Speaking on the Andrew Marr show, David Cameron clearly stated that he will not become Prime Minister following the 2015 election if he cannot guarantee an In/Out referendum on the UK’s EU membership by the end of 2017.
This statement is the result of hundreds of hours of polling, demographic analysis, focus groups and political strategising. Over the last two months, the Conservatives’ key message on European membership has been “Labour and the Liberal Democrats won’t give you a say, and UKIP can’t” and David Cameron has been telling voters that if he were re-elected, he would re-negotiate a new deal for the UK, and present it to the people in a “straight-up in/out referendum”.
Cameron’s new strategy is boldly forcing the hand of Conservative and floating voters who are considering voting UKIP at the next election. Rather than saying “give us a chance to renegotiate before you vote”, Cameron is now stating: “we will give you a chance to leave the EU, regardless of what happens,” knowing that this is clarity which the other parties can’t or won’t offer.
This stronger approach is rooted in the political analysis carried out by Lynton Crosby, Cameron’s election guru, who has found that people don’t want another coalition and are supportive of the notion of a majority Government with a clear direction. He has also seen that Labour has failed to both win voters’ trust and clearly communicate where it stands on Europe. One reason for this is that Labour firmly believe that the UK is much better off economically as a member of the EU; One senior Labour MP has said, “the reason we don’t want to offer an EU referendum is because we’re concerned that people will actually vote to leave it.”
Recently, Labour announced that it would make only a token effort at the Newark by-election, saying that funds are being focused on European and local elections. However, there could be another reason for this decision: they may also be aware that if they mount a victorious campaign, with UKIP splitting the incumbent Conservative vote, the Conservative 2015 election machine will hold the constituency up and argue, “A vote for UKIP really is a vote for Labour. Imagine this happening across the country.”
The Conservatives’ campaign strategy is not strategically complex, Crosby wants to make voters aware of what their vote means in real terms, rather than ideological ones. Cameron’s referendum statement aims to provide clear direction by stating: “vote Conservative, you’ll get Conservative; vote for UKIP and you could get anything”. Cameron knows that there is a ‘politics of anger’ running through the electorate, but the Conservatives are focusing on providing a ‘politics of answers’. Bold statements like Cameron’s come with inherent risk, but the Tories clearly believe that the connection will be made in voters’ minds between a Conservative vote and an opportunity to leave the EU, and that that could swing a crucial number of votes in May 2015.