empowerment’. Had it been done in the interests of equality, it might have been worth it!

  37. 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…

  38. @statgeek

    Your view is curiously cynical about employees who will inevitably seek to do more for less while generous towards companies who will naturally oof course value their workforce. In practice, while these things happen some of the time there are many employees who are motivated less by money but by doing a job well or choosing a less remunerative but more socially beneficial career, and equally no shortage of companies using interns and monitoring toilet breaks etc. etc.

    But while we differ on what happens in practice I think we agree rather more on what ought to be happening. Interestingly on your point about businesses paying more tax, it’s a bit of a hot potato in the press today with multinationals claiming it’ll stifle growth while more homegrown firms want a level playing field.

    http://m.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-21191802

    The framing battle continues…

  39. “will inevitably seek to GET more for less” I meant to say.

    Yep, beginning to seem like it takes rather more to shift VI these days for the bigger parties. Actions speak louder and all that, once a government’s been in place for a while. ..

  40. The headline figure hides some odd detail in the cross breaks. Labour to Tory switchers are up, but so are LD to Labour switchers. If I were to be very selective I would say this is fallout from The Speech and following PMQs. But I’m not so inclined, yet, even though it confirms my instincts about the consequences of current EU repositioning.

  41. AMBER

    @”Personally, I’d prefer we used other levers to resolve these ‘crisis of capitalism’ issues.”

    Actually -this crisis of supporting western standards of living & social welfare costs.

    Let’s see if a Socialist can find “other levers” .

    Not looking too god at present though ?-Q1 2013 contraction on the horizon.

  42. It would make sense. Some Labour voters not that keen on Europe, some Libs unhappy with their party supporting a government that’s opening the door to leaving Europe. Europe was thus far one of the few things the LD party had managed to stick to while in coalition. ..

  43. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/banksandfinance/9825363/Bank-of-America-issues-bond-crash-alert-on-Fed-tightening-fears.html

    Something for those who said a few days ago that there wouldn’t be a bond crash. Presumably UK is one of those ‘local bubbles’ the article describes?

  44. Thanks for your response AW.

    Headline reporting of the Populus poll does seem to be along the lines of “voters unmoved by Cameron EU message”. I guess we need to wait for more evidence before drawing a conclusion about any possible VI shifts.

  45. Surprised Clegg’s clearly political interview hasn’t had more discussion here –
    Surely this indicates a clear start to the differentiation and the preparation of a narrative of, ‘Don’t blame us, it was those nasty Tories’? (Which they already had begun with the ‘moderating force’ narrative).

    In the short-term, it’s probably covering himself politically for the possible triple-dip, but with Osborne sticking to ‘There is no alternative’, it gives the LibDems a longer-range narrative that they aren’t to blame.

  46. I guess it’ll be another day before the evidence is conclusive, but so far these polls will be disappointing for the Conservatives; however, it is likely that they will still hope for later reconversions of those who are currently supporting UKIP. But, despite days in which there has been a near-monopoly of Conservative spokespeople on the media, during which there has been a public love-in between Europhiles (e.g. Robert Buckland) & Eurosceptics (e.g. Mark Pritchard), and in which we’ve been told how poor Ed Miliband’s parliamentary performance was supposed to be, there is no real change in the polls. Those who are voting Labour, and didn’t do so in 2010 or even 2005, seem to want the economy to get out of recession & to be able to afford a house or to be a student, and maybe these polls shouldn’t be surprising given that the public doesn’t really share the Tories’ obsession with Europe. Nick Clegg’s statement that having the referendum isn’t a coalition deal-breaker isn’t exactly calculated to woo Labour voters either. Tomorrow’s polls will confirm or deny that the Tories have failed to benefit from the much-vaunted & much-postponed speech, except perhaps for a tiny bit at the very edges.

  47. @tingedfringe – “Don’t blame us”

    In fact this is has been reported as Clegg indulging in self criticism. “We cut infrastructure spending too deeply, but comforted ourselves with the thought that we were only doing what Labour would have done.”

    The Treasury has responded by saying that coalition spending (on infrastucture projects) is £20 billion higher than Labour’s plans.

  48. Conservative Health minister Anna Soubry backed Clegg up somewhat on Question Time saying there was “some merit” in what he said….

  49. What this Europe business shows is the importance of picking your battles.

    Europe is often a tricky issue for the Tories as becoming more Eurosceptic may gain votes in some areas and lose in others. And vice versa.

    Matters are complicated further when they have to take the impact on the LibDems bleeding votes to Labour into account even if the Tories’ own VI improves.

    So you may get shifts in polling but they can cancel out, and even if they don’t cancel out in absolute VI terms they may do so electorally.

    The veto was more of a win-win scenario. Fewer would mind sticking up for the UKs interests. At least until it turned out not to be that much of a veto.

    But more than this, given things like economy and the budget, it may take measures or events of some significance to trump them in VI terms for many.

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