London view: Practical benefits over grand visions



As part of our Reinvention of Europe series we’ve just published an interesting piece from the well known pollster Peter Kellner, who has conducted some research into how a British referendum on Europe might pan out. With the Conservative Party conference coming up very shortly it’s likely to be a subject that gathers a fair bit of attention – and from a European perspective it’s crucial for understanding how Britain might fit in (and shape) the EU of tomorrow.

Peter’s piece is quite long (you can find the entire piece here), so I’ve gathered together a few points in this easy-to-digest blog post…

Peter divides the majority of the population into three groups:

  • Worried Nationalists (42%) who are traditional, insular and pessimistic. They tend to think the EU has been a failure.
  • Pragmatic Nationalists (23%) who are traditional but less pessimistic and less insular and have no set line on the EU.
  • Progressive internationalists (25%) who are uncertain about the future but see history as generally progressive, and want international engagement.

From these two groups Peter picks up two major implications:

  1. Worried Nationalists are a large enough group to give any anti-EU campaign a head start in a referendum. However the real aim for a pro-EU vote is to concentrate on the Pragmatic Nationalist grouping and also lure some from the ‘Worried’ to the ‘Pragmatic’ camp. He suggests this is what happened in the 1975 vote over the Common Market.
  2. The key to the ‘Pragmatic’ camp is that they are more concerned with practical and short term outcomes than ‘big visions and long-term dreams’. The latter stir the partisans, but leave pragmatists cold. As Peter asks, “which is more likely to boost jobs, prosperity and our children’s future: maintaining our partnership with our European neighbours or arranging a divorce?”

My own personal conclusion from Peter’s paper is that those trying to promote the European project (in Britain at least) would do best to talk less of a project and get over the practical benefits of being an integral part of the EU rather than outside it. That might not appeal to those with more grandiose visions of Europe like Valéry Giscard D’Estaing, but for the folk on the ground it is far more likely to mean something.  

Anyway, click here to read the whole piece and decide for yourself.


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