Archive for the 'EU matters' Category


The EU can’t have its Turkey and eat it

Saturday, May 28th, 2016


The EURef highlights Europe’s ambivalence to its buffer state

“Bridge Together”: Istanbul’s slogan for its unsuccessful 2020 Olympic bid captured well the country’s unifying potential, linking as it does not only Europe and Asia but also the secular west with the Islamic Middle East. A bridge, however, needs firm foundations and Turkey, rather than pulling two sides together, is more swayed by the forces pulling it in opposite directions.

Hence the force of the arguments this week about its potential future EU membership; arguments which had an unspoken but nasty undertone, essentially asking: “you don’t want a Turk for a neighbour, do you?”.

Leaving aside whether or not people do – and Leave and their supporters in the press are confident they don’t, probably rightly – the question is entirely moot. Turkey certainly won’t be joining the EU this decade, almost certainly won’t join during the next one and is pretty unlikely to join in the one after that.

The history of its membership ambition is telling. Turkey first applied for membership of the EC in 1987. It took twelve years to accept that application and a further six to begin talks. Another eleven years down the line to today and just one of the 33 chapters to settle membership entry has been successfully negotiated. In the meantime, sixteen other countries have joined the Union (seven of which didn’t even exist in 1987).

Turkey’s future barriers to joining the club are even more formidable. Greece and Cyprus both have vetoes making their assent unlikely unless the Cypriot question is resolved. But even if those relatively small and financially unstable countries are cowed into line, much bigger problems remain.

France may no longer constitutionally require a referendum to approve Turkish membership (that provision was repealed in 2008), but public opinion will still make itself felt and public opinion is not supportive: in March this year, fully three-quarters were opposed. With Marine Le Pen receiving the backing of up to a third of the public in polls for the first round of next year’s presidential election and the run-off highly likely to be between the centre-right and the far-right, Elysée policy will reflect that hostility with a good chance that negotiations will rapidly be placed back in the freezer.

And if France doesn’t, others will, for the same reason. Angela Merkel is under pressure from the populist right-wing AfD, which hit 15% for the first time in three polls this month; in Holland, the stridently anti-Islamic PVV is regularly polling above 35%, at shares no party has received at any Dutch general election since before WWI; and in Austria, only 21,000 votes in 4.5m kept the far-right FPÖ candidate from the presidency. A quiet revolution is happening across Europe. Quiet so far, anyway.

In fact, virtually every member of the EU has good reason to oppose a country the size of Turkey with the income of Turkey joining, even without considering cultural factors. Those in the poorer south and east would lose billions in structural funds, while those in the richer north and west would likely face a new wave of immigration. Neither is an appealing prospect.

So what of Cameron’s apparent support? Out of line? Not necessarily. The Leave campaigners were keen to play up his comment from 2010 that “I want us to pave the road from Ankara to Brussels” but taken in isolation, the quote misses the context. Ankara was at the time reforming towards western values, scrapping anti-Kurdish legislation and abolishing the death penalty – and in his speech from which that quote is taken, he argued that Turkey needed to do more still.

The simple fact is that Cameron’s support was conditional. From the same speech that the above quote came from, he said “Europe will draw fresh vigour and purpose from a Turkey that embraces human rights and democracy”. However, under Erdogan, new restraints on press freedom and human rights in general have moved the country away from the Copenhagen criteria to a point where the entire process could easily be frozen again; something which would enable Downing Street to play it both ways. Turkey is of course on the front line next to Syria, which has certainly put huge pressures on the country but that too simply emphasises its differentness.

Why would it matter? In a word: Russia. The lodestone in Turkish foreign policy since at least the eighteenth century has been set by antagonism across the Black Sea. Whether supported by Britain in the nineteenth century or allied to Germany in WWI or joining NATO after WWII or the current spats in Syria, the one common thread is resisting the Bear. That’s why people like Lord Owen are wrong when they say that Turkey may leave NATO if its European ambitions are frustrated. Turkey needs NATO, or at least, it needs Great Power backing one way or another. The EU is a sideshow on that level. After all, it hasn’t taken more than a quarter of a century since Turkey’s original application because only one side’s been dragging their feet.

