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Thursday, April 03, 2014

Second Clegg/Farage debate highlights that the EU status quo is indefensible

The majority of the UK public was not represented at last night's debate
The second EU debate between Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage was an altogether more scrappy and bad-tempered affair with more personal attacks and fewer statbombs being thrown about. 

The polls hand Farage a clear victory - 68%/27% in the Sun/YouGov poll and 69%/31% in the Guardian/ICM poll - a more comprehensive margin than last week.

So clearly a bad evening for Nick Clegg, although the calculations of the Lib Dem strategists seems to be that the combination of the additional exposure and full-throated defence of the EU will allow the party to pick up some extra votes in May's European elections.

However, it remains to be seen what the longer term repercussions of the debates will be. It was striking that, over the course of two hours, Clegg had virtually nothing to say about the EU's flaws and failings and what reforms he'd like to see. Indeed, in response to a question from the audience about how the EU would look in 10 years' time, he said that it would look "quite similar to what it is now". Given what is happening in the eurozone, which will indirectly also affect the UK's position in the EU (something Clegg has himself mentioned on previous occasions), this is simply not credible. It also completely dismisses the public appetite for EU reform.

What is interesting is that, despite Farage's overwhelming victory in the debate, the Sun/YouGov before/after poll showed that public opinion on the In/Out question remained pretty finely balanced. Before the debate there was a small majority in favour of staying in the EU - 48% compared with 42% in favour of leaving - after the debate this was reversed slightly with 45% in favour of staying in and 48% in favour of leaving.

Polling has consistently shown that when the public are offered options that go beyond the binary in/out question, the majority of the public fall between the Clegg and Farage positions, with a far larger constituency in favour of staying in a reformed/slimmed down EU.

People hold different views about how they would like to see the European Union develop. Which of these statements comes closest to your view? (click to enlarge)

Source: YouGov poll for Open Europe, February 2014

Clegg's decision to talk only to the limited number of 'in no matter what' voters might be a clever Lib Dem 'core vote' strategy but it will turn off many swing voters in any future In campaign. All the more reason for politicians to represent the view held by the majority of voters and to test the limits of EU reform before forcing them to choose between In or Out.


Rik said...

1. From the questions asked in these polls one can already see that the third way simply doesnot communicate effectively. That alternative isnot often even mentioned.
A lot of people and a lot of media simply still donot see it as a third alternative.

2. This likely will put more pressure on Cameron. Partly self-inflicted by waiting too long to get the third way properly communicated with the voterbase.
Not much lost, but this should change. This is not a topic that can be rested until 3-6 months before the election.
Scotland/Pound resp EU membership could as basically these are isolated points. EU membership is part of a very complicated puzzle. 3-6 months simply would be way too short. Basically the whole strategy should be simplified anyway to bring it to the electorate.

3. Seen the transcript in the DT Cregg made roughly every mistake in the book. The good news for the EU sceptics is that unlikely many will take lessons from this. A lot of the mistakes will be repeated even repeated over and over again by others. Most of the defenders are simply totally disconncted with reality.

4. Problem for especially Cameron is that it becomes very clear that a large part of the electorate sees Farage as the only 'real' politicians. Real as in not acting. Huge advantage for him compared to the rest.
Also this will make Farage more a 'normal' alternative for voters. As in not an extremist/fruitcake. Will very likely be seen as a serious contender now.

5. Seen from Farage's pov it would probably be a good move to go for Milli now. If he runs away it will reflect bad on him.
Hardly likely Mr Ed will win a debate on this issue. Moving all over the place, pro-EU and anti-referendum does that to people.
Likely Labour is now where the most potential is for growth and as said the easiest target.

6. Next to that Cameron imho if prepared well should win a discussion. Simply as IP doesnot have anything remotely close to proper answers on some very relevant questions.
Cameron has platform and logic on his side (Milli has neither).
Send in Hague (with his views) and he will be butchered as well. Osborne could however do a good job, he is credible in that role, Hague is not (and will suffer from Cleggitis).

7. Lessons that should be learned (but will not). In business when your brand has this kind of drop in support because customers donot like a lot of the features and get irritaed by the way it is handled you see immediate action.
CEOs are changed, people to blame are actually at least for the crowd kicked out and changes are made. Plus a lot of now we will not and cannot make the same mistake.
Here nada. Not difficult to see that that will have longer and medium term some negative consequences.
In that respect Cameron would even more than before be best served to move as much to the EU-critical side as possible. More the necessary evil that have to be and will be reformed (and end up with having less influence on British lives).

Rik said...

