Tom Richmond, a researcher at the Social Market
Foundation think-tank and a columnist for Tory Radio, explains why the EU matters to the public more than they realise. The Lisbon Treaty was signed a month ago today.
If a week is a long time in politics then a month must be an eternity, and as we pass the one-month anniversary of the Lisbon Treaty being ratified by Parliament, the newspaper headlines have long forgotten the backlash from the public and the appalling breach of trust that saw Labour and the Liberal Democrats break their manifesto pledge on a referendum. With the newspapers losing interest, the Lisbon Treaty having passed through the Commons and polls suggesting that only 3% of voters consider the EU to be an ‘important issue’, the obvious conclusion to reach is that the EU will not be a key battleground in the run-up to the next election – or will it?
According to an Ipsos MORI poll from February of this year, the seven most important issues facing this country are:
1. Crime / law and order;
2. Race relations / immigration;
3. The NHS;
4. The economy;
5. Education and schools;
6. Defence / terrorism;
For the sake of comparison, the EU is in 18th place, below petrol prices and the minimum wage. Needless to say policymakers will be tempted to focus on the top items in the list, but this would ignore the reality of domestic and European politics. Even though the public might not proclaim any great interest in the EU, Britain’s relationship with the EU remains the biggest debate of our generation as it feeds into virtually every policy debate.