So given all that, why the fuss? Because in Cameron’s words, Leave thought they’d found a magic bullet. They hadn’t, not least because they not only failed to get their facts right but they provably got them wrong: suggesting, for example, that Britain didn’t have a veto on Turkey’s accession. And yet after several days where the topic was at the centre of the debate, Leave have let it drop. Have they been distracted or was that deliberate?

To return to the beginning, for all that the public don’t want high immigration, the tone of the argument was unpleasant. In a vote where facts are scarce and assertion and conjecture plentiful, credibility matters above all, and credibility can be damaged by sounding to be not a nice person (despite it not being inherently linked). As an aside, if Leave does win, Cameron trashing his own public credibility will have no small part in it.

Immigration remains one of the strongest cards Leave have to play but they played it poorly this week. Can they play it again and if they do, can they play it better next time? I think it will be difficult. As such, the net outcome this week was a narrow and ugly points win to Remain.

David Herdson


Survation phone survey continues the EURef polling divide: Remain 8% lead remains

Wednesday, May 25th, 2016


EU Ref polling   Google Sheets (1)

I’m off to London this after to record the first PB/Polling Matters TV Show in our new studios near Victoria. Keiran Pedley and I will, no doubt, spend a lot of time discussing the polling and trying to make sense of it.

There’s also been news of a London EURef poll.

Mike Smithson


Not surprisingly YouGov finds that on EU people trust those they most agree with

Tuesday, May 10th, 2016


Remain’s long term problems

Sunday, April 24th, 2016

Even if Remain wins in June, there may be future In/Out referendums and that should give Leave hope and worry Remain.

One of the most interesting aspects of this referendum campaign is David Cameron ignoring Harold Wilson’s precedent of sitting out an In/Out EC/EU referendum. The reason for the breaking this precedent might be that Remain doesn’t have anyone of the stature or relative popularity of David Cameron to front them. It is a less than a year since Cameron’s party received more votes than any other party in a general election this century, for which much of that is down to Cameron.

It maybe purely out of necessity that Cameron is having to lead the Remain campaign*, he knows if he loses, he ceases to be Prime Minister, despite his desire to continue it might not be up to him. If he tries to continue as Prime Minister after losing the referendum, I would hate to be Graham Brady’s postman, they would undoubtedly get a hernia delivering the post to Graham Brady in the days after the 23rd of June.

If Cameron had declared himself hors de combat for this campaign, you can imagine Remain struggling, there would have been no Obama/Cameron press conference on Friday that has so convinced the betting markets to swing behind Remain. Speaking from experience, it is a great advantage when you’re campaigning to have David Cameron as the figurehead for your campaign. I suspect some of the more passionate Tory Leavers’ frustration and anger is in part based on the regret David Cameron isn’t fronting the Leave side, deep down they know he would be using similar strategy and tactics for Leave.

Such strategy and tactics might well have been similarly effective for Leave, David Cameron is ruthless when it comes to winning elections and plebiscites. Leavers in the Tory Party are beginning to have some sympathy with Nick Clegg, Ed Miliband, and The Scottish Independence movement, as Cameron is using the same tactics in the EU referendum that were used in the AV and Scottish Independence referenda, as well as the 2015 general election.

Another issue for Remain is that Tory leaders during the last fifty years are generally more Eurosceptic than their predecessor. There’s an inarguable case to be made that Cameron is the most Eurosceptic Leader in office the Tories have ever had. He’s giving the country an IN/OUT referendum, in contrast one of his predecessors, Margaret Thatcher, signed The Single European Act. Even after her fiercely Eurosceptic speech in Bruges she took The UK into The Exchange Rate Mechanism, these two actions  have done more to integrate The UK into the European project than anything Cameron has ever done in office.

It is very likely  the next Tory leader is someone who is currently campaigning for Brexit. Within a few years of the 1975 referendum, Labour had elected as leader someone who made Labour fight the 1983 general election on a manifesto that would withdraw the UK from the European Community. Just like Scottish Independence, the will of the people might be superseded by a further election.

Even the most ardent Pro-EU supporter can see the European Union evolving in the short term not necessarily to the UK’s advantage, particularly the Eurozone and the countries therein. That may lead to another referendum in the near future, and it does appear that some Remainers are presenting Remain as the least worst option, which is not a tenable long term position. The closest comparison I can come up with is the 1992 general election, whilst dealing with a recession and its aftermath, the Tories effectively presented themselves as the least worst option, it worked in the short term, but helped contribute to their shellacking in 1997.

