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Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

The European elections and the anti-EU case

If so many people in Britain (80% was the usual figure quoted) wanted a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, how come only 43% bothered voting?

If the anti-EU cause is so overwhelmingly popular, how come only around half of those voted for an anti-EU party? (And that’s only if you include the Tories as anti-EU.)

Let’s number-crunch: 28.6% Tory, 17.4% UKIP, 6.5% BNP, Socialist Labour c.1%, English Democrats c.2%, Jury Team/No2EU/Libertas all <1% – so that’s c.55.5% of the vote for anti-Lisbon parties, and only around 27% of the vote for explicitly anti-EU parties (the Tories are more hard eurosceptics than overtly withdrawalist, after all).

I make that, with a 43% turnout, just 24% of the electorate supporting an anti-Lisbon party, and just 11.6% of the electorate supporting a party that advocates pulling out of the EU.

Update: Sorry – forgot that the Greens are anti-Lisbon. So that’s another 5.8%, so 61.3% total for anti-Lisbon parties, or 26.4% of the electorate. But still only 11.6% in favour of withdrawal.


  1. “How come only 43% bothered voting?” but Nosemonkey you answered your own question! Thats how much of the electorate would turn (at best)out if there were a referendum on Lisbon (which I support. People eather don’t know or don’t care about the EU thats why two BNP MEP’s got elected on June 4th. Thats why Lisbon would fail in the UK if it went to a referendum.

  2. The question was largely rhetorical – my point is that the anti-EU crowd hugely overstate their support. They’ve had a tendency to quote figures supporting a referendum on Lisbon as proof that the British people support their arguments (even though the pro-EU Lib Dems, many within the Labour party, and quite a few europhiles were also in favour of a referendum). It turns out – unsurprisingly – that the British people don’t really care.

    (Oh, and I’m going to delete your first comment, as you appear to have double-posted by mistake.)

  3. “If so many people in Britain… wanted a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, how come only 43% bothered voting?”

    Possibly because national referenda are not organised by the EU? Which is what we were meant to be voting for.

  4. Just because someone wants a referendum it does not follow they are anti – EU or want to leave the EU, so I rather suspect you are comparing apples to oranges.

    I presume that you are claiming all those who did not vote are pro-EU? Is there not some rule along those lines in the EU parliament where they get to quote abstentions as “for” – rather than abstentions. Based on some weird theory that if you are against you must vote, but if you are “for” you do not need to be bothered to do so.

    Also I would assume that you would be happy to apply your own argument to the pro- EU cause? Where were all those pro – EU voters. They obviously did not bother to turn out on mass to support Labour or LibDems.

    The last I believe do want a referendum! so that rather demolishes your argument I would have thought.

    “Liberal Democrats have argued for a referendum on whether Britain stays in or leaves the EU. We are the only party confident enough to put the pro-European case to the British people on the big issue facing us – and let the people decide.”

  5. Are your percents UK or England only? You use the term “Britain” but don’t mention parties like the SNP which came first in Scotland?

    My understanding;

    SNP and Sinn Fein are both anti Lisbon.

    Sinn Fein are a withdrawal party, but the SNP aren’t.

    Not sure about Plaid and the Cornish nationalists.

    Most commentators I’ve heard say about 65% of the UK vote went to anti Lisbon parties, which is pretty consistent with opinion polls for the country.

    Sure the poll was low, but it was the only proper democratic poll we have had, and millions voted and produced a result consistent with national opinion polls on Lisbon.

    Answer me this – if 65% vote for parties on an anti Lisbon platform how can you possibly claim Lisbon has any mandate whatsoever in the UK?

  6. Ken, I think you’re making rather more assumptions than me there. Various anti-Lisbon types (UKIP, Tory, whatever) were calling for voters to consider this election to be “the referendum we never had”, while various anti-EU types have quoted the high level of support for a referendum as proof of support for their views (despite, as you say, and as I’ve already noted above, the Lib Dems and much of Labour also supporting a referendum). You’ve seen them do it on this very blog.

    And no, of course I’m not claiming all those who didn’t vote are pro-EU. That’d be ridiculous.

    And yes, the same can be applied to the pro-EU side – but not as obviously or easily, because there were only two explicitly pro-EU parties standing (the Lib Dems and Yes2Europe) – whereas you get more or less pro-EU types voting for a whole range of other parties (Labour, Tory, Green, plus a bunch of the smaller ones). Meanwhile, we had several explicitly withdrawalist parties standing on the other side. Judging the level of pro-EU feeling is rather harder, therefore, than working out the level of anti-EU feeling.

    The point is that, despite the claims of the anti-EU withdrawalists that they have widespread backing, in the one election where people get a really good chance to express their support for leaving the EU, the withdrawlist parties didn’t do very well at all. Indeed, the Tories – who are highly eurosceptic these days, anti-Lisbon, but want to stay in the EU – got more votes than all the withdrawalist parties combined. The anti-EU, withdrawalist side is, therefore, once again shown to be very much a minority view. Whether or not actively pro-EU people are a larger or smaller part of the population is impossible to tell (though I’d guess that overt europhiles – a group among which I would not count myself – are an even smaller minority).

  7. Mark – sorry, you posted as I was writing that last one…

    I’ve never tried to claim that Lisbon has a popular mandate, because I’ve never thought it has. I have, however, argued that it is a dangerous precedent to set that we have referenda on international treaties – purely because that could screw Britain’s diplomatic versatility and flexibility no end, reducing our ability to work effectively in the world.

    (I’ve also argued that as soon as Ireland rejected Lisbon, the treaty should have been scrapped completely, and have repeatedly attacked both Lisbon and the Constitution before it as being more or less complete rubbish. My opposition to a referendum is not due to wanting the Lisbon Treaty to pass.)

  8. If we widen the perspective, to take account of the election results in Europe, we find that the new European Parliament is governable. Taken together, the “constructive” or mainstream groups – EPP, PES, ALDE, Greens – would total 558 seats (according to the provisional results at 3 am), or more than three quarters of the MEPs (75.8%), based on historical affinities, but the gains were generally made by hard or extreme right parties.

    (The political groups in the EP will cause changes to the numbers, but they are indicative.)

    If UK opinion is against the Lisbon Treaty (or EU membership), shouldn’t Britain secede and leave the rest of the EU to get on with integration?

  9. Sorry bout the double post. Don’t you think though the rise now of the Right or Far-Right eurosceptic parties in continental Europe (The Netherlands being a prime example, Hungary, Poland etc)is sign for things to come for British European politics?

  10. Rapax – possible, though it’s hard to tell.

    We are, after all, in the middle of a continent-wide (even world-wide) recession, and nationalist/protectionist tendencies tend to rise during such times – along with the desire to scapegoat minority groups, usually foreign immigrants. That will have skewed the result a bit – and we have no idea how long this recession is likely to last.

    Equally, in 18 of the 27 EU member states, voters have punished their ruling parties – another tendency in times of economic hardship. Protest votes often go to the extremes (quite a few small extreme left parties have done well compared to 2004, as well as those from the extreme right).

    And, as my latest post shows, in terms of absolute numbers of voters, the centre-right Tories and UKIP actually LOST support this time around, despite gaining slightly in terms of their respective proportions of the total votes cast, and despite Labour haemorrhaging support.

  11. Of course they lost support, everyone lost support, do you know why? Because the number of people who voted in the UK were at a new low. The number of people who voted over all hit a new low.

    The more power the EU gets the more unpopular it gets, the more people dislike it and hence feel that they toy parliament is just that a; a phenomenon or non-importance. Though most do