Peter Hoskin

Cameron’s winning the popularity contest over Europe

Cameron's winning the popularity contest over Europe
Text settings

It's no surprise that David Cameron's actions in Brussels last week appear to be popular with the voting public, but it is significant nonetheless. The Times is carrying a Populus poll today (£) which suggests just how difficult Labour and the Lib Dems will find it to recapture ground over the Continent. 57 per cent of respondents say that ‘David Cameron was right to exercise Britain's veto’, against only 14 per cent who believe he was wrong to do so. And it turns out that 49 per cent of the folk who voted Lib Dem at the last election support the PM too. With one particular exception (which we shall get on to below), most of the poll's other findings will both hearten and embolden the blue half of the coalition.   

So far as our daily politics are concerned, it’s striking just how much more of a difference Europe could make now. When the Tories and Libs rattled out their coalition agreement they fudged over the matter; probably because there was no solid position that would accommodate both of the parties. But now it is unavoidable and, in many ways, defining. So long as Europe remains at the forefront of debate in this country, it is not unimaginable that the Tories could gain from it electorally. And it is not unimaginable, either, that the Lib Dems will face more pressure of the sort exerted by Baroness Tonge last night, and perhaps even buckle to some of it. The break-up of the coalition is still a gross improbability, but the political calculus did shift more in that direction over the weekend.

How could Labour and the Lib Dems counteract all this? There are two hazy possibilities at this stage. The first is if Cameron's major justification for his approach — defending British business interests — breaks down. Stories to that effect are already percolating down through news outlets. And the second possibility is suggested by one of the results in that Populus poll: 56 per cent of respondents believe that Cameron's No will ‘reduce the influence of the UK inside the EU’. At the moment, with people thinking that the PM did the right thing anyway, that doesn't much matter. But with europolitics fluctuating as it is, there is a chance that Clegg and Miliband will be able to prise open that sentiment in future.

In the meantime, though, Cameron has the clear advantage over Europe — and it is one he will look to exploit when he faces the Commons later today.