Polling Observatory #36 (April 2014): Farage’s Spring Uprising

GOOD ONE

 

 

 

This is the thirty-sixth in a series of posts that report on the state of the parties as measured by opinion polls. By pooling together all the available polling evidence we can reduce the impact of the random variation each individual survey inevitably produces. Most of the short term advances and setbacks in party polling fortunes are nothing more than random noise; the underlying trends – in which we are interested and which best assess the parties’ standings – are relatively stable and little influenced by day-to-day events. If there can ever be a definitive assessment of the parties’ standings, this is it. Further details of the method we use to build our estimates of public opinion can be found here.

 

This month’s Polling Observatory suggests that, not for the first time, Nigel Farage’s UKIP uprising has thrown a spanner into the Westminster political machine. The slow but steady tightening in the gap between the big two parties comes to a halt this month, as both lose ground while UKIP surges. Our estimate for Labour this month is 35.3%, down 0.9% on last month, and continuing the past year’s pattern of slow but steady decline. Labour have now hit their lowest point in the polls since Ed Miliband was elected leader of the party in the autumn of 2010. However, the Conservatives have not been able to capitalise on Labour’s continued decline as their support has fallen even more sharply this month, down 1.4 points at 31.6%. The Liberal Democrats have also seen no electoral benefit from their leader’s high profile combat with Nigel Farage over the EU – we have them down 0.2% this month at 7.4%.

All the momentum, and the media focus, lies instead with Nigel Farage and UKIP, whose surge in European Parliament polling is, as we predicted in earlier posts, being echoed in Westminster polling: UKIP stand at 14.1% this month, close to their highest ever share of 14.4% achieved in the aftermath of their local election success last summer. With UKIP currently favourites to win the European Parliament election, and become the first new party in nearly a century to top the poll in a nationwide election, further advances in the next few months look likely. It is likely that the upcoming Newark by-election will take place with UKIP support in domestic polling at record levels.

The current UKIP surge, however, does owe something to the unusual political context with a European Parliament election looming. In each of the past two European elections, UKIP has advanced in the polls, as their defining issue dominates the political agenda, and they expand beyond their traditional base of disaffected, struggling working class voters angry about immigration by winning over better off, often Conservative-leaning Eurosceptic voters who find UKIP attractive in European elections but less so in Westminster ones. In past election cycles, UKIP has struggled to hold on to these “strategic defectors” – voters who view UKIP as a vehicle for sending a message about the EU, but not a natural political home.

It remains to be seen whether the same dynamic will assert itself in the rather different political climate of 2014 – UKIP’s much stronger poll standing, greater media coverage, and improved financial and organisational resources may make it easier for them to retain new recruits. However, the Conservatives will certainly be hoping that the pattern of 2009, and (to a lesser extent) 2013 repeats itself – with UKIP’s spring surge fading away as voters return to the domestic political agenda and start to drift back to the mainstream parties, boosting Tory vote shares in particular.

Labour will hope that, with UKIP now targeting both main parties for votes, the decline in their support this month also reflects the temporary inflation in UKIP support, and that they too will recover more ground if and when UKIP decline than was true before. This is certainly possible, but it might be unwise to pin their hopes on a Farage fallback. The fall in Labour share this month was the continuation of a now well established trend that has seen the party shed 7 percentage points of support since their peak in the summer of 2012. Those within the party pushing for a “35% strategy” might be a little concerned that Labour support has already fallen back to this level, with over a year to go, and clear evidence of a downward trend in support. It is quite plausible that the remaining Labour backers are more firmly behind the party than those who have leaked away over the past 18 months, but the continued loss of support, and the precarious lead remaining, must give Labour plenty to worry about.

Those within all the parties wondering what today’s polling means for next year’s election will have some additional information to chew on next week when, exactly one year ahead of the general election, we launch the Polling Observatory forecast model, which utilises historical polling trends to estimate the likeliest pattern of results next May based on where things stand today. Tune in on May 7th to find out our current estimate of where support for the parties will be come election day.

