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Monday 24th October 2011 | 10:57
As MPs prepare for their totemic vote on a referendum Britain’s EU membership and the union’s leaders struggle to find agreement on a way to prevent further contagion, a stock-take of public attitudes on Europe seems relevant.
All recent public polling points to a British vote for withdrawal should such a referendum be held. Back in July, a PoliticsHome poll conducted by YouGov@Cambridge showed ‘out’ with a 17 point lead. It also, however, showed some hope for Mr Cameron on the political benefits of repatriating powers, as 36% of voters supported British membership if fewer decisions could be made by the union. It is winning over this group that would produce a majority in favour of EU membership.
It is true that polls taken outside of the context of a referendum campaign itself can be misleading, as the Yes to AV campaign would testify. The key difference with electoral reform, however, is that their voters are far more aware of their attitudes towards Europe than, for instance, the merits of particular voting systems. The 2004 and 2009 European election results, both triumphs for UKIP, are unlikely to warm the cockles of the ‘in’ lobby on the sort of person who turns up to vote on European issues.
Earlier in the month, we conducted a poll of 404 City figures on their views on such a referendum. While 59% thought it should take place, they were split 49% to 50% in favour of withdrawal. Asked which side they felt City institutions and business organisations as a whole would support, however, 65% believed they would weigh in on the side of continued EU membership, with just 31% thinking they would advocate withdrawal.
Such a gap between the respondents’ personal views and the instinct about the leadership of their sector as a whole is interesting – and suggests that, if a referendum became a reality, the ‘in’ campaign would doubtless mount a significant fundraising campaign among leading City figures. This is counterintuitive to a perception of organised Euroscepticism being bankrolled by leading businessmen such as UKIP Treasurer Stuart Wheeler, the founder of IG Index.
Perhaps above all else, the British Government will go to almost any lengths to fend off market jitters - and if the direction of European policy gives them cause for concern, David Cameron will ensure dissent is quashed.
And speaking of markets, despite a terrible publicity weekend for EU leaders, those in Asia and Europe appear to be edging up this morning in hope of a deal this Wednesday. A shocking naivety or perhaps a certain degree of patience and resilience amid crisis? We’ll see how the week pans out.