Thursday 31st January 2013 | 20:00
The Knowledge: Cameron's Gamble
Mark Gettleson looks at how the Prime Minister's referendum promise will affect the 2015 election
WORDS: MARK GETTLESON
David Cameron’s great referendum gamble is not simply a question of what our future relationship with the European Union will be. The Prime Minister’s gambit seems likely to affect the 2015 General Election campaign heavily.
Many Conservatives would say that was the point all along: an election in which eurosceptics face the prospect of a Conservative government that will give them their cherished vote or a Labour government that refuses to do so.
Not only will this stop the leak to UKIP, but will fire up Conservatives turned off by a Coalition that has delivered too little red meat. Since the speech, ComRes found that 65% of Conservatives said they were now ‘more likely’ to support Mr Cameron, along with 39% of UKIP supporters. This doesn’t, however, mean the latter will go blue, but simply the speech resonated in some way.
But will it not also play to Mr Cameron’s greatest electoral weakness: the movement of left-of-centre Liberal Democrat voters, just the sort of liberal-minded individuals unlikely to support an EU exit, over to Mr Miliband? The Prime Minister has even more to fear from a united Left than a divided Right, the former being larger than the latter.
Does it not also perhaps undermine one of David Cameron’s greatest electoral advantages: the fact that voters, by some margin, still blame the last Labour government for the sluggish economy and cuts? Public blame is about a narrative (e.g. ‘Labour overspent and failed to regulate the blanks and now we’re all paying’) and talk of unpredictability in our relations with the single market gives the potential for a new narrative around the prolonged slump.
ComRes found that 49% of voters agreed that the faraway referendum was ‘likely to result in economic harm because of the uncertainty it creates for companies and investors’, with just 32% disagreeing. As Ipsos-MORI’s confidence tracker shows, Britain languishes near the bottom of both perceptions of current economic situation (just 13% describing it as ‘good’) and likelihood that the situation in their area will improve in the next six months (8%). Our fellow travellers at the bottom of this chart, most recently Spain, France and Japan, have all seen governments overthrown since the Coalition came to power.
So far Mr Cameron has avoided direct blame, but if the public sense that he’s being distracted by an issue that isn’t a priority, Europe, and that his approach has the power to undermine the issue that will decide the election, jobs and the economy, his referendum gambit could prove dangerous.