Just look at the picture in the tweet at the top of this piece,  whilst it might not be those two, it is plausible that a future UK In/Out referendum might take place with people similar to those two in power, lacking the relationship Cameron and Obama have, and that also might not be to Remain’s advantage. I can’t imagine Corbyn and Trump sharing a political strategist in the way Obama and Cameron used the talents of Jim Messina.

A future Tory leader might break the precedent of Thatcher and Cameron and campaign for Leave, after all it might be in their interests to campaign for Leave. Nor should Remainers assume a future Leave campaign will be as poor as this current one has been. 

Much like the IRA, Leave only have to be lucky once. Remain will have to be lucky always, Remain appear to have all the luck this time, but in a future referendum, they may not.


*Of course other plausible reasons are that Cameron genuinely believes his position and is campaigning as such or he wishes not to be labelled frit.


Why those opposed to the Tories should hope that June 23rd fails to resolve the blue team’s #EURef schism

Monday, April 18th, 2016

It’s in non-CON interests for the Tory battles to go on and on

A party at war is pretty sight if you are not a supporter. The way this first Monday of the official referendum campaign has gone isn’t doing the Tories any favours and it is going to go on and on.

It is an extraordinary spectacle. A Conservative Chancellor sets out projections of what BREXIT could cost and we see a huge effort from fellow Tories to both discredit the figures and the man itself.

Anyone who comes out with anything that’s vaguely supportive of REMAIN has to reckon on coming under a pile of aggressive abuse from LEAVE backers. Those wanting out are more than ready to play the ball as well as the man.

If the Scottish IndyRef on 2014 is anything to go by this will get louder and stronger the closer we get to the day.

I’m sure that Cameron and his team regard the next eight weeks of party in-fighting is a small price to pay to resolving an issue that has so divided the party since the summer of 1992. The worry must be that battles will l continue after the vote.

Cameron really needs a 10%+ victory.

Mike Smithson


This week’s PB Polling Matters TV Show on BREXIT turnout, Trump and how to spread bet on politics

Wednesday, April 13th, 2016

This week Keiran Pedley is on holiday so I took the chair for the first time to host the programme which turned out to be quite lively.

Guests were Leo Barasi and Ed Fulton – the US specialist from Sporting Index. I was pleased with the outcome which is, I hope, a good watch.

There’s quite a focus on the betting angle with some interesting tips.

Thanks for all the position reactions to earlier episodes.

UPDATE: The audio podcast version is now available

Mike Smithson


Nick Palmer says both sides in the referendum have got to stop sounding so gloomy

Saturday, March 26th, 2016


Positive messages might swing votes

It’s been widely observed that the referendum campaign is a contest between negatives. Vote Remain because leaving would reduce the country to smouldering ashes, or Vote Leave because remaining would doom us to surrender to Brussels bureaucrats forever. The impression given is that we have a choice of extremely bearish scenarios, with little hope either way.

It is generally accepted by professionals that the outcome will be decided by people who have no strong prior views on the EU (or, in some cases, even a clear picture of what it does or how it does it). What will they decide as they eye the alternative slavering bears?

The risk for Leave is that they think “It all sounds scary, but my life today is sort of OK, so I’ll vote to stay where we are”. This presumed reaction is why the betting markets are shrugging off the toss-up polls. However, the risk for Remain is that they think “It all sounds confusing, so as I’ve no strong views I think I’ll sit it out.” Since people who really feel strongly are on balance pro-Leave, the danger is surely larger for Remain.

Why are the campaigns so negative? Several reasons:

Remain is being largely run by the Conservative leadership, who are not very keen on the EU in the first place and have spent years trying to persuade backbenchers that they will make it, er, less bad.

Leave has rival, contradictory visions (EEA and “fully out”), both of which have snags: it seems safer to focus on the perceived flaws of the status quo.

British politics is predominantly negative anyway. Every General Election is fought predominantly on the perceived horrors of the other side.

Nonetheless, Remain need to do something to counter this, or they will lose. In particular, they will lose the predominantly favourable Labour voters. At present, the argument seems a sordid squabble between rival right-wingers. Do we trust Cameron and Osborne, or Boris and Farage? The obvious answer: “neither”.