Robert FordWill Jennings and Mark Pickup

Alliances are the key to understanding India’s general election

India’s election campaign is officially underway.  However, negotiations over seat sharing between potential partners are still ongoing.  India is a federal state with 29 states and 7 Union Territories (the 29th state, Telengana, was created literally days before the election was called, many argue in an attempt of the ruling Congress to secure electoral dividends – in fact, the BJP came on board in the eleventh hour to seek to capitalise on this).  The existence of multiple electoral arenas (and alliances) means that the electoral maths are complicated.  Therefore, although a recently released large scale attitudinal survey confirmed the general perception of huge National Democratic Alliance (NDA) gains (of which the Hindu Nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is the main component) over the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) of the Congress Party, and a Pew Global Survey Report released in February found that ‘More than six-in-ten Indians (63%) [would] prefer the BJP to lead the next Indian national government. Just two-in-ten (19%) pick the Indian National Congress’, the specific results are hard to call.

What will determine the results of the election will be alliances between parties in particular states.  These states are diverse, in terms of their linguistic and religious composition, but also in terms of their levels of economic development, female literacy and caste relations.  Electoral alliances between political parties operate on the basis of negotiating the number of seats a party will contest in a particular state, with the alliance partner contesting in the other seats e.g. between the Shiv Sena and the BJP in the state of Maharashtra.  The alliance between the extreme Hindu nationalist Shiv Sena and the BJP is a natural one, but many other alliances are less obvious and often occasioned by political opportunism rather than ideological affiliation.  This is one reason why they are still in the process of being finalised.

Although India used to be known for having a one party dominant system (in the shape of the Indian National Congress) it must be remembered that Congress never secured the majority of the votes, even at the high point of its dominance.  However, its share of the Lok Sabha (House of the People) seats was inflated by the ‘first past the post’ simple plurality electoral system.  As Congress’s organisation weakened and other political parties became more institutionalised, first at the state level (as seen in the 1967 elections) and then at national level (first in 1977 after Indira Gandhi was trounced at the polls following the calling off of the National Emergency that suspended democracy) and then again in 1989, the party system at the national level became dependent on alliances.

Since 1989 there has not been a majority single party government at the national level in India, and there is unlikely to be in the future given the dynamics of state politics.  In 1989 the National Front alliance took power, ruling until 1991 when the Congress returned to power as a minority government, led by Narasimha Rao.  The BJP came to power as the largest party in the 1996 elections and after 13 days conceded that they were unable to form a coalition, handing over power to a left leaning coalition, the United Front.

In 1998 the BJP returned to power, having learnt the lessons of coalition politics, and, in the main, moderating their policies in an attempt to attract coalition partners with secular political agendas and/or those dependent on Muslim votes.  Although their government fell when one of their alliance partners, the ADMK from Tamil Nadu withdrew from the NDA, leading to the 1999 election, its 1999-2004 coalition was stable (the coalition did not include the ADMK) and lasted its full term.  The Congress returned to power as part of the United Progressive Alliance in 2004, belying the predictions of many, including this author, and, having finally accepted the logic of coalition politics, managed to stay in power for a full term.  It was returned to power in 2009 again as part of the (slightly reconstituted) United Progressive Alliance. As noted above, it is extremely unlikely to be re-elected for a third term.

As with all political parties voted out of office, especially for a second election in a row, the BJP in the noughties was riddled with internal dissension.  Its previous successes at the national level were attributed by many analysts, including this author, to the moderation of its leader, Atul Behari Vajpayee.  But the party questioned whether a more extreme agenda would have yielded better results.  Its choice of Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 election has been controversial, with its alliance partner in Bihar, the JD(U) withdrawing from the NDA in 2012.  Modi is a controversial figure, the Chief Minister of Gujarat state with a reputation for delivering high levels of economic growth in the state.  However, he was accused of, at best failing to prevent the massacre of up to 2000 Muslims in 2002 in Gujarat, and at worst, complicity in the pogrom, leading to a visa ban by several foreign governments, including the US and the UK (although the ban was lifted in 2012 by the UK, and is likely to be lifted by the US if Modi becomes Prime Minister).

