Saturday, December 11, 2004

A stark warning for Eurosceptics

The Guardian today picks up on the Eurobarometer poll issued yesterday, which conveys what some feel should be a stark warning to Eurosceptics. In glaring contradiction to the bulk of opinion poll evidence over the past two years, almost half of British voters favour a European constitution.

This latest half-yearly Eurobarometer poll, carried out for the EU commission, surveyed 1,310 UK adults, finding that 49 percent of Britons favoured the constitution, with 29 percent against and 22 percent undecided. This compared with an overall 68 percent support among the 25 EU members as a whole.

However, there is a "health warning" in that the support is expressed in terms of support for the concept of a constitution. It is not an assessment of actual constitution proposed or an indication of voting intentions.

The UK findings were immediately dismissed as "ridiculous" by the "Yes-No" campaign, with the Lord High Chief Executive of the self-appointed "Vote No" campaign, Alex Hickman, arguing that it contradicted other polls which, on average, suggested a 2-1 vote against the constitution in the proposed referendum.

He cited a poll carried out for ICM in November, which showed British voters casting 69 percent against the proposed constitution, with 24 percent in favour and 7 percent undecided.

If Eurobarometer is an accurate poll, however – and I am not qualified to say, one way or another, then it is indeed a stark warning for Eurosceptics that there is a hard battle ahead and a majority "no" vote is far from a foregone conclusion.

Some will argue that this should mean that Eurosceptics should unite behind the "Yes-Noes" for the good of the common cause, although we maintain that, as long as the "Vote No" campaign continues to display its current tactical and strategic ineptness, any "no" vote will be won – if it is won – in spite of, rather than because of their campaign.

The one consolation is that early polls in the North East, before the campaign for an elected regional assembly got going, polls showed high levels of support for the concept. But once people started to focus on the issues, as we know, support plummeted.

It is also the case that the "no" voters were very much guided by "anti-politician" sentiments and, if this same feeling can be captured nation-wide, the Eurobarometer poll is not perhaps such bad news after all.

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