As we look back on the first two years of this Coalition Government, we should ask which issue or action caused the most significant sustained jump in the Conservative Party opinion poll ratings? An action that gave our Party a share of the vote whereby it could actually win a majority at a General Election. It was when David Cameron was the first Prime Minister to use the British veto at an EU summit. Immediately following this according to YouGov, we were retaining over 90% of our 2010 vote and losing just 3% to UKIP. According to recent polling, that vote retention has slipped to under 80% with UKIP taking over 10% of the 2010 Conservative vote and overtaking the Liberal Democrats in the opinion polls.
In October last year I was one of 81 Conservative MPs to vote in favour of a Referendum on our EU membership. At the time I said in the House that I’d received dozens and dozens of letters, e-mails and telephone calls from constituents urging me to vote in favour of this, and the only correspondence I had received urging me to vote against was a telephone call from the government whips office.
There have been many accusations recently that the Government is looking out of touch. Whilst I do not subscribe to this view; there is one Conservative Party policy decision that would put the party in touch with both the membership and the public at large. That is a Cast Iron guarantee that should a Conservative Government be elected at the next election, it will guarantee a referendum on our membership of and future relationship with the European Union.
At one stroke the Conservative Party can shoot UKIP’s fox and enact a policy that appeals to both its membership and the public at large. We are the Party of localism and there is no greater antithesis to localism than the EU with its bloated centralising unaccountable bureaucracy.
Such a move would also demonstrate that the Conservative Party is in touch with the concerns of the British people and trusts their opinion and judgment. This is backed up by polling from ICM which in October last year found that 70% of the public want a vote on whether Britain should continue with its membership of the European Union.
The argument will be made that it is better for the Conservative Party to look at the 15 million votes that Labour and the Liberal Democrats attracted at the last election rather than the 1 million votes that UKIP took. I would argue that it is wrong to think that we cannot do both.
According to ICM, there is a clear majority for staging a referendum in all social classes and regions of the UK. The support is also cross party as 65% of Labour supporters surveyed stated they are in favour of a referendum. Had the vote in Parliament on this issue last October not been whipped, I am certain that a majority of Conservative MP’s would have voting in favour of having a referendum.
The public understand that due to the Coalition agreement, a referendum cannot be delivered by the current Government without Liberal Democrat support. The public will not understand the Conservative Party failing to promise a referendum in its next Manifesto.