Issues are of course important in this election as well.  Corruption, inflation and economic development are the main voter concerns, and future posts in this blog will focus on manifesto commitments and the rationale behind alliances (that are more than opportunistic).  But it is important to remember that, despite much of the media’s focus on the Rahul Gandhi and Modi show, it is at the state level that this election will be decided.

 

Professor Katharine Adeney is the Director of the Institute of Asia and Pacific Studies at the University of Nottingham.  She is author of Federalism and Ethnic Conflict Regulation in India and Pakistan (2007) and Contemporary India (2010) (with Andrew Wyatt). She has also co-edited (with Lawrence Saez), Coalition Politics and Hindu Nationalism.  She tweets @katadeney

Some local trouble for the Front national – the 2014 French municipal elections

 

Whilst the May 2014 European elections are looking auspicious for the French far right, the municipals next March could turn out less favourably. Should local issues dominate the municipal campaign, as expected, most Socialist mayors are well placed to present voters with decent records as incumbents. This may ultimately protect them from the anticipated wave of political discontent with Hollande’s presidency. Similarly, despite being in political disarray since the defeat of Nicolas Sarkozy in 2012, the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP) continues to dominate right-wing locales, owing to their networks of well-established notables. The Front national (FN) enjoys no such positive inertia. In elections where embedded local networks are vital to success, even a party now well into its fourth decade still lacks any semblance of regional coverage in this regard. Whilst public opinion polls seem to suggest that the current Socialist crisis should give the FN the opportunity for unprecedented electoral success in the next few months, what are the party’s realistic chances in March, given these structural weaknesses?

The FN is hoping to field candidates in about 500 municipalities. This would represent a significant improvement on the 2008 election, where the party ran lists in just 78 cities with more than 3,500 inhabitants, polling an average 5.5 per cent of the vote where present, and winning a mere 59 seats out of a possible 90,000. Nevertheless, to date only 120 full lists have been announced, reflecting the continued scarcity of FN grassroots. The gender parity law clearly adds to the pressure and, as in the 2011 cantonals, the FN has to consider new younger candidates with little political experience and looser links with the party. The national leadership is increasingly concerned that these outsiders may not fit the ‘respectable’ profile they are trying to build.

Precisely how many municipalities are in danger of falling to the FN in March is still unclear, but a simple extrapolation from the results of the 2012 legislative elections gives an indication of the party’s local strength. The electoral system strongly benefits the winning party, giving it a large majority bonus of 50% of the council seats, thereby producing high levels of disproportionality. In 2012, the FN candidates topped the second-round ballot in 220 municipalities within the boundaries of their legislative constituencies. The regional breakdown shows spatial polarization of the FN with two distinct clusters of support: more than half (56 per cent) of those cities are found in the North East while another third (34 per cent) are located in the Mediterranean South (see Figure 1).

Figure 1  Municipal strengths of the FN: size of municipality and regional polarization

crop 1

Size

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Region

 

Two-thirds of these are small villages with less than 1,000 inhabitants where the FN has no incentive to invest time or financial resources. Of the remaining 74 towns, the best chances for the FN to make headlines are to be found in three of its traditional strongholds: Istres (Bouches-du-Rhône), Carpentras (Vaucluse) and Hénin-Beaumont (Pas-de-Calais). These are relatively large municipalities with more than 20,000 inhabitants. Electoral prospects are equally bright in the slightly smaller cities of Sorgues (Vaucluse), Saint-Gilles (Gard) and Tarascon (Bouches-du-Rhône) which all have just under 20,000 inhabitants. Inevitably the party’s rising stars will be found there: Marine Le Pen will join Steeve Briois in Hénin-Beaumont. Her niece, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen will be on the list presented by a former UMP member in Sorgues. Gilbert Collard can already contemplate a possible easy victory in Saint-Gilles.

