Euroscepticism does not get you elected

Jamie Kenny and Nosemonkey wonder why Labour is pro-EU. Enlarging on this post a little, I think it’s worth looking at some data. I suspect the data support that post. For example, despite all the bashing, a solid majority supports EU membership and has done consistently over time.

Further, the public does not worry very much about Europe; some 4 per cent according to a recent poll. However, this is historically low; in 1997 that figure stood at 43 per cent, and it was around 25 per cent during William Hague’s ferociously Eurosceptic 2001 election campaign.

But it’s not enough to say that the British simply don’t care, and that Euroscepticism is latent until activated by shouting sufficiently. 1997 was the election when John Major’s campaign ran huge posters of Tony Blair as a poodle on Helmut Kohl’s knee; and it wasn’t a great year for Eurosceptic Tories, was it? Of course there are confounding factors. Euroscepticism in 1997 involved either voting for the proto-UKIP Referendum party or a Conservative party as popular as nuclear waste; probably the issue was buried under the Labour landslide in places.

The principle, however, holds; nobody gets elected in Britain by being Eurosceptic. There are no votes in it; in a sense, Euroscepticism is a luxury. If you are actually struggling for office, you can’t be a true believer in it because you’ll have to take responsibility for it, and anyway, you have more productive things to do; if you have a safe Conservative seat, though, you are set for life and therefore free to spout any old tripe. The costs are minimal, and the benefits in terms of social approval in the kind of circles safe Tory MPs respect, considerable.

The same goes for the Eurosceptic backers, a small group of rich property tycoons (mostly – there are notably few industrialists) who amuse themselves by throwing money at politicians they like. As Winston Churchill said about small countries who insisted on proliferating battleships before the first world war, it is sport to them, it is death to us.

19 thoughts on “Euroscepticism does not get you elected

  1. I am afraid this isn’t very informative until you run the same investigation for being pro-European.

  2. This issue is also muddled with loose language: Since when does being against the EU equate with being anti-Europe? And didn’t the Royal Family themselves hold court to Chamberlain at Buckingham Palace in front of thousands of cheering Britons after his “Peace in our time” meeting with Hitler? Beware of the vagaries of what people have historically supported for since the future is unknown to us all, despite the wishful thinking of pundits.

    EU-scepticism is the flipside of a yearning to have more control over our lives: True, it may simply mean swapping one bureaucrat for another but there is no denying the hostility many feel over change imposed undemocratically from unseen and unknown forces overseas versus those you vote for in your own country…

  3. Here we have the default position of Europhiles. The public consistently opposes every treaty extension of EU powers but this opposition doesn’t count because the public doesn’t dislike these changes enough to vote in a Eurosceptic party. The cited election is ’97 when (election posters notwithstanding) it was New Labour who promised a referendum on joining the Euro and the Conservatives who didn’t.

    This shrewd strategy delivered the Eurosceptic vote to Labour and not to the Tories. It also placed an insurmountable political barrier to joining the Euro and thereby provided sceptics with their only unequivocal victory over “eurocreep”.

    There is no argument that historically (and in common with the public at large) most eurosceptics were and are pro Europe – that is why they are sceptics not rejectionists.

    However the notion that an underlying support for Europe provides a mandate for ever increasing power transfers to the EU is wholly false. “If you don’t want more you must want out” is an argument of breathtaking political dishonesty. It was never deployed against the French or the Dutch whose public actually did reject the Constitution. Their rejection has also brutally exposed the “All the others want it so we must put up with it” line as a complete myth. Scepticism wins votes not just in Britain but in the euro heartland also.

    Yours is therefore a bottom of the barrel argument which itself poses the greatest threat to Britain remaining in the EU. The repeated exercises in bad faith (such as dressing up the mutton of a Constitution and re presenting it as Reform lamb) and the deliberate denial of the public’s right to decide will, in and of itself, create the winning rejectionist platform. “Better off out” will be the majority view after this breach of promise. The subsequent whipping through of Parliamentary ratification for this unpopular treaty will probably be the decisive stage in the destruction of any residual public support for the EU.

    There will eventually be a referendum and it will probably be to an “in or out” proposition. Your assumption is that “in” will win is increasingly unrealistic.