I doubt btw if getting this much pro-EU was a good move.
First of all even the biggest fans will have to admit that some things are not really optimal (to say it friendly).
Second he has no competition on the more-pro-EU side. And totally unlikely it will be there in next election.
Third his own electorate is divided (seen the polls). The more extreme you get the more of the Out or doubtful or democratic (as in pro-referendum) will turn away.
Fourth going full confrontational is for the middle of the parc usually not a good strategy (it is on the extremes, but gains are mainly to be made in the middle).
Fifth he promised a referendum before in the eyes of a lot of people at least and went back on that the further you move away from there the less credible you get.
Sixt(potential) rational voters more and more will realise that something will have to be done, the present situation is simply not sustainable. Digging yourself in hardly helpful here.

Clegg most likely if his strategy was going for the pro-EU vote to make clear he is by far the most pro-EU on the block and leave it there and not move to the extreme.

Not come up with the 'ordinary people havenot got a clue thing' as well.
People are clearly not buying that. Even half at least of the IN part of the electorate seen the polls.
Especially when you have a range of (semi-)disasters behind your name yourself.
On top of that if they would have to vote for a specialist to decide for them that specialist would certainly not be called Clegg.

Come with a solution for the problems many people see. Way too much 'the least worse alternative'. It is so negative. People prefer more positive stuff and action. Of course that (positive) message should be a credible one. Seen earlier remarks by Clegg that would be a hard sell. And any discussion will put the focus again on breaking important promises on top of that.

So overall a completely wrong strategy based in a completely wrong analysis of the game played.

Anonymous said...

Nick Clegg needs to get himself a real job working in industry and with it a sense of reality too.

The fact that he didn't know about what proportion of UK-related decisions are now made by the EU (7% he said) sums up what we, the public, have to put up with.

The debate has now moved on and it will be difficult for any of the 3 main parties to stop a referendum without doing themselves immense damage should they oppose it.

I don't want to be ruled by the EU and have never been asked if I do.


Rollo said...

Your graphs are deceptive. The UKIP position is not total withdrawal from Europe; it is withdrawal from the political entity of the EU while retaining free trade as enjoyed by Norway, Switzerland, Mexico. When you take this into account, the green bits can be added to the purple bits and there is an overwhelming majority for OUT OF EU_ TRADE WITH EU.

CB Ross said...

"... the calculations of the Lib Dem strategists seems to be that the combination of the additional exposure and full-throated defence of the EU will allow the party to pick up some extra votes in May's European elections."

Is mine the only head 'spinning' when that is read?! The Gadfly is not the only member of the LibDums who needs to be injected with a massive dose of reality!

christina speight said...

In the hope that someone other than the ever-present RIK can be heard I'll try.

Open Europe is getting more and more pro-EU Mats Person in today;s press report is outrageous. This debate made sure of MY vote for UKIP in this year's Euros and very probably in next year's general election. Clegg flatly denied that the bureaucratic EU was undemocratic and thus confirmed that the leaders of our main parties [up to now] don't give a toss for what the people want. Nor, it seems does OE!.

Denis Cooper said...

As I mentioned before, your poll is incomplete compared to some previous polls where there was a separate category for those who wanted integration to lead to

"A fully integrated Europe with all major decisions taken by a European government".

If you had offered that option then on the basis of those previous polls, mentioned here:


the 10% lumped together in your poll as wanting a more integrated EU would include just 2% or 3% who wanted to go all the way to a pan-European federation.


By rights they should not be getting more than 3% of the votes cast in general elections, any beyond that have been obtained fraudulently - not by electoral fraud, but by political fraud.

Idris Francis said...

The more I have learned about the EU over the last 21 years the worse it gets. What strikes me constantly, including in these 2 debates, is that, as somone comments above, those most in favour of it are those who know least about it. Clegg for example

He flatly denied plans for a EU Army - how long is it now since Romano Prodi, then top EU dog. replied to questions about it by sayin "You could call it a EU Army, you could call it anything, you could call it Margaret - but it's still a EU Army"? 15 years? 20 years - and Clegg doesn't know? (of course he knows, he just dare not admit it. Indeed I became so irritate some years ago by his frequent denials of the EU banana regulations that I printed them off and gave them to him as part of my question at a debate.

Another extraordinary aspect of Clegg's contribution to the debate was his insistence that a referendum would be necessary only if MORE powere are to be given away. Does he seriously believe that we are happy that so many powers have already been given away?

And as for OE's constant plugging of renegotiation and how many would vote for that - are they unaware that Merkel emphatically ruled out any significant renegotiation only a few weeks ago? What part of "NO" does OE not understand?

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with your comments, both regarding the EU, OpenEUrope and the commenter Rik. All seem impervious to other's views and in that vacuum,sum up the predicament we find ourselves in.

Note to OE - I find the test your system applies for commenters to prove they're not robots (!!) would probably be easier for a robot to decipher than me. Time and again, I find several of the jumbled up letters impossible to decipher, so often give up....