Remain needs two separate new threads to their campaign to add to Project Fear – and there isn’t any reason why they need to be in perfect harmony (if Leave can have mutually exclusive alternatives, so can Remain).

First, they need to give air time in the broadcasts and debates to someone who actually likes the EU. A positive theme is needed for a section of the population who will otherwise sit it out. The core theme of this should be “It’s the first project to work constructively together across our continent for a thousand years, and it would be mad for Britain not to want to play a part in shaping it.”

This means giving Alan Johnson a prominent role. He’s making plenty of speeches but they aren’t being reported. There is a major pro-Europe Corbyn speech in the pipeline, but Johnson is crucial too: he will reach voters beyond the party faithful. Put him in the broadcasts.

Second, Cameron needs to muster a positive case for sceptics. “Yes, there are things we find frustrating about the EU. But it isn’t going away, it’s on our doorstep. It already has many advantages for us, and we need to be in there making it better.”

Just stop sounding so damn gloomy – or you’ll lose.

Nick Palmer was MP for Broxtowe from 1997-2010


Deal done – and combined with LEAVE’s Galloway error of judgment, it might be enough

Saturday, February 20th, 2016


The initiative swings back to Remain

But for Tony Marlow’s blazer, Michael Portillo might have ended up prime minister rather than a rail-hopping TV presenter. To have done so, he needed John Redwood to do sufficiently well in the first round of the Conservative Party leadership election against John Major. Redwood, however, never really recovered from his initial press conference when he “was lost in a mass of eccentric jackets and lime-green silk”, as Major put it. That one press conference “did more to send wavering backbenchers into my camp than several days’ hard campaigning”. In the end, Major received three votes more than the target he set himself. Had Major fallen short, the door would have opened to Portillo.

It’s a good example of the butterfly effect in action. It’s also a reminder of how important it is to get the tone right when the course of events is in a maximum state of flux. That’s why the Grassroots Out event for the Leaver campaign that chose to make George Galloway its star surprise speaker blundered so badly. Like those Tory MP in 1995, today’s wavering politicians must be wondering whether this is a crowd to cosy up to.

Chief among those undecideds is Boris, mayor of London, MP for Uxbridge & South Ruislip and man of ambition. Leave would love to draft him to their campaign which at the moment lacks star quality, charisma and heavyweights. Chris Grayling, Michael Gove and IDS are serious politicians but hardly popular or colourful ones. Which is why placing Galloway centre-stage was such an error: not only will it inhibit those who might not want to appear alongside him but it places a question mark against the judgement of the whole campaign.

It is of course true that most people won’t have noticed Galloway’s appearance tonight. It’s also true that Galloway can speak to a demographic that people like Farage, IDS or even Boris can’t. Both arguments miss the point.

In the first case, the election isn’t being fought now but the teams are being picked. Referendums are usually won by the side with the most popular leading figures. That wasn’t the case with the Scottish referendum but there Yes did make large gains during the campaign, consistent with the rule; they just weren’t large enough. With the EU vote starting off near enough level pegging, that exception doesn’t apply. Unless Leave can recruit a better team it will struggle to attract the centre and centre-left.

On the second point, Leave is already overloaded with marmite politicians such as Gove and IDS. Those two might help with the thinking centre-right but are anathema to many others. Galloway is even worse and could easily repel some of those that the cabinet ministers attract. The best they can do is try to hide him away, though as he intends to stand for London mayor in May, that may be easier said than done.

    As for the deal itself, the political question is whether there’s enough in it to enable politicians and activists to go out with conviction. On that score, I suspect it is.

Leave will no doubt try to pick holes in it, arguing that it’s not a treaty so isn’t legally binding and, minor benefit changes aside, is largely a statement of intent that the ECJ can and probably will overrule. There may be some truth to some of that but the statement of intent of itself should not be ignored: having reached agreement this week, it ought to be entirely possible to incorporate the clauses into treaty form at the next opportunity. Every state is signed up.

Again though, that’s detail for those who care about these things. The referendum will be won and lost far more on impressions and gut feeling. The quality of each side’s campaign will undoubtedly influence that but even more so, so will who is making it. On that score, for the first time in a while, not only did Remain had much the better of it yesterday but they can feel more confident about the campaign ahead.

David Herdson