Revealed: Lib Dem voters’ views on the EU

by Stephen Tall on June 17, 2008

A new YouGov poll for the Open Europe think-tank has, pretty unsurprisingly, shown the public’s current scepticism towards the Lisbon treaty and the EU. As the poll’s findings are broken down by voting intention, it also gives us a glimpse into what Lib Dem voters’ attitudes are towards Europe right now. (Compulsory caveat: the sample numbers for Lib Dem voters are small – 144 in the weighted sample – which means the margin of error is much greater).

The full results are here. Here are the Lib Dem voters-only figures:

Which one of the following statements comes closest to your views in light of the Irish rejection of the Lisbon treaty?
The government should carry on and ratify the Lisbon treaty in the UK: 23%
The government should drop the Lisbon treaty and not try and ratify it: 49%
Don’t know: 29%

Though the Lib Dem voters were the most likely (compared with Labour and Tory voters) to suggest the Government adopt a gung-ho approach to ratifying Lisbon, it’s striking that almost half say it should be put out of its misery immediately.

To what extent do you agree or disagree with each of the following statements? ‘The EU is out of touch with normal people’
Strongly agree: 25%
Agree: 33%
Neither agree nor disagree: 20%
Disagree: 14%
Strongly disagree: 4%
Don’t know: 5%

Again, although lib Dems were a little more likely to view the EU kindly, some 58% view the EU as out of touch, with only 18% taking the contrary position.

Can you name any of your local MEPs without looking them up?
Yes: 6%
No: 90%
Don’t know: 4%

YouGov asked those who responded ‘Yes’ to this question then to write in the name(s) of their local MEPs. The most popular answer was ‘Neil Kinnock’ – not, of course, an MEP. Someone took the trouble to write-in, ‘Robert Kilroy-Silk – useless!’ Among Lib Dem MEPs correctly identified were: Sharon Bowles, Sarah Ludford, Jean Lambert, Fiona Hall, Emma Nicholson, Elsbeth Atwood [sic] and Chris Davies. Mark Hunter MP and Lembit Opik MP both earned honourable but inaccurate mentions.

This is, in my view, perhaps the most devastating finding of the poll. Lib Dems have long campaigned for greater powers to be taken away from the unelected European Commission and handed to the elected European Parliament. Certainly that would increase democratic accountability. But it’s clear the Parliament has a long way to go to earn recognition for its members, let alone trust. As has frequently been remarked of Westminster, although MPs are generally regarded sceptically by the public, their local MP is much more likely to be rated positively (because people have got to know them, either personally or through local media). British MEPs of all parties seemingly have a long way to go.

The European Union evolved around economic co-operation, establishing a ‘single market’ where people, goods, investment and services can move freely between member states. It was expanded over the years to include making other political decisions on issues such as foreign policy, immigration and crime. Which one of the following statements comes closest to your views?
The UK should stay in the EU: 40%
The UK should stay in the single market but pull out of the other political elements of the EU: 35%
The UK should leave the EU altogether: 18%
Don’t know: 7%

Again, the Lib Dem voters were the most pro-European (just 20% of Tory voters want to stay in the EU, with one-quarter wanting to leave it). The wording of the question here is, perhaps, suspect: choosing immigration and crime as the two areas of ‘political’ decision-making in which the EU might be involved gives off highly negative connotations. I wonder what might have been the response from voters of all parties if cross-border issues like ‘tackling pollution’ and ‘drug trafficking control’ had been selected instead?

Enjoy reading this? Please like and share:

No comments

Jean Lambert’s not a Lib Dem, Stephen!

by Will on June 17, 2008 at 7:11 pm. Reply #

Jean Lambert’s a green 🙂

by Mark B on June 17, 2008 at 7:14 pm. Reply #

Ahem 😳

Still, if we can temporarily adopt David Davis, why not Jean Lambert…? 😉

by Stephen Tall on June 17, 2008 at 9:26 pm. Reply #

Stephen Tall:

Multi-member Constituencies are a major reason for lack of recognisability of MEPs.

