Given the bile spewed out almost daily by certain national newspapers over recent years, telling us why the European Union is at the heart of every problem facing Britain today, it is perhaps surprising that most people in the UK do not give a stuff about Europe. Indeed, people actually care more about drug abuse, morality or the environment than they do about Europe!
I say this with confidence. The monthly Ipsos MORI issues tracker ,which is probably one of the best trackers of the state of the nation’s collective mind, shows that only about 3% of the population think that Europe is an important issue whereas some 60% think that our economic situation is important, 30% think that unemployment is an important issue, and 20% think immigration is important.
I have always liked this survey. Ask people if Europe is important they will say yes. Ask people if they want a referendum they will say yes (who says no to a referendum I wonder? ). Read the papers and you would think it was the subject of every single chat at the office water cooler every day. Hmm right. But ask them to spontaneously indicate which things they think are important and now we are getting to what people are really thinking about – not what some push poll or newspaper wants us to believe.
And yet here I am watching the ludicrous parliamentary debate on the EU referendum. An hour or two ago they were honestly arguing about the difficulties of deciding whether any referendum should be under a FTP voting system or a preferential voting system. OH the irony!
Had David Cameron left this as a back bench debate he could have focused today on the good news coming out Libya, his scrap with Sarkozy, his trip to the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting etc. His ill-judged attempt to whip the Conservative MPs has backfired monumentally. MPs we have never heard of are threatening to resign from jobs we have never heard of over the issue. This story is not about Europe it is ” a test of Cameron’s authority”, or “a test of whether the Conservative party trust their leader on Europe”…..
And there can only be one outcome from this…. On a matter that only a tiny minority of us ordinary folk think important, the nation will come out of this concluding that David Cameron is leading a divided Conservative party. That’s not good news for him or his party. Where has David Cameron’s political antennae gone? It left with Andy Coulson. Further evidence that someone more in touch with the mood of the nation, the way stories gather momentum, twist and turn, is needed at NO10.
Nick Clegg has not come out of this without criticism (read Simon McGrath’s excellent article on “Why won’t Nick Clegg trust the people..”). We stand for democracy, claim to be in favour of parliamentary reform and at the first sniff of democracy in action (the EU referendum brigade’s so-called e-petition) whips his party into voting against it. Better, I suppose, than whipping the party to abstain.