Beside this handful of possible ‘symbolic’ wins in larger towns, most of the remaining cases are smaller towns reflecting the territorial distribution of the FN vote in peri-urban zones. In 1995/97, the FN had fielded 490 lists and secured three municipalities with more than 30,000 inhabitants (Orange, Marignane and Vitrolles) and a much larger regional city (Toulon). This year, the FN’s municipal spread might appear to be more diffuse geographically, but it includes a large number of small satellite towns such as Noyelles (Pas-de-Calais), Le Luc, Cogolin and Vidauban (Var), Bédarrides (Vaucluse) and Drap (Alpes-Maritimes). The small far right Ligue du Sud might also exploit its local strengths in the Northern part of Vaucluse to seize a few small towns in the outskirts of Orange where the incumbent mayor and FN dissident, Jacques Bompard, is very likely to win his fourth mandate since 1995.

In the light of its 2012 electoral performance, the FN’s objective to win 10-15 municipalities in 2014 seems an achievable goal. Success at the upper bound of this range, or beyond, would cement the party’s status as favourite to win the European elections in May, as well as demonstrating a game-changing municipal presence. Any performance below 10 would necessarily cast doubt on the true potential of a high-profile party lacking the wherewithal to succeed at the grassroots level. The party will almost as certainly exert its usual nuisance power against the UMP, and once again increase the pressure on the conservative right to consider tactical alliances locally. The FN’s municipal election charter mixes tax cuts, immigration and security issues, staking out an ideological territory very similar to that of the UMP, and very unambiguously opening the door to political cooperation.

This continued testing of the cordon sanitaire between moderate and far right parallels new divisions beginning to emerge inside the party, not least through the increasingly prominent role taken by Florian Philippot and his much contested attempt to repackage the FN as a neo-Gaullist movement. Jean-Marie Le Pen himself seems determined to act as a reactionary force in the party, deliberately obstructing the ‘de-demonization’ strategy of his daughter. The old model of autocratic and highly personalized leadership continues to dominate the FN, as revealed by the building of the ‘Marine’ political franchise since 2011. Strong challengers emerging from local elections inevitably raises the spectre of Mégret and Bompard splitting the party after mayoral victories in the 1990s.

There has also been a shift in polling. Not for the first time, as an election draws near, Marine Le Pen and the FN’s support has begun to founder. Just as 2011 polls predicting a possible run-off place in the Presidentials dropped away in 2012, so the high-tide of public opinion in 2013 has started to falter, with drops of 4-5% in this month’s polls from TNS-SOFRES, OpinionWay and Ipsos. Similarly, Marine Le Pen’s strategy of modernization seems to have run out of steam. Over two-thirds still regard the FN as a ‘far right’ party, while another 59 per cent consider it to be ‘dangerous for democracy’ (see Figure 2). It fares little better in its perceived capacity to govern big cities.

Figure 2  Public perceptions of the FN

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Source: IPSOS, Poll on the French and the Front National (16 November 2013)

Efforts to rebrand the old far right have been hampered by political controversies. Last November, visible racism resurfaced in the party after a local FN candidate compared the Justice Minister Christiane Taubira to a monkey on national television. Many new FN recruits left the party, having encountered anti-Semitism and homophobia amongst its grassroots. Earlier in September, Marine Le Pen had created a row by criticizing the appearance of the French hostages freed in Niger, suggesting that they had converted to Islam during captivity. More recently, the FN leader has shown little eagerness to condemn anti-Semitism, racial hatred and Holocaust denial by the controversial stand-up comedian Dieudonné, whose daughter has Jean-Marie Le Pen as her godfather. Such continuity may sustain fears that, just as Orange, Vitrolles and Marignane became notorious for electing far right mayors, so other towns would be similarly stigmatised in 2014.