It would be better, both in Westminster and in the European Parliament, so long as we are members of the EU, for us to vote with the Single Transferable Vote in Single-member constituencies (STVS).

Preferential Voting 1,2,3.., the Single Transferable Vote in existing Single-member constituencies (STVS), is much to be preferred to Proportional Representation by the same voting method but in Multi-member constituencies (STVM).

Yes, I know that STVS is usually called AV and that STVM is usually called STV. That is part of the problem, since it confuses people unnecessarily.

For Westminster not many people, and certainly not many MPs, like the idea of Multi-member consituencies, so STVM has been avoided without STVS being given a chance.

For too long the STVM Electoral Reform Society’s ‘best’ has been the enemy of the Electoral Reform Society’s STVS ‘good’, delaying reform for many years. However, I am glad to say that there is a resolution for this year’s AGM of the Electoral Reform Society proposing a one line bill in Parliament to change voting in existing Single-member constituencies from X votes to Preferential 1,2,3.. Votes, i.e. to STVS.

About time too! Had such a system been in operation in 1974 and subsequently, there would have been many more Liberal MPs over the years (including me for Newbury in that year), but no safe seats for when the LibDems lost touch with public opinion as the EEC turned into the EU and the “ever closer union” ambition became ever clearer.

The same change in European Elections would instantly create recognisability for MEPs. But, of course, the voters would then determine who their MEPs were, rather than the political parties’ party lists doing so. Probably too democratic for the EU. Perhaps also for the political parties’ activists? But I hope not.

by Dane Clouston on June 17, 2008 at 11:14 pm. Reply #

Interesting. I hope this will reflect on the future Lib Dem policies somehow.

by Anonymous on June 18, 2008 at 7:24 am. Reply #

Another reason for lack of recognition is that most of them are as dull as ditch water.

by Martin Land on June 18, 2008 at 7:44 am. Reply #

With a sample of only 144 this is entirely worthless. The margins of error on such a small sample are about 20%.

by Dafs on June 18, 2008 at 10:18 am. Reply #

Martin – they speak highly of you too.

by Dafs on June 18, 2008 at 10:25 am. Reply #

Dafs – All I know is that more than 6% of people in my patch can name me! And I don’t have the budgets they have access to!

by Martin Land on June 18, 2008 at 11:09 am. Reply #

The prefatory text before the final question is appallingly leading so I would put very little credibility indeed on that.

Still, is it not quite striking that even after that “question”, only 18% of the British public actually want Britain to leave the EU?

by Jeremy Hargreaves on June 18, 2008 at 11:12 am. Reply #

I can’t say I recall ever receiving a leaflet from my local Lib Dem MEP (as opposed to a party members-only mailing).

Her communications strategy appears designed to ensure she gets reselected at the top of the list, rather than trying to get an extra Lib Dem elected next time around.

by Dave Hinton on June 18, 2008 at 11:38 am. Reply #

‘Jeremy Hargreaves’

You are guilty of understandable wishful thinking, it seems to me.

As I read Stephen Tall’s article, the figures he gave were for LibDem voters, except that he states that whereas 40 % of LibDem voters think the UK should stay in the EU, only 20% of Conservative voters do.

You have drawn your “striking” conclusion that only 18% of the British public actually want Britain to leave the EU altogether from the figure of 18% of LibDem voters wanting to do so.

Given that it would not be possible to “stay in the single market but pull out of the other political elements of the EU” without leaving full membership of the EU, these figures say that 35% of Liberal voters – and of course a much larger percentage of the British public – think we should leave full membership of the EU. And quite right too.

by Dane Clouston on June 18, 2008 at 12:00 pm. Reply #

Jeremy Hargreaves:

Apologies for accidentally putting your name in inverted commas as if it were a Nom de Plume.

by Dane Clouston on June 18, 2008 at 12:06 pm. Reply #

Dane, the poll result provides an interesting snapshot, but it does little to answer whether it is a fully informed choice coming after an engaged debate where the pros and cons of each side was weighed carefully for consideration.

