Tim Montgomerie
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There's an interesting YouGov poll in today's Times (£). We know what most voters think of Europe. They want it changed back to something more like a free trade area. We know what voters think of a referendum. They want to have one. But do voters think the politicians are genuine about the European and referenda policies that they hold? YouGov asked voters whether they thought politicians were holding their European policy positions because "they feel strongly about the issue" or "mainly because they are making a tactical calculation about what to say". The results are telling…

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  • 55% of voters thought Nigel Farage was genuine and only 22% thought he was tactical.
  • 43% thought people like Ken Clarke took the position they did because of strongly held views and only 32% thought they did so for tactical reasons.
  • But when it came to David Cameron only 17% thought he felt strongly about the issue and 64% thought his European position was simply a tactical calculation.
  • Ed Miliband's numbers were slightly better than Cameron's but not much. 20% thought the Labour leader felt strongly about the issue but 52% thought he was largely motivated by tactical considerations.

Commenting on the figures YouGov's Peter Kellner has issued an important warning to David Cameron (my emphasis):

“Parties and their leaders attract more support if they are regarded as principled and competent. If they are thought to be driven by tactics rather than belief, they risk being seen as weak and losing respect and votes. That is the risk that Cameron now faces over Europe. He could end up losing more votes by appearing unprincipled than he gains from adopting a stance on the EU that appears to be closer to the public mood. In contrast, the popularity of UKIP and Farage is being driven not just by his stance on the EU, but also by respect for being thought to restore principles to politics."

The last week or two have been messy. Tory MPs have been obsessed with an issue
that doesn’t excite voters. The Prime Minister has (again) been humiliated by
his backbenchers. Only eighteen months ago he was reluctant to hold any
referendum on Europe, let alone a vote on Britain’s very membership. But
Cameron’s European policy is now as strong as anything that Nigel Farage is
offering voters. There’s only one big difference between Farage and Cameron.
Cameron with more than 300 MPs could conceivably deliver a referendum while
no-MPs-UKIP cannot. Some of the party’s most Eurosceptic
parliamentarians – notably Dan Hannan and Douglas Carswell – are pleading with
their colleagues to realise that they’ve won. “There is nothing else –
literally nothing,” wrote Hannan, “that the Tory leader could do in this
parliament to satisfy souverainistes”.

If Tory MPs can recognise how far they’ve
dragged the PM there is hope that they’ll have a fighting chance at the next
election. One opinion poll earlier in the week had Labour falling to just 34%. A 3% lead
at this mid-stage of a parliament is disastrous for Ed Miliband. If Labour
can’t build a decent lead when the economy has been so weak and the Tory Party
so fractious it’s hard to see them staying ahead if and when the Tory machine moves
to battle stations.

The big fly in the Tory ointment remains
UKIP. The Tories can only beat Labour if they can win back the right-wing
voters who’ve defected to Farage. Tory MPs in marginal seats may be tempted to
form seat-by-seat pacts with UKIP although there is a danger that such arrangements
might frighten as many liberal-minded voters as they attract
conservative-minded voters. Nonetheless, at least a dozen Tory MPs are actively
considering such a pact and many more would be open to the possibility. Having
seen the PM buckle under pressure on other issues they may go ahead with
alliances with UKIP even if he forbids them.

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