Much will depend on the focus of the municipal campaign. The mainstream parties have underlined their wish for the municipal elections to revolve around local issues, as is to their benefit. Polls confirm that voters are split almost 50/50 on local or national issues determining their vote (CSA ‘Le match des municipales’, national figures, 10-12 September 2013). Only around a quarter intend voting as a gesture against the Socialist government. The FN can take some solace from the high-profile Hénin-Beaumont municipality, in which Marine Le Pen will stand, where one section of the electorate stands out with 45 per cent intending to sanction the President and his government – blue-collar workers (CSA ‘Le match des municipales’, Hénin-Beaumont, 13-14 January 2014). At least the ouvriers who form the backbone of FN support are largely construing the election in terms favourable to the FN. Yet even here, polls still give an eventual eight-point victory to the Socialist-EELV list headed by Eugène Binaisse.

Parallels with the legislatives, then, may be instructive. As the leader of the party fell to the Socialists in the Pas-de-Calais, the Southern candidates won through to the National Assembly. The newer battlegrounds of the FN in the North may still not reap the rewards of the historical Midi heartland of far right support.

 

Jocelyn Evans (@JocelynAJEvans) is Professor of Politics at the University of Leeds.

Gilles Ivaldi is a CNRS researcher in political science based at the University of Nice. They are the authors of ‘The 2012 French Presidential Elections. The Inevitable Alternation’ (Palgrave, 2013) and blog about French elections at 500signatures.com.

 

 

Polling Observatory 32: Running down the clock

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This is the thirty-second in a series of posts that report on the state of the parties as measured by opinion polls. By pooling together all the available polling evidence we can reduce the impact of the random variation each individual survey inevitably produces. Most of the short term advances and setbacks in party polling fortunes are nothing more than random noise; the underlying trends – in which we are interested and which best assess the parties’ standings – are relatively stable and little influenced by day-to-day events. If there can ever be a definitive assessment of the parties’ standings, this is it. Further details of the method we use to build our estimates of public opinion can be found here.

 

After a brief Christmas ceasefire, Britain’s politicians have returned to combat in earnest, with the early shots of 2014 reflecting the mood of the times: help for the poorest struggling with eroding wages, more broadsides against Britain’s little loved banks, and a high crescendo of panic about migration leading to crushing disappointment in some parts of the media (and UKIP) when the promised tidal wave of Romanian and Bulgarian benefit seekers failed to materialise.

How have the parties fared over this not-so-festive season? Pretty much as they did in last month’s report. We estimate Labour at 37.6%, down 0.2% on last month and the seventh straight month our estimates have placed them in the 37-39% range. The Conservatives tick up a measly 0.1% to 31.0%, so they also continue to hold steady at the same level seen since the early autumn. The Lib Dems come in at 7.8%, continuing a flat line trend which extends all the way back to early 2011. UKIP move up 0.2% to 12.1%, also in line with the figures for the past five months or so.

The public’s mood currently is settled into a steady state, with support split across four parties and Labour holding a modest, but consistent lead. Neither the economic recovery, nor the A2 migration “crisis”, nor the various much trumpeted policy initiatives floated by government and opposition have yet had any discernible impact.

No news on the polling front is better news for Labour than it is for the Conservatives. With a general election now less than 16 months away, every month without movement on the polling front brings them a small step closer to defeat. Our research into historical polling (with Stephen Fisher of Oxford and Christopher Wlezien of University of Texas-Austin) suggests that British polls become steadily more predictive of election outcomes starting from about 18 months out from a general election, particularly for the Conservatives. With each month that ticks by without movement, the Conservatives’ prospects of turning things around become a little weaker, and Labour’s prospects of holding on to polling day become a little more certain.

As polling day gets closer, the ticking clock will loom larger in the parties’ minds, too. If the Conservatives poll share remains static as evidence of a robust economic recovery continues to pile up, pressure will build on David Cameron and George Osborne. Conservative backbenchers and activists who currently shower them with plaudits for the return of growth will soon turn against them if this growth does not deliver new voters. In particular, the tensions arising from UKIP’s continued double digit polling will only worsen, as the party divides between those who insist success requires imitating Nigel Farage and stealing his proposals, and those who worry that “out UKIP-ing UKIP” is impossible and damaging to the Conservatives’ credibility with moderate voters. Conversely, on the Labour benches, each successive month of steady leads will calm the nerves of those worried about Ed Miliband’s weak personal poll ratings, and anxious that the economic recovery undermines the credibility of the party’s focus on the “cost of living crisis”. Dissenters within the party are unlikely to raise their voices when they risk jeopardising a small but sufficient lead in polling, and each month of relative unity and harmony will help Labour’s image as a credible governing alternative, particularly if the Conservatives are wracked by conflicts over UKIP and Brussels.