I note you’ve previously said the LibDems support an in-out referendum because it is one that could be won – that suggests some disonance with your view that most people want out.

Do you recommend that we pander to the knee-jerk reactions of the nearest drunk at the bar?

by Oranjepan on June 18, 2008 at 12:48 pm. Reply #

Dave Hinton:

How interesting! Your experience of leaflets from a LibDem MEP to activists but not to constituents really proves the point about the adverse effects of party lists in multi-member constituencies.

The same thing would not happen with STVS, once the LibDem candidate for the single-member EU constituency had been selected by local party activists.

With Multi-member constituencies, there will always be the problem of lack of accountability and recognisability. But with the Single Transferable Vote in Single-member consituencies, MEPs would be well known. They would have to be, and to be responsive to their electors – or out! No more safe seats! – and every vote would count.

Extraordinary the ways in which the bureaucratic EU avoids democracy!

by Dane Clouston on June 18, 2008 at 12:54 pm. Reply #

I think the same YouGov poll recorded that overall support (i.e. not just among LibDems as above) is down to just 29%. The EU is fast loosing support.

No doubt there are many reasons for this but high on the list must be the arrogance and refusal to listen to the democratically-expressed will of the people.

The message has to be the same as for the dinosaurs – change or die.

by Gordon on June 18, 2008 at 12:59 pm. Reply #

Dane Clouston:

It really only proves the point about closed party lists.

You are no doubt aware that voting systems for EU Parliamentary elections are not chosen at the EU level.

by Dave Hinton on June 18, 2008 at 1:04 pm. Reply #


“Knee-jerk reactions of the nearest drunk at the bar”

– The pro-EU elitist LibDem – but hardly Liberal – view of voters?

I think I said that an In or Out referendum is one that LibDems THINK they would win. I hope they would be proved wrong – after an engaged debate.

by Dane Clouston on June 18, 2008 at 1:13 pm. Reply #

Dave Hinton

Thanks. Actally I had either forgotten that or did not know it. So we are free to change to STVS for MEPs? Is there not a reequirement for representation to be proportional?

by Dane Clouston on June 18, 2008 at 1:17 pm. Reply #

Dane, the drunk at the bar may equally be a member of the judiciary or a member of a jury, the point being that they were in a supposed position of vulnerability from where decisions are not best made.

Thanks for making the clarification overtly, your opinion is quite clear, it is still not clear whether or not your opinion is fully informed.

by Oranjepan on June 18, 2008 at 1:47 pm. Reply #


“An In-Out referendum is the one that LibDems THINK they could win”.

And pigs might fly!

I am a Europhile but a Lisbon Treaty-phobe. I suspect that this is quite a common position which would be still more common if it were being articulated by a major party.

by Gordon on June 18, 2008 at 1:50 pm. Reply #

Dane Clouston:

British MEPs were elected from single member FPTP constituencies before 1999; the change was not because of any new EU rule.

Wikipedia says there are 2 single member constituencies of the EU Parliament, in Belgium and Poland.

by Dave Hinton on June 18, 2008 at 2:26 pm. Reply #

As Dave has said, MEPs used to be elected in single member constituencies. Although some MEPs did become known in their area as a result, such as Robin Teverson in Cornwall and Philip Whitehead in Derby, most were still fairly anonymous.

I think given that most regions only have one Lib Dem MEP it should be possible for the Lib Dems to get people to know their MEPs at least. The fact that they don’t is a combined failure by the party and the MEPs themselves.

by Anders on June 18, 2008 at 3:33 pm. Reply #

Dave Hinton:

Thanks. I apologise to the EU for accusing it of something for which it is not responsible! So it is our own party political activists who are to blame for the party activist-determined party lists and therefore for the lack of accountability and recognisability. Funny, that!


You have lost me. Your talk of drunken voters, judges and juries seems rather off the point. What opinion of mine is clear to you but about which you are not clear as to whether or not I am fully informed? You may well be right, but it would be nice to be clear as to what you are talking about!


