When I watch the Tories froth and foam over Europe (95 MP’s wrote to the PM demanding the power to veto EU legislation this week), I sometimes wonder if there is a complete breakdown of discipline or if this is part of an elaborately orchestrated plan to undercut UKIP and win the election.
Europe never features as high on the list of voter priorities as it does for the Tory Party. And in fact, Lord Ashcroft’s 2012 report on UKIP voters showed that they are less concerned by Europe than by immigration and their pull factor to UKIP is their outspokenness rather than their policies:
“The single biggest misconception about the UKIP phenomenon is that it is all about policies: that potential UKIP voters are dissatisfied with another party’s policy in a particular area (usually Europe or immigration), prefer UKIP’s policy instead, and would return to their original party if only its original policy changed. In fact, in the mix of things that attract voters to UKIP, policies are secondary. It is much more to do with outlook.”
Immigration is the toxic well in which all issues become radioactively charged. I can’t help thinking that the inflammatory rhetoric around immigration in general, and EU immigration in particular – with regards to Romania and Bulgaria – has given the topic of Europe (usually an issue of annoyance and frustration but not a top priority) a good charge of radioactive brilliance. Politicians have shamelessly stoked people’s fears about benefit tourism and conjured up that oxymoronic immigrant trope – the welfare-claiming job-stealing hardworking freeloader migrant.
The result? Yougov has found that restricting migrant benefits is the voter’s top issue for 2014. So maybe the Tory MPs are onto a winner. And, with Cameron being forced into concession after concession on Europe by his MPs, (as Janan Ganesh outlines in the FT – the referendum promise did not stake the issue, if anything they keep demanding more), who knows? They may yet win the election and succeed in pulling Britain out of the EU altogether.
“Of course, the spectacle of Mr Cameron fighting for Brexit is utterly fanciful – as was the prospect of him calling a referendum when he first became prime minister.” – Janan Ganesh