Stable poll numbers are not great news for the smaller parties either. If their poll numbers continue to stagnate at alarmingly low level, rank and file Liberal Democrats may start to question the party leadership’s strategy of “divergence” within Coalition and call more loudly for out and out conflict with their Coalition partners or to exit the unhappy political marriage altogether. Stagnant poll numbers also hurt Nigel Farage’s argument that UKIP are the rising force in British politics – rising poll numbers are a key source of the oxygen of publicity UKIP need as an outsider force, and the radical Eurosceptics’ support levels are not yet healthy enough to convince many that their insurgency can be converted to Westminster power under Britain’s unforgiving first-past-the-post electoral system.

Labour can take some comfort from the status quo, which suits them, but they should not fall into the trap of thinking it cannot change. The story of polling since 2010 has been one of long periods of calm weather, interspersed with stormy spells where the political climate changed rapidly: late 2010 – when the Lib Dems slumped and Labour surged; early 2012, when the Tories briefly closed the gap before slumping back following the “omnishambles” budget; and spring 2013, when (as Anthony Wells notes) the Conservatives halved the gap on their Labour rivals. There will be plenty of weather-making political events in 2014 – the spring Budget, the first when George Osborne will be in a position to hand out good news (and maybe some giveaways); summer’s local and European Parliament elections and autumn’s Scottish independence referendum. A busy year is in prospect for politicians, pollsters and pundits.

Robert FordWill Jennings and Mark Pickup

Most “eurosceptic” Conservatives care more about the next elections than the EU

Image by Ben Fisher/GAVI Alliance

Image by Ben Fisher/GAVI Alliance

Conservatives clearly care an awful lot – some would say too much – about Europe. But most of them care even more about winning elections. Naturally the Tory EUphoria occasioned by David Cameron’s referendum pledge owes something to his appearing to promise better-off-outters a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to put their case directly to the British people. But to the bulk of Conservatives, who are sceptical but not utterly obsessed with the issue, what mattered more was the possibility that the speech might see them safely through to the next election – and might even help them win it.

Those Tories who want to leave the EU will of course worry that Cameron is playing them for fools: many observers, after all, predict that, like Labour’s Harold Wilson back in 1974, he will call a referendum after an essentially cosmetic renegotiation that will nonetheless persuade most voters that he’s done enough to make the UK’s continued membership worthwhile. And Cameron, as he’s shown us very recently, has got form, returning from several summits in Brussels claiming more or less convincingly to have got what he wanted. Ultimately, though, hard-line sceptics know they may never get the chance to ask the in-out question again, so it’s a risk they know they’re just going to have to run.

Some sceptics, of course, have begun to ask, and will continue to ask, awkward questions. Precisely which powers does Cameron want to repatriate? Will William Hague’s supposedly ‘comprehensive audit’ turn out to be a British lion or a rather more mundane mouse? Will he garner any support from fellow heads of government, some of whom may be making encouraging noises now but may be booted out by their own electorates a few months or years hence? Will it take a Treaty change or can Cameron get a deal some other way? How far does any reform package have to go before it’s deemed sufficiently different from the status quo to merit putting it to the voters? Will he really be willing to recommend a ‘no’ vote if he can’t get what he wants? When exactly will the referendum be held? How will the question be worded? Simply yes or no to a particular package or, if no, then we leave? Will all members of the government be expected to toe the party line during the referendum campaign or will they be allowed to break ranks without losing their jobs?