By Euro-phile I wonder whether you mean Europe-phile (which I am), EU-phile or Euro-phile (drop the £). It is a shame for you – and for all of us, and for them – that the LibDems did not wake up, take off their EU-fanatic blinkers and be Europe-phile – and even EU-phile for the time being – but Lisbon Treaty-phobe. To think that it is they rather than anyone else who will bear the deceitful responsibility for our ratifying the Lisbon Treaty, if we do, is a major blot on their integrity and reputation.

by Dane Clouston on June 18, 2008 at 3:42 pm. Reply #

Dane, it’s a shame you are accusing unnamed cohorts of the party to be fanatics – of course there will be one or two, but that will always be the case in any representative sample.

Could one ask the same of you as to the extent of your fanatical opposition to furthering European integration?

I think you are suspiciously overconfident that your opinion regarding the current and future state of European integration 1)is either conclusive or definitive 2)is shared by a majority of in this country 3)would still be shared by either or both them and you after a full and fully informative debate.

You are simply too voluble and too certain to take seriously.

Perhaps you could be more explicit in what you would like to see to fill the gaps which the EU institutions have grown to fill.

Stephen raises multilateral coordination on political matters of transnational concern, such as on environmental pollution – do you deny the existence or relevance of these concerns, or do you accept there is a joint political function which is best exercised at continental level? If so, how do you suggest the procedures and governmental infrastructure are best formalised without providing for greater integration?

by Oranjepan on June 18, 2008 at 4:17 pm. Reply #


Thanks for the clarification: I meant Europe-phile.

It seems to me self-evident that the nations of Europe need to pool their sovereignty in certain matters. However, any such pooling must be clearly defined and done only where there is universal agreement. Also matters subject to pooled sovereignty need to be subject to transparent and democratically accountable control. Lisbon meets NONE of these objectives!

As for the LibDems having ‘EU-fanatic blinkers’ I would rather say it is more a case of EU-naivety combined with a breathtaking disregard for core principles – like liberalism and democracy for instance.

by Gordon on June 18, 2008 at 6:13 pm. Reply #


I agree with your way of putting things.


I certainly take the opposite extreme of the pro or anti ‘full membership of the EU’ spectrum from the stance the LibDems collectively have held in recent years. That is why I am no longer a member of the LibDems, but of the Liberal Party instead. However, I am pleased to sense from this blog that the collective view of the LibDems seems might be gradually changing. If it is not, then the only way for the LibDems is likely to be down.

As I have said elsewhere, I would like the UK to leave the CAP, CFP and full membership of the EU and join a wider European Economic Area with Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and any other country which would like to do so, including Turkey in due course, since France and Germany will probably be unwilling for them to join as full members.

Of course there will be problems with extracting ourselves from full membership of the EU without destroying useful cooperation. But there is nothing to say that cooperation is not possible between nation states, whether continentally or globally. Necessary cooperation on pollution is not limited to Continental Europe.

I and many others would like us to rule ourselves from Westminster, rather than be ruled by a bureacratic, financially flawed, undemocratic, overweening “ever closer” European Union in Brussels. It is time to break free, I hope.

We will see how public opinion will go, while we each argue our corners!

by Dane Clouston on June 18, 2008 at 6:33 pm. Reply #

Dane, I guess what you say is true, but aren’t you conceding the political role within the ‘community’, ‘family’, ‘union’ or whatever else people want to call it?

Far better to have accountable elected representatives exercising that function than a closed shop of insiders who’ve been excluded from national politics (Patten, Brittain, Kinnock, Mandelson etc) or a cabal of faceless office monkeys and to have them do it according to a clearly established, understood and accepted chain of responsibility.

The struggle to gain cooperation creates as its’ result the formalised institutions which you oppose. So it’s nonsensical to argue for cooperation without arguing for institutional reform.

by Oranjepan on June 18, 2008 at 7:36 pm. Reply #

Couple of points:

FPTP made it nigh on impossible to get Lib Dems elected as MEPs (eventually two managed in Devon & Cornwall and Somerset); party lists have been an enormous boost to our party and a move to AV (STV-S) would decimate our ranks (not that that should be our prime criterion, mind!)

