A positive narrative which combines economics and emotion is neededby Peter Kellner / December 18, 2015 / Leave a comment
As David Cameron wrestles with the politically huge but economically trivial issue of in-work benefits for new immigrants, Lord Ashcroft has performed a signal service by publishing the results of a huge (20,000 sample) and detailed survey of British attitudes to the European Union. As this is a subject I have analysed before and will doubtless do again, this blog will concentrate on a particular but, I believe, vital aspect of the debate.
Ashcroft asked a number of questions that broadly divide the public between optimists and pessimists. Two broad themes emerge:
1. Pessimists generally outnumber optimists. By 53-47 per cent, we think Britain is on the wrong track rather than heading in the right direction. By a much larger margin, 62-38 per cent, we think Britain will be a worse country for most people than it is today. And by an alarming 71-29 per cent we think that, “with the way economy and society are changing”, there will be more “threats” than “opportunities” to improve our standards of living.
2. There is a link between these attitudes and our stance on the EU. The more optimistic we are, the keener we are on British membership. The link is not absolute: there are fair numbers of anti-EU optimists and pro-EU pessimists. But the correlation is strong enough to suggest that one of the drivers in the coming referendum campaign will be the ability of the two sides to exploit the fears and expand the hopes of the large number of people—at least one-third of the electorate—who have yet to decide finally their referendum vote.
For the Vote Leave campaign, this is all obvious stuff, and underpins their campaign already. Their core message is that the EU is to blame for many of our woes—immigration above all—and that the UK will be prosperous and successful once again if we regain control of our laws and borders.
For the Stronger in Europe campaign, the challenge is greater. Rightly it stresses the risks of Brexit. What is missing—or, at any rate, not sufficiently stressed—is a positive vision of the…