Friday, 25 January 2013


Well yesterday Dave went and finally did it and has possibly set the stage for a referendum on the UK’s future in or out of Europe.  As David Cameron pledged to put renegotiated UK membership of the European Union to the electorate in a referendum sometime in 2017.  This of course works on two significant assumptions coming to pass; firstly the rest of Europe goes along with a renegotiation that the Brit’s never really objected to and secondly the Conservatives manage to win an outright majority at the next Westminster general election.

David Cameron
As for Cameron’s motivations, they may have more to do with the fact that his party is down in the polls and under threat from UKIP. As noted by the YouGov Poll for the Sun (dated 22nd January 2013) which suggests a Labour majority of 96 (pre speech) may have reared large in Tory minds. I suspect that any referendum debate if it ever occurs (the ‘if’ is significant) will not necessarily be clothed in any degree of rationality.

Even if all these things come to pass, I don’t expect any form of rational balanced sensible debate on Europe. I have little doubt that there will be a great deal of scare mongering, blatant inconsistencies and downright untruths about Europe in the run up to a referendum.  To gain an idea as to what a no campaign may look like then simply take a long hard look at the way the unionist NO campaign is playing out in Scotland.

UK Polling has noted that when it comes to referenda, polls consistently show that people support the idea of a referendum on Europe. They also reveal that people would like a referendum on almost any subject they get asked about. This flags up an interesting point, in that polls showing people approve of the referendum don’t necessarily mean that people think that it (whatever it may be) is an important issue and that they necessarily crying out for a referendum on that particular issue.

Of all the problems people face, ironically Europe comes pretty low down the list. UK Polling suggests that when asked what the important issues facing people themselves and their families, then Europe is even lower down. Yet, when it comes to Europe, my anecdotal experience on the doorstep and on the street is that a significant number of ordinary voters perceive the EU as a bad thing.

I for one believe that the EU which needs some serious reform (not just in relation to the common agricultural policy) and also needs to be fully democratic. Criticism aside the EU actually does some good and as has been noted elsewhere in a recent report published by Plaid MEP Jill Evans which shows that Wales is a net beneficiary of EU membership. The bottom line actually being that we in Wales get more out of Europe than we pay in to the tune of about £40 a year per person, yet most people don’t see it and tend to view Europe (if asked) as a problem.

Significantly, and somewhat alarmingly what many people in Wales appear to have missed is the fact that both the Conservative and the Labour parties are calling for an end to EU regional policy. Thanks to this Wales has been able to tap into structural funding to create jobs and build the economy in some of our poorest areas, as well as substantial agricultural support for our farmers in rural Wales.

Wales has received more than 2 billion pounds in EU structural funding over the past seven years not to mention other forms of financial support for example, for students, fisheries and small businesses.  What’s actually been done with the money is another issue! Perhaps if Westminster had actually worked for Wales and protected Welsh interests then we would never have needed or been eligible for European regional funding.

Over recent years UKIP has got away largely unchallenged by most political parties with peddling some right old tosh, as political parties have tried to stay away from Europe as it is perceived in some circles as a vote loser on the doorstep.  To blindly dismiss UKIP as some form of better dressed red in the face hyperventilating version of the BNP and to refuse to engage in as a serious and rational debate on the EU sets a dangerous precedent one that could have serious implications if we ever get to a referendum on EU membership.

That said, even amongst UKIP voters (when analysed in 2009) Europe came in as the fourth most important issue after the economy, immigration and crime. As late as December 2012, Lord Ashcroft noted that even amongst people considering voting for UKIP, the economy was one of their most important issues (68%), followed by immigration (52%), welfare dependency (46%),  Europe came in as the fifth most important issue (27%).

So the Conservatives, under pressure from UKIP and behind Labour in the Polls and with their increasingly uneasy Lib Dem coalition partners things could get spectacularly messy poll wise really quickly. Most people are more concerned with the economy, jobs, housing, the NHS, pensions, crime, etc – so if the Conservatives overly focus on Europe to the point of obsession… then they will end up looking even more out of touch to ordinary peoples real more pressing concerns.

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