STV-M would be a better option in my view, and I agree would probably increase the visibility of MEPs.

Second, I get regular emails from nearly all my MEPs – Lib Dem, Labour Conservative and UKIP. The internet is very suitable for this kind of mass mailing, which local focus leaflets plainly aren’t! Get in touch – I’m sure they’ll add you to the list!

by Andrew Turvey on June 18, 2008 at 9:41 pm. Reply #


I’m afraid I don’t get the drift of your first two paragraphs. As for the third, I take your point, but it’s a question of whether it is control or cooperation. I prefer the latter. It’s not true that every problem requires the EU in its present form. That’s just pro-EU propaganda.

Andrew Turvey:

Of course FPTP with X voting is hopeless for a third party. But STVS would be fine. (e.g., from personal experience, Newbury in Feb and Oct 1974 Con 24,000, Lib 23,000, Lab 10,000 would have had me as Liberal MP until they decided to boot me out – no safe seats – every vote counts – one MP per constituency – only one type of MP – no top ups as with STVS plus). It is not proportional representation that we require for better and more responsive democracy, but preferential voting.

However what started all this was my point, in response to Stephen Tall’s article, that Multi-member constituencies are a major reason for lack of recognisability for MEPs. And STVM would NOT increase visibility of MEPs. Whereas STVS with its Single-member constituencies would do so. I knew who Boris was as soon as he was elected. He was my only MP. I just wish that I could have voted 1,2,3 in that election – and that I could in this Henley By-election – instead of the intelligence insulting X.

For the EU elections, for STVS there would have to be new smaller and more numerous constituencies. But as far as Westminster is concerned, it is just a question of a simple bill to change our voting from X to 1,2,3.. in existing constituencies. On the other hand, if people go on calling for STVM, nothing will happen for another 34 years, because MPs will not vote to abolish their own constituencies. By then I will be 103! I don’t want to have to go on making the same argument till then! Give me a break!

by Dane Clouston on June 18, 2008 at 10:35 pm. Reply #

Dane – you are quite right, silly mistake I made about the base of this polling. Apologies.

However I don’t accept the argument of your last paragraph in response to mine. You are certainly right that disentangling ‘political’ aspects of the EU (whatever that means!) from the single market would be extremely difficult/impossible – but I don’t think you can therefore draw the conclusion that people advocating (in ignorance of that fact) such a position are necessarily therefore supporting your own preferred viewpoint 🙂

On list systems, I wasn’t sure if you were accusing the Lib Dem party of being responsible for the closed lists system. In fact when the legislation for the new regional lists system went through Parliament in 1998, Lib Dems argued hard for an open list system (under which voters can reorder the list of candidates put before them by the parties). At one point it looked like the House of Lords might take this cause on, and take the government to the wire on it, but in the end disappointingly they backed down.

by Jeremy Hargreaves on June 19, 2008 at 1:55 pm. Reply #

Jeremy Hargreaves:

Many thanks. Easily done!

There is something to my conclusion, but it’s not 100 per cent water tight, I agree!

Pity the LibDems didn’t argue for STVS at the time, but the Electoral Reform Society probably wouldn’t have let them.

I do hope the LibDems start to take STVS onboard for Westminster and the EU Elections now that there is this resolution in favour of it in the agenda of this year’s Electoral Reform Society AGM, even though the STVM “let the best be the enemy of the good” diehards will probably scupper it.

by Dane Clouston on June 19, 2008 at 3:25 pm. Reply #

It’s true the sample is small and error margin significant. But the results of this survey generally tally with my experience when talking with colleagues about this issue.

How the leadership have dealt with the treaty and the question of a referendum has caused big problems locally. I fear it’s too late to row back from that damage now with any new policies on the issue, even if there was the will.

Due to promises previously given and recently not kept, there’s now a more fundamental issue of credibility. I did warn. No-one listened.

If Henley also doesn’t go well for us, will the leadership finally accept the blame?

by Mike Hanlon on June 23, 2008 at 12:25 pm. Reply #

Leave your comment


Required. Not published.

If you have one.