Cameron’s possibly winning position

John Rentoul

Mad Eye mad eye moody 317974 600 400 300x200 Camerons possibly winning positionMy article in The Independent on Sunday today is part of a continuing series explaining why popular attitudes towards Europe might not be such a problem for David Cameron as might be assumed.

Since May 2010, when the general election coincided with the start of the euro crisis, most opinion polls, including our ComRes today, have suggested that the British people would vote to leave the European Union in a referendum.

Although it is notable that YouGov for The Sunday Times have asked the question drafted by the Conservative Party for what is now James Wharton’s Private Member’s Bill. This found just a nine-point lead for exiting:

“Do you think that the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union?” Yes: 36% No: 45%

And our ComRes survey also put this statement to people:

“If some EU powers are restored to the UK then I would vote in a referendum to stay in the EU.” Agree: 43% Disagree: 24%

The wording is pretty unspecific, but that is the point. It doesn’t take much to persuade people to agree to the opposite of what they otherwise say on one of the most important national questions. And the “don’t knows” are high, too: 34%.

The Eurosceptic turn in public opinion over the past three years might not be quite what it seems. Much of it, as Tom Doran says, “comes down to a vague feeling of discontent in need of a scapegoat”.

Public opinion is fickle and inconsistent – I mentioned in my article the 6 per cent who didn’t know if they had seen pictures of the Duchess of Cambridge topless. But Cameron’s position – renegotiate and stay in – is right in the middle of public opinion, the third way between the MSELs* who want to get out regardless and the Labour position of stay in regardless and ask for reform nicely.

The only question is whether the MSELs will let Ed Miliband in.

* Mad, swivel-eyed loons, whoever said it, and they were broadly right. (Well, they were broadly right in their analysis at the time, which was that it didn’t matter that Tory associations had gone Awol over gay marriage and frothy about getting out of the EU, because Cameron was in the centre of public opinion; but now that the phrase has gone viral, the analysis is now wrong, in that it matters very much what Tory associations think.)

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  • greggf

    “Public opinion is fickle and inconsistent…..”

    That’s a unwise conclusion, JR.
    The public may give fickle and inconsistent responses to pollsters.

  • John Reeks

    I think the response to the ComRes survey is quite telling, and doesn’t show that electors are ‘fickle and inconsistent’. People aren’t so dumb that they think getting a few powers back over some obscure issues amounts to a huge deal, but clearly this would (theoretically) lead to a sea change in public opinion viz. the EU. It’s probably the case that a significant body of opinion would be comfortable with membership of the EU if they could somehow be reassured that it wasn’t a never-ending conveyor belt towards a single EU superstate. Getting a few powers back might not be much in and of itself, but would certainly reassure some people that the conveyor belt had slowed, stopped, possibly even been set in reverse. The fear of what ‘ever closer union’ actually means might then subside.

  • mightymark

    The wording is pretty unspecific, but that is the point. It doesn’t take much to persuade people to agree”

    Isn’t that pretty much what happened in 1975? Wilson didn’t bring back vast changes from the “renegotiation” but got a “Yes” vote, though I don” recall exactly what polls were showing before the referendum. I haven’t yet got to the relevant chapter in Dominic Sandbrook’s excellent history of 1974 -79 “Season in the Sun” (still trawling through the bit on Wedgie Benn’s nuttiness) so may post again if he mentions it.

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