For all that, most of them will go for it. And they will be joined by those who are less bothered about Brussels than they are about holding on to their seats and possibly even pulling off a miracle at the next election. The referendum will, they hope, stop UKIP in its tracks – hopes which rose (if only for a while) on the results of the first batch of post-speech opinion polls and a rather crestfallen Nigel Farage shifting his focus to Labour. They also believe that Ed Miliband’s decision not – or at least not at the moment – to match Cameron’s in-out offer will make things awkward for him at the next election. Likewise Nick Clegg – and remember that around half of the forty seats apparently targeted by the Tories in 2015 will be Lib Dem rather than Labour seats. More importantly for some, Cameron’s speech may – just may – see Europe returned to the backburner, leaving the government free to focus on the things that will most matter to winning that election, namely getting the economy right, hitting the government’s targets on immigration, and making sure that deficit reduction doesn’t impact too seriously on cherished public services, most obviously the NHS.

All this might be a little bit optimistic. Most obviously, when it comes to Europe itself, there are so many things that are out of Cameron’s – indeed, anyone’s – control. Elections in other countries. A catastrophic break-up of the single currency. And a refusal to allow the UK to have its cake and eat it on the part of other governments for whom Cameron’s demands may render what I like to think of as the Gloria Gaynor option increasingly attractive.

Domestically, things are also finely-balanced. Anyone expecting the uptick in Tory opinion poll ratings to turn into a step-change is likely to be disappointed: reality – particularly if the country returns to recession – is bound to bite once again, and bite hard. Defeat at Eastleigh, especially if UKIP doesn’t trail in too badly in fourth place, will also cause Cameron problems. As for Labour, Miliband may well, like Wilson, find himself ‘wading through shit’ for a while on the issue, but voters may well begin to discount his apparent refusal to give them a say, particularly as the economy once again overtakes Europe as the biggest issue facing the country. And when it comes to the Lib Dems, Cameron may well turn out to have been too clever by half. True, it’s unlikely that they’ll cite the referendum as the co-respondent in the divorce proceedings they’re almost bound to initiate as the election draws closer. But – unless it really is the case that all they care about is clinging onto office irrespective of everything they once stood for – it is hard to imagine that the issue will play no part whatsoever in any choice they may eventually have to make between another coalition with the Conservatives and what might by that time seem like fresh start with Labour.

As for the Tories, Europe might be a big issue – perhaps even the biggest issue. But it’s not the only issue. Team Cameron was shocked by how many right-wingers (and, yes, I know that hard-line Euroscepticism doesn’t necessarily go hand-in-hand with traditional views on social policy) simply banked their ‘victory’ on the referendum and moved swiftly onto gay marriage, which will no doubt continue to down like the proverbial cup of cold sick back in the constituencies until the legislation is finally passed. And, however nonsensical it may be, especially given the fact that, as Michael Ashcroft continually reminds them, Cameron outpolls his Party, some will still actively hanker after Boris. At the moment, the idea that anyone would seek to replace the Prime Minister before the next election seems fanciful. But what if Labour, as it probably will, begins to pull clear again in the polls? And what if, despite Cameron’s speech, UKIP beats the Tories into third place in the European parliament elections?

There is, of course, an awful lot of ‘what if’ in all this – perhaps inevitably. On this issue at least, I’m not one of those who believes (to borrow from Shakespeare) that they ‘can look into the seeds of time and say which grain will grow and which will not.’ But any Conservative who believes that Cameron has suddenly conjured up a win-win situation from everything that’s been thrown at him – mainly by his own side – in the last eighteen months should be careful not to celebrate too soon.

EuroscepticismThis post is part of a collaboration between British Politics and PolicyEUROPP and Ballots & Bullets, which aims to examine the nature of euroscepticism in the UK and abroad from a wide range of perspectives. Read more posts from this series.

Tim Bale is Professor of Politics at Queen Mary, University of LondonHe is the author of The Conservative Party from Thatcher to Cameron. His latest book is The Conservatives since 1945: the Drivers of Party Change.