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.