political

A provocative question about Europe

Over on his blog Iain Sharpe has wondered about the European views of Liberal Democrat members:

Are the Lib Dems really pro-European?

Lib Dem attitudes towards Europe reminds me of G.K. Chesterton’s The man who was Thursday. In this novel, the members of an anarchist cell are one-by-one revealed to be undercover policemen. In a similar way, Lib Dem activists, often portrayed in the media as starry-eyed pro-Europeans, are more often than not undercover Eurosceptics. Time and again I let slip in conversation to a Lib Dem colleague that I don’t quite share the party’s zeal for the European project only to be told that neither do they.

Genuine Euro-enthusiasts seem to me relatively thin on the ground in the Lib Dems.

The last Liberal Democrat Voice survey of party members to ask about Europe found:

The Lib Dems are traditionally identified as the most pro-European of all the parties, so it’s interesting to see the different views among our sample of party members here. Although the single most popular answer (with 48%) is the most pro-integration response, not many fewer (37%) believe that the UK’s position within the EU should remain the status quo, with no further push towards ever closer union. In total, 14% believe the UK is already in too deep, though full withdrawal is advocated by just 2% of Lib Dem members.

There are two ways of looking at the figures. On the one hand, a massive 85% of party members back the UK’s membership of the European Union. On the other hand, however, a bare majority of the party membership, 51%, believes the UK should resist any moves towards closer ties.

What’s your view on where opinions rest in the Liberal Democrats?

8 comments
Greg Foxsmith
Greg Foxsmith

I'm one of those members not zealously pro-european. I joined for other reasons, and have to reluctantly swallow the european stuff as part of the package.

Oaten Steve
Oaten Steve

down with zeal, wherever it is, apart for zeal for life.

Duncan Moore
Duncan Moore

I think in any case that it is important that there is a major pro-European party out there so that those who are so inclined have someone to vote for. Beyond this, the LDs are famously pro-European as a party, so presumably those who do not want closer ties with the EU don't have that as a very high salience issue if they've joined the party. The LD party has lost a lot of votes in not adhering to principles and policy that the public expects it to - if the public sees the LDs as pro-European then becoming anti-European would alienate the remaining supporter base, make the party look unprincipled to potential voters and likely not bring in many new votes as most other parties are varying shades of eurosceptic. Also, keep in mind that LDV polls are not "proper" opinion polling, and although useful, as far as I'm aware they are not weighed. As such I would expect a slant towards younger LDs who actually use the internet for campaigning and discussion - who may not have the same opinions as the membership at large. For instance, this group tends to be more economically liberal than the membership at large. So in my view LDV surveys are indicative, but not conclusive. I would agree that the membership is not universally pro-European. However given that the surveys would sample largely the same people repeatedly, there is no weighing to try and compensate for sampling error, the samples are relatively small, and there'd be a margin of error anyway - I would not be at all inclined to take it as read that 51% of members overall would resist closer ties! Overall, given that the data is merely suggestive and I cannot be too confident in it, and given the messages that adopting an anti-European position would send out to a voting public that already views the LDs as quite unprincipled (not an attack, it's just the sad reality on the ground) - if I were in charge of the LD party I would strongly advise against your adopting a eurosceptic position. It would probably backfire.

Mark Pack
Mark Pack

Duncan Moore: We have tried weighting the polls (by gender and region, to match the actual figures for the party's membership) and that makes very little different to the result. We couldn't weight by age as there aren't age stats for party membership we can compare the survey results with, but when I've investigated the data on all the other criteria we've tried asking about (e.g. length of party membership) it doesn't make much of a difference to the result. Nor does there appear to be a particular age bias. Also, when put to the test against other measures of party opinion, such as leadership election results, the surveys have all but once done very well. The one exception they survey got the result right but the margin off by a fair amount, reflecting (I think) that the survey as you would expect lean somewhat to the more activist end of the membership spectrum. However, on the specific question of Europe, the survey results do pretty accurately mirror the results of other research done by academics at UK universities into the European views of Lib Dem members and supporters. That's not to say the surveys are the same as full random samples of the party's membership, and caution should always be applied to the findings.

Norman Fraser
Norman Fraser

So 85% of Party membership is pro-European. What's provocative about that?

Allan Heron
Allan Heron

Having now read the introductory piece it is, not untypically, too shallow by half. There's an unstated assumption that if you're an avid pro-European that you are, by definition, in favour of whatever the latest proposals emanating from Europe are. This morning's BBC Radio Scotland were reporting that Lib Dems had wanted Cameron to sign the treaty amendments. I don't believe that was the position at all - an approach by Cameron which did not block off all other diplomatic options would have sufficed. As it is, instead of being able to influence thinking in an area where we have an interest in the outcome we'll be entirely on the sidelines.