I wish, CoffeeHousers, that you could hear what has just happened. Many of you say the punters don’t care about Lisbon. Derbyshire asks who wants a referendum on Lisbon: clap if you do, she says. The noise is deafening. “Absolutely, because no one has told us what the Lisbon Treaty is about,” says one of the punters. Who wants a post-ratification referendum? Silence. Please note, Mr Cameron, even the Eurosceptic British punters do not want a pointless post-ratification referendum. What’s the problem in ruling it out? Even Bill Cash doesn’t see the point.It has become fashionable to declare that the public doesn't care a jot about Europe, and that therefore it's pointless making it an election issue. Just as it was fashionable to declare that low poll turnouts were due to voter apathy - indeed, there are even a few fools from the political class still opining that this is the case. On the latter point, Helena Kennedy's 'Power' inquiry provided overwhelming evidence that people were not at all apathetic, and that the main reason they stayed away from the polls was that they loathed and distrusted the parties and the political class. Not a reality that some of that toxic breed still care to admit.
Now as to Fraser Nelson's second point above, on a post-ratification referendum, I think the audience's silence was down to a badly phrased question. YouGov's latest poll for Sky News on 5/10 of a panel of 1,102 gave the following responses to the following two questions:
If Britain wanted to amend or repeal the Treaty once it had been ratified, it would need to seek agreement from all other EU member states. Assuming unanimous opposition to the Treaty would be difficult to achieve, Britain may be left with two choices. Firstly, to accept the Lisbon Treaty as it is, and secondly to leave the EU altogether. With that in mind do you think a Conservative government should or should not offer a referendum on the Treaty to UK voters once it is ratified?Which hardly supports Fraser's view that 'even the Eurosceptic British punters do not want a pointless post-ratification referendum'.
Yes they should offer a referendum - 60%
No they should not - 16%
Don't know - 25%
If it were to come down to a choice between accepting the Lisbon Treaty as it is or leaving the EU altogether which would you prefer?
Accepting the Lisbon Treaty - 30%
Leaving the EU altogether - 45%
Don't know - 26%
My concern is that neither side in the debate has as yet produced a succinct and legible precis of the key issues in a form that a quarter or more of the electorate who currently 'don't know' can understand. A good starting point are the balanced summaries produced by Civitas For and Against.
Europe isn't a non-issue for the electorate. It's a key issue. The voters are not uninterested, just uninformed. Let's move the debate to the next stage.