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How to win the Euro referendum: Lessons from 1975

[Cover of How to win the Euro referendum: Lessons from 1975]

Robert M. Worcester, Chairman, MORI International

June 2000

A heated media debate on whether Britain can ever be persuaded to join the Euro followed the publication Bob Worcester's pamphlet this June. Both the pro and anti-European camps responded to the battle cry in the news and comment pages. You can read some of the comment and reaction here.

"Twenty five years ago today, the British people voted overwhelmingly to remain in the Common Market. But those who believed that the decisive vote of 1975 meant that uncertainty over our role in Europe were sadly wrong. Before long there will be another referendum, this time on whether we should join the euro. Simple common sense dictates that, for the good of the country, we must. But the Government's failure to fight the anti-Europeans has seen a cruel swing against the EU. Today's report by veteran pollster Bob Worcester says the battle is not lost, though there is a mountain to climb. The fight must start now. Too much is at stake to lose"

Voice Of The Mirror, 5 June 2000.

"Will he or won't he? Pressure is building on Tony Blair to lead from the front and embark on the herculean task of persuading a majority of British people to support adoption of Europe's single currency. It looks impossible since 70% of the public is against it. But Bob Worcester, Chairman of Mori, thinks it is possible to achieve what would be the biggest shift of public opinion since the war. What is needed, he says, is not focus groups but good old-fashioned political leadership…there are still good reasons to delay – look at inflation in Ireland as it tries to adjust to eurozone rates. Yet the longer Mr Blair delays his campaign, the more difficult it will be to turn a 70% negative vote into a positive majority. It is an unenviable dilemma"

Guardian Editorial, 6 June 2000

" Tony Blair is being pressed to open up debate on the euro – now, not after the next election. The pro-euro camp, admittedly, wants not so much an informed debate as a propaganda blitz to overcome public opposition to joining. That case was put at its most cynical yesterday in How To Win The Euro Referendum, a pamphlet by the pollster Bob Worcester put out by Robin Cook's favourite ginger group, the Foreign Policy Centre. Conceding that, with polls at 70 to 30 against entry, a "yes" vote would require the biggest political swing since the war, he advises Mr Blair to keep the referendum question vague, avoid substance and fight the battle on personalities, painting opponents of EMU as untrustworthy fanatics with "wild staring eyes"

Times Editorial 6 June 2000

"(Bob Worcester's)…contention that the outcome depends on Blair's image as a credible leader more than on the minutiae of popular attitudes to the currency, or even sovereignty, will rightly encourage the leader to take the plunge"

Hugo Young, The Guardian, 6 June 2000

"Robert Worcester, head of MORI pollsters…argues that key is political leadership. Voters will not decide on the basis of detailed economic arguments, but according to whom they trust. When the chips are down, that means the pro-Euro camp, he says. Perhaps he is right…By prevaricating the government has given itself a far bigger mountain of hostile opinion to climb"

The Financial Times, 6 June 2000

"Worcester's lessons are that the Government should keep the referendum question vague, and that it should capitalise on post-election euphoria by holding the vote early – in October after a May election"

David Smith, The Sunday Times, 18 June 2000

"But is it already too late to turn the tide of public opinion in Britain? According to an interesting new pamphlet published by the Foreign Policy Centre in London, the answer is "no", it is not too late.

John Palmer, Brussels Bulletin, 16 June 2000

"Whether the Euro debate becomes still hotter depends as much on Gordon Brown as on Mr Blair. In a pamphlet for the Foreign Policy Centre, Robert Worcester, chairman of the polling group MORI says that "political leadership" will win the day on the euro. His argument is that, while the public does not know whether the Euro is a good idea, it does know whom to trust. It will not have the confidence in a pro-European campaign that lacks the support of the Chancellor. Without him, there will be no campaign"

Martin Wolf, Financial Times, June 13 2000

Twenty-five years ago, the British public voted 'Yes' to Europe. Yet the pro-European coalition had to turn around hostile public opinion to win a decisive two-to-one victory in the June 1975 referendum. Today, whether Britain joins the Euro will be one of the defining political issues of this decade - and again, the anti-Europeans are making the running. Can history repeat itself, or will the Eurosceptics have their day at last?

Bob Worcester looks at the factors which were decisive in the 1975 referendum, and examines the lessons which we can learn for the Europe debate today. He analyses the confusing and often contradictory opinions which the British public hold on Europe - going behind the opinion poll headlines to show how public opinion works, how it can be shifted and how it has been badly mismanaged by British political leaders in the past. He assesses the most effective arguments and tactics for the pro- and anti-Euro coalitions - and predicts the likely outcome. How to Win the Euro Vote is essential reading for anybody interested in Britain's future relationship with Europe - and how we citizens will make up our minds about it. The pamphlet includes a foreword by Dick Leonard and Mark Leonard.

Robert M. Worcester is Chairman of MORI International, London, and is Visiting Professor of Government and a Governor at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He was an advisor to the Prime Minister and to the Referendum Steering Group of Cabinet Ministers which met daily during the 1975 referendum campaign under the chairmanship of the Foreign Secretary.

CONTENTS

Foreword by Dick Leonard and Mark Leonard

Part One: Introduction

1.Europe: winning the argument

Part Two: The public and Europe

2.The Lessons of 1975

3.How public opinion works - and how it has been mismanaged

4.Public opinion on Europe today

Part Three: Winning the argument

5.Who can shift public opinion - and how?

6.Conclusion: How the referendum can be won.


"Will rightly encourage the leader to take the plunge" Hugo Young, The Guardian
"The Worcester analysis of what decides referendums makes sense" Peter Riddell, The Times