An awful lot of newsprint has been expended over yesterday’s Commons vote – and it wouldn’t have even been binding – on a proposal for a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU. Many politicians, all claiming to be in touch with their electorates and doing their bidding, voted for the motion and have prioritised Europe above all else. And that’s a remarkably stupid thing to do.
Sure, frothing over the EU gives the hacks and pundits something to do – the same might be said of far too many in the blogosphere – but outside the Westminster village and away from the dunghill that is Grubstreet, the views of the proverbial silent majority show that there are other issues of far greater concern. We know this because the Economist/Ipsos MORI issues index tells us so.
This survey, of 982 adults taken between the 7th and 13th of October, asked “What would you say is the most important issue facing Britain today?” and then “What do you see as other important issues facing Britain today?”, the top ten results – to no surprise at all – not featuring the EU. The most important issue, scoring more than twice the runner up’s percentage – is the Economy.
Also not surprising is that other issues on which politicians and pundits have been expending significant effort do not show nearly as strongly: the benefits system scores 7%, green issues 3%, terrorism 10% (and falling), and Europe down at a mere 4%. When William ‘Ague fought his “Save The Pound” campaign in 2001 – and lost heavily – that number was 20%. Go figure.
Moreover, Europe as a single issue has not broken through the 10% mark for over six years. That’s not to say that membership of the EU does not influence our lives, just that people do not see it as a priority in the same way that they see the Economy, Immigration, Law and Order, Unemployment, Healthcare and Schools. So they may not be impressed by all the effort expended on the subject.
“For what do people look in leaders?” asked the economist and commentator J K Galbraith in his seminal work The Age Of Uncertainty. His conclusion was straightforward: “All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common: it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time. This, and not much else, is the essence of leadership”.
The major anxiety of the people right now is the Economy. If there is any essence of leadership about David Cameron, he should be confronting that issue, and above all others. That also means causing the Tory Party in particular to cease its navel gazing over the EU, a subject that may be interesting within the Westminster bubble, but leaves most voters cold.