  4. Being aware of the various facets of expressions of British public opinion, one finds themselves confused as to what is the real opinion of Britain in the EU. You mention a 4percent worried about the EU, but I don’t know how that can be really true considering the cacophonie about Eastern Europeans ”pressuring” services, the constant anti-EU barrage in the largest British papers, and the appearance that a large section of the population see the Treaty as something needs to be voted on. At the same time, I don’t think its justifiable to say that the British public is naturally Eurosceptic, they benefit from it constantly and they know it. They are however wary of some of the consequences.

  5. “…a pan european referendum is nedded”

    And, what do you suggest the question could be:

    – Are you completely happy with the EU?

    – Do you want to return to European counties exhausting their energies working against each other?

    – Do you think that this is a good time to declare defeat and give up working towards improving the life of Europeans?

    – Are you fed up with fridge mountains?

    I don’t believe in getting a dog and barking myself. I pay my national representatives to think for me and look after my interests. If I’m dissatisfied I want to elect new representatives, not do a half-baked, ill-informed job to vent frustration.

  6. michaelD,

    If other countries want a pan-European referendum, good luck to them. I just want my fellow countrymen to have a chance to decide whether they want in on this or not. Not too much to ask is it? What was so wrong with the EEC model of free trade within Europe? I don’t remember energy being wasted there.

    Giving up what? Why must we be forced to accept an undemocratic and unanswerable totalitarian administration as the ONLY way forward?

    As for your dog analogy, well, it is so ridiculous that I hardly bring it up. But I have addressed your other points, so, well…put it this way: Democracy is not about voting once every five or so years then forgetting about engaging with the political process. Transparent government needs to be demanded by all who it governs, and that is an all-time, every day burden we must shoulder if we are to avoid tyranny. I suppose you reject the idea of a free press to expose the rascality of the EU as well, don’t you?

    What an unbelievable post!

  7. Jens:

    “I just want my fellow countrymen to have a chance to decide whether they want in on this or not”

    You already have decided – twice, and pretty convincingly each time. How many more shots do you want?

    Besides, aren’t the terms “rascality” and “tyranny” more applicable to countries that invade and occupy foreign states under false pretences, than to the EU? They are, aren’t they.

  8. Suvi,

    Voted twice already?

    The last time Britons voted on the EU was 1975. No one under the age of 50 in my country has had a chance to vote on this monstrosity yet some 80% of British laws are made by Brussels, not Westminster.

    Rascality and tyranny are too polite. I could think of worse. What on earth do you call a system that says to Ireland after it votes against a motion to try again until you get yes? Or when France and the Netherlands vote against the constitution, 95% of it comes back, deliberately with more obscure language to ward off scrutiny by the masses?

    I take pleasure in the long game: Just as Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia and Apartheid South Africa foolishly stamped on the freedom of the people to choose their path, so the same fate will fall upon EU Europe. Right, not Might, will persevere.

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  10. Jens

    “Why must we be forced to accept an undemocratic and unanswerable totalitarian administration as the ONLY way forward?”

    If this is the question you would be responding to in a referendum, you are underlining my point. Every participant is answering a different question. The question few will answer is the one on the referendum sheet. You can count Yesses and Nos but the result is meaningless if everybody treats the question differently.

    “I suppose you reject the idea of a free press to expose the rascality of the EU as well, don’t you?”

    You have interesting logic. Actually, the only daily press I read every day is the British Telegraph online because it’s nicely laid out. However, I don’t let that stop me thinking for myself, doing my own research and forming my own opinions.

    “Right, not Might, will persevere.”

    More strange logic given that Might tends to be a national sword to wield. After all, Brussels doesn’t force the UK to lock people up for 28 days without oversight – or to try and extend the limit even further. In the Might stakes, Brussels is a bit of a weenie really, but you may not get that opinion in the Telegraph.

  11. MichaelD,

    Some people will treat any potential referendum on the EU – even if it is one on the treaty alone, as a surrogate on one for remaining within the EU, if only to send a signal. You can’t stop people viewing such a process in their own way nor what it may trigger down the road. Personally, I would see it as an encouraging step forward towards ultimate withdrawal from the EU.


