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When it comes to Europe 17% of voters think Cameron is driven by beliefs but 64% think he's driven by tactical calculations

Tim Montgomerie
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There's an interesting YouGov poll in today's Times (£). We know what most voters think of Europe. They want it changed back to something more like a free trade area. We know what voters think of a referendum. They want to have one. But do voters think the politicians are genuine about the European and referenda policies that they hold? YouGov asked voters whether they thought politicians were holding their European policy positions because "they feel strongly about the issue" or "mainly because they are making a tactical calculation about what to say". The results are telling...

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  • 55% of voters thought Nigel Farage was genuine and only 22% thought he was tactical.
  • 43% thought people like Ken Clarke took the position they did because of strongly held views and only 32% thought they did so for tactical reasons.
  • But when it came to David Cameron only 17% thought he felt strongly about the issue and 64% thought his European position was simply a tactical calculation.
  • Ed Miliband's numbers were slightly better than Cameron's but not much. 20% thought the Labour leader felt strongly about the issue but 52% thought he was largely motivated by tactical considerations.
Commenting on the figures YouGov's Peter Kellner has issued an important warning to David Cameron (my emphasis):

“Parties and their leaders attract more support if they are regarded as principled and competent. If they are thought to be driven by tactics rather than belief, they risk being seen as weak and losing respect and votes. That is the risk that Cameron now faces over Europe. He could end up losing more votes by appearing unprincipled than he gains from adopting a stance on the EU that appears to be closer to the public mood. In contrast, the popularity of UKIP and Farage is being driven not just by his stance on the EU, but also by respect for being thought to restore principles to politics."

The last week or two have been messy. Tory MPs have been obsessed with an issue that doesn’t excite voters. The Prime Minister has (again) been humiliated by his backbenchers. Only eighteen months ago he was reluctant to hold any referendum on Europe, let alone a vote on Britain’s very membership. But Cameron’s European policy is now as strong as anything that Nigel Farage is offering voters. There’s only one big difference between Farage and Cameron. Cameron with more than 300 MPs could conceivably deliver a referendum while no-MPs-UKIP cannot. Some of the party’s most Eurosceptic parliamentarians – notably Dan Hannan and Douglas Carswell – are pleading with their colleagues to realise that they’ve won. “There is nothing else – literally nothing,” wrote Hannan, “that the Tory leader could do in this parliament to satisfy souverainistes”.

If Tory MPs can recognise how far they’ve dragged the PM there is hope that they’ll have a fighting chance at the next election. One opinion poll earlier in the week had Labour falling to just 34%. A 3% lead at this mid-stage of a parliament is disastrous for Ed Miliband. If Labour can’t build a decent lead when the economy has been so weak and the Tory Party so fractious it’s hard to see them staying ahead if and when the Tory machine moves to battle stations.

The big fly in the Tory ointment remains UKIP. The Tories can only beat Labour if they can win back the right-wing voters who’ve defected to Farage. Tory MPs in marginal seats may be tempted to form seat-by-seat pacts with UKIP although there is a danger that such arrangements might frighten as many liberal-minded voters as they attract conservative-minded voters. Nonetheless, at least a dozen Tory MPs are actively considering such a pact and many more would be open to the possibility. Having seen the PM buckle under pressure on other issues they may go ahead with alliances with UKIP even if he forbids them.


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