Archive for May, 2012

Would Labour be mad to promise an EU referendum?

Posted in Europe, Politics on May 28th, 2012 by Leo – 1 Comment

Number five on my list of trends to watch this year was Britain’s attitudes to the EU. In 2011, opinion had swung towards Britain’s staying a member and I guessed the trend would continue as an EU vote became increasingly plausible.

What I didn’t realise was that I was writing at the moment when Britain’s love for Europe was at its peak. Since then, the proportion who say they’d vote to stay in the EU has dropped by a third:


This shift raises questions about Labour’s recent hints that it’s considering pledging an EU referendum.

The general view seems to be that Labour is bluffing to create problems for the Tories. The logic is that talk of an EU referendum hurts the Tories much more than it does Labour.

Keeping the issue in the news gives credibility to UKIP, unless the Tories make the same pledge. And if they did promise a referendum, the Tory leadership would have to say which way it would campaign – presumably for staying in the EU, which would put them on the other side from most of their base:

But though the issue may hurt the Tories more than Labour, the assumption remains that Labour’s suggestion can’t really be serious. A referendum campaign would be a huge distraction for a Labour government. Only a small proportion of the public consider Europe to be one of the top issues facing the country (6% at last count), so not to have a referendum wouldn’t cost a Labour government much.

Further, a no vote in a referendum would define how the government would be remembered by history. Assuming that the leadership wouldn’t actually want to withdraw, why take such a risk, with relatively little to gain?

But let’s consider why Labour might commit to a referendum.

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Labour’s poll lead is still precarious

Posted in Politics on May 18th, 2012 by Leo – 2 Comments

This article was originally published on LabourList. This version includes charts not shown in the original.

The day after the local elections, Ed Miliband turned his humility dial up to 11. Despite surpassing even the expectation-managing levels set by the Tories and side-stepping a Glaswegian elephant trap, the Labour leader made every effort to avoid complacency:

“I will work tirelessly between now and the next General Election to win your trust…  I know we have more work to do to show we can change our country so that it works for you… I am determined that we show people we can change people’s lives for the better.”

Given that Labour’s poll lead is now at its largest since 2003, and Cameron is more unpopular than Brown was at the last election, some might think that this humility is phoney or unnecessary. After all, if there were to be an election now, Labour would be elected with a landslide.

But if we look beyond the headline figures, there are good reasons for Miliband still to be humble.

Despite the unexpectedly good election results for Labour, public opinion still suggests much more unhappiness with the Tories than enthusiasm for Labour.

The crucial polling question, which is understandably receiving more attention than almost any other, is on which party is seen as best on the economy. According to YouGov, Labour have just moved ahead of the Tories on this, for the first time since the election.

But this frequently-noted point is dangerously misleading for Labour supporters. The reason Labour are now ahead on the economy is because the Tories have lost trust, not because Labour have gained it.

Indeed, Labour has gained no ground on being most trusted on the economy, according to this measure. Over the last year, Labour’s score has remained static, despite the fall in support for the Tories.

This is reinforced by another poll question.

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Deficit spending is becoming more popular

Posted in Politics, Solutions on May 7th, 2012 by Leo – 7 Comments

I’ve been following for a while a YouGov question on the central issue of how we deal with the crisis: should the government focus more on growth or on reducing the deficit?

When I last wrote about it the public were quite evenly split, following a shift towards more people wanting attention on growth.

Since then, the government’s emphasis on reducing the deficit regained support in the first quarter of this year.

Perhaps this was helped by Labour’s announcement in January that they wouldn’t necessarily reverse the cuts – though I doubt this did too much to public opinion, and suspect the changing mood was more down to a relative lack of bad news on the economy and the government seeming fairly stable.

But since the budget and double-dip, the mood has shifted.

The proportion wanting more attention on growth, even if the deficit gets worse, is now 11pts greater than the numbers who want to focus on reducing the deficit.

This is a 15pt shift from the position two months ago, and 20pts from where we were in July last year:

In December last year, Daniel Finkelstein argued that the view that we should borrow more to borrow less “is never going to work politically. Ever.”

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