    The “no” votes from France and the Netherlands over the EU Constitution directly lead on to the perverse decision to re-engineer it into EU-gobbledegook-speak, so that it could be rammed through as the latest treaty. So much for democracy.

    You accuse me of using strange logic yet you read the EU-sceptic Telegraph (I don’t: I am a subscriber to The Economist – a decidely pro-EU publication). What is the point you are trying to make?

    And on the subject of Might over Right, didn’t you know the word is mightier than the sword you refer to? And we have that in spades with yet another dreadful EU treaty.

    The EU as a weenie? Far from it.

  12. Jens

    “So much for democracy”

    The subject of the original post and numerous articles in The Economist all indicate one thing: a majority of people in the UK do not want withdrawal from the EU. Any attempt at very clear “do we begin withdrawal” referendum, and a result which would be implemented, would have sympathy from me. But, it won’t happen because the euro-sceptics know they would lose. Instead, their reaction is to throw spanners in the works until something breaks – this is explicit in the UKIP manifesto. Calls for referenda allowing people to vent frustration, with mainly non-EU subjects, falls into this category. Counter to your statement, this is not democracy.

    Similarly, your statements about the Irish, Dutch and French ignore an important point. The people voting in the referenda knew that there would be no lasting damage from a negative vote and so felt quite safe making their protests – although if any two voters were protesting exactly the same thing I’ll be surprised. Asking them to vote again until they get it right, as you put it, is what they expected when they voted.

    Similarly, I suspect that you would get different results depending on the borders you choose. Britain went into the EU but things have changed – what would happen if Scotland now voted independently? Gerrymandering, European style?

    No Europeans I know, myself included, have any desire to force any country to do things they do not want and if the UK wishes to leave the club then good luck. However, if majority wish to stay, the minority should respect that. Opposition is an important part of the process, destructiveness isn’t. That is democracy.

  13. MichaelD,

    The EU is not a democratic institution. Either you accept it or not. Your last post ties itself up in knots in trying to get around this simple fact. And your assertion that the majority of people in the UK do not wish to quit the EU, whether this is right or wrong (and I will address this elsewhere), is irrelevant to the point. You either have an organisation that is democratic or not. And you don’t with the EU.

    Any notion of EU accountability via electing for national Governments is not the same as democratic accountability of the EU. We have seen three referenda rejecting EU treaties from the Irish, French and Dutch that otherwise “support” the EU.

    In 2005, the three major parties colluded in keeping the EU out of the General Election campaign yet they were all asking for power in a system where they have little control over: Some 75% of our laws are passed in Brussels, not Westminster. Yet you would see the results of that election as some kind of verdict on which party is “right” on the EU.

    Last month, seven out of ten voters in the UK wanted a poll on the latest EU treaty ( so I would challenge your view that the majority of people in the country do not want to withdraw from the EU on the basis that this underpins EU-scepticism in this country. Once there is a fair debate in this country over the merits of staying in versus withdrawing from the EU (which all three parties are NOT in favour of because it is a retirement club for their elders), you will see similar polling for outright withdrawal.

  14. I think there should be a referendum in Britain on staying in the EU. Not simply about the Treaty. All or nothing! They should simultaneously vote about entering NAFTA!

  15. But this is precisely my point; the only political party that even suggests such a thing is polling at 1%. The only people who want this are crazy extremists with no mass support, nor any elite support either.

  16. Hardly, if 1% waste their vote that way, the support base must be larger. If you wish to know how many hold that opinion but think other things are more important you are looking at a significant minority.

    But you don’t have to look only at extreme opinions. In fact doing so is a common tactic of the EU’s supporters. If you ask whether the EU should have less power you would get a majority in some member states.

  17. “Or when France and the Netherlands vote against the constitution, 95% of it comes back, deliberately with more obscure language to ward off scrutiny by the masses?”

    If this is happening (and it is), it’s not because of the EU administration or institutions, but because of France own elected governement. The men(and women) in our governement are convinced that the treaty is good for our country’s interests and have refused to propose to other european countries the changes that were supported by the treaty oponents (either from right or left wing).

    And don’t forget either that around half the “don’ts” who won against the treaty were actually asking for more in-depth transfer to the EU…

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