New Times,
New Thinking.

  1. Election 2024
13 December 2011updated 12 Oct 2023 9:51am

Is Clegg out of touch with his own voters on Europe?

Polls show that even Lib Dem voters are eurosceptic.

By George Eaton

Nick Clegg’s decision to stay away from David Cameron’s statement on the EU was based on the view that his presence would serve as a “distraction” (his absence certainly did) and that it would be politically damaging for him to be seen alongside the Prime Minister. But rather than principled, Clegg’s actions simply made him look inconsistent. The Deputy PM was on the frontbench when the government tripled tuition fees, when it cut child benefit and when it raised VAT to 20 per cent (all policies his party opposed at the election), his decision to change tack now undermines all his previous attempts to present himself as a responsible politician.

And will he even be rewarded for his protest? Yesterday’s Times/Populus poll (£) showed that no less than 49 per cent of those who voted Lib Dem at the last election agreed with Cameron’s stance (20 per cent disagreed). Lib Dem voters are, in general, less eurosceptic than Tory and Labour supporters but sceptic they remain. The recent Guardian/ICM poll on EU membership found that 44 per cent of the party’s current supporters would vote to leave the union. As John Harris writes in today’s Guardian, if anyone thinks euroscepticism is a phenomenon “restricted to the Thatcherite heartlands”, they should have a look at the polling numbers. None of which, of course, means that pro-Europeans should change their position, rather that they must argue much more persuasively for it.

It remains to be seen what effect (if any) the EU saga has on Thursday’s by-election in Feltham. Polling by Ipsos-MORI has consistently shown that only a small percentage of voters (4 per cent at the last count) regard Europe as one of the most important issues facing the country. It’s those numbers that explain why David Cameron was right when he told his party in 2006 to stop “banging on about Europe”. Voters might have shared William Hague and Iain Duncan Smith’s euroscepticism but they didn’t share their fixation with the subject. They were more interested in hearing how the Tories would improve the NHS than how they would repatriate employment powers from Brussels.

But there’s already some evidence that Cameron’s bulldoggery has benefited the Tories. As PoliticalBetting’s Mike Smithson notes, support for Ukip, which has been as high as seven per cent in some recent polls, is down to just four per cent in the lastest YouGov poll. It’s a finding that will come as a relief to Tory strategists. Nigel Farage’s party cost the Conservatives up to 21 seats at the last election (there were 21 constituencies in which the UKIP vote exceeded the Labour majority) enough to deny them a majority. Provided he remembers to eventually change the subject, Cameron’s euroscepticism will do him no harm come polling day.

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

Content from our partners
Peatlands are nature's unsung climate warriors
How the apprenticeship levy helps small businesses to transform their workforce
How to reform the apprenticeship levy