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Thursday, 20 February, 2003, 12:08 GMT
Blair 'could swing euro vote'
Euros
Turnout could be crucial in a euro vote, says the report

Tony Blair could play a decisive role in convincing crucial wavering voters to back the euro, an influential think tank says.

But the fallout from a war in Iraq could affect his ability to sway opinion, says the pro-euro Foreign Policy Centre (FPC).

Polling research for the think tank, which has close New Labour ties, suggests 44% of voters can still be persuaded either way if there is a referendum on joining the single currency.

Open in new window : At-a-glance
Euro basics: Your need-to-know guide

The report warns pro-euro campaigners they must either secure a high turnout for the referendum or see the "no" lobby win "by default".

Broadcasting, rather than newspapers, will be the key battleground to win over new converts when the campaign starts, it says.

'Folly'

That is because polls suggest 19% - almost a fifth of adults - read no particular newspaper regularly and say they are prepared to change their minds about the euro.

The No Campaign said the findings were "nothing new".

The report is sponsored by pro-euro trade unionists, who have been angered by suggestions there will be no referendum until 2004, even if the government's economic tests are passed this year.

In an article for Tribune on Thursday, Michael Leahy, leader of the ISTC steelworkers union, warns: "Anyone with half a political brain knows that this is folly."

These figures suggest that a referendum can be won - but only if the government starts to build up momentum

Mark Leonard
FPC director
MORI pollsters Roger Mortimore and Simon Atkinson, who wrote the new report, used an opinion poll held last November.

They conclude: "At the start of 2003, the odds are steep for any referendum voting to take Britain into the single currency in the lifetime of this Parliament."

Misplaced optimism

Pro-Europeans have argued British support would grow naturally as people saw it being used successfully on the Continent during their holidays abroad.

The report, however, says: "If this optimistic scenario was ever part of the government's strategy, it should by now be clear that it will not materialise in the foreseeable future."
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If pro-Europeans are to win, the campaign will need to start long before the referendum is called, it argues.

The newly published poll suggests almost a third of British voters (32%) strongly oppose UK euro entry, while 16% strongly back the idea.

But the biggest group of voters, almost half the public (45%), are waverers, the report suggests.

Their view is either "generally" in favour or against the currency, but persuadable either way.

Turnout

The report stresses that if all of those generally against joining switched sides when the vote came, the "yes" campaign would win a 61% majority.

If, however, only those who say they are certain to vote bother to turnout on referendum day, that would only garner a slim 55% majority - even if every waverer was swung in favour.

The report continues: "It seems, therefore, that ensuring a high turnout in the referendum may be as critical to the government's success as winning the economic arguments.

William Hague on his Save the Pound lorry
'Campaigning like William Hague's can make a difference'
"But this, of course, brings associated political risks: Labour's electoral success at the last two general elections has been based partly on ridiculing Conservative obsession with opposing European integration."

The report suggests Labour would have to reverse its campaigning focus on public services and ensure the euro rises up the public priority list, rather than languishing near the bottom.

The report identifies two key groups which pro-euro campaigners need to win over:

  • The 2.8 million "civic waverers"; people who are generally against joining but open to persuasion
  • The 3.6 million "apathetic waverers" who are generally pro-euro but are not sure they will vote.

The report found the crucial "civic waverers" were predominantly affluent, middle-aged and middle-class, view Tony Blair a little better than they do his government and hold Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith in "unusually low regard".

Leadership role

By contrast, the "apathetic waverers" are mainly young professionals or students who are less interested in politics and mostly read red-top tabloid newspapers and are positive about Mr Blair and his government.

The report says: "Here then, perhaps, is an opportunity for political leadership to swing the day."

Economic optimism could also play a key role in pro-euro campaigners' hopes, it says.

FPC director Mark Leonard, a member of the pro-euro Britain in Europe board, said: "These figures suggest that a referendum can be won with a concerted effort and an effective strategy - but only if the government starts to build up momentum."

But a spokesman for the No Campaign said: "They find that if the euro countries were doing well instead of slumping, and if everyone who is against it changed their minds then yes - they could win it.

"The most recent ICM poll, which asks a straight question about whether people want to join or not, shows the public 62 - 31 against. With the euro economies stagnating that's no surprise."


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