Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Tories take poll hit after dropping EU referendum

The first evidence that David Cameron's abandonment of his pledge to hold an EU referendum will hit the Tories electorally is provided by the latest Populus opinion poll, published in The Times today.

The poll, taken over the weekend, shows the Conservatives have registered a fall in their support, dropping to 39% - reportedly "at the lower end of their recent range".

Meanwhile UKIP have seen a striking gain, going up from 2.3 to 4.2%. According to the paper, excluding the two months around the recent EU parliament elections, this is "the highest level since 2005."

In another bad sign for David Cameron, figures for likelihood to vote among Tory voters also fell.

This reinforces recent reports and evidence on Tory grass-roots sites like ConservativeHome that the lack of a referendum pledge in David Cameron's recent EU statement is causing hassle for candidates, demoralising the party's activists and driving away potential voters.

Early referendum

When questioned specifically on the referendum issue, the poll shows that 46% said they thought that there "should be a referendum early in the next Parliament on the general issue of Britain's relations with the EU".

A figure of 48% are inaccurately reported as "backing the Cameron line", holding the view that "it would be pointless to have a referendum on Europe unless specific further changes in Britain’s relations with the EU were being proposed."

However, David Cameron is proposing "specific further changes" in Britain's relationship with the EU, yet is not offering a referendum. So, contrary to the report, these people are not backing David Cameron's position but should be taken as also supporting a vote.

In a worrying sign for the party of re-emerging splits on the EU issue, 59% of Tory voters said they still wanted an "early" EU referendum of some kind.

Hung parliament

Peter Riddell comments that if the Conservatives were to win approximately a 10% greater share of the vote than Labour - as shown by current poll ratings - it is uncertain that the Tories would win an absolute majority in the next House of Commons.

Because of the scale of the past three Tory defeats, the party still has a mountain to climb in terms of the seats they will need to win any kind of absolute majority in the next Parliament.

It simply can't afford to throw away support that could make a win-or-lose difference in countless constituencies.

Second thoughts

While it doesn't in itself represent a wholescale shift in opinion, this poll should nevertheless set off alarm bells within the Conservative Party as to whether dropping any kind of EU referendum pledge was a big mistake.

It would be no surprise to us if many thousands of voters are now be thinking: if David Cameron won't trust us enough to let us decide where ultimate governing power should lie, why should we trust him enough to make him our Prime Minister?

While the lack of a referendum commitment may not spark a downward spiral in the polls for the Conservatives, in diminishing trust among a small but statistically significant number of voters in each constituency, it is likely to have installed a glass ceiling of support through which David Cameron will now find it impossible to break.

Could David Cameron's refusal to replace his Lisbon referendum pledge with a commitment to giving people a say on his new EU policy have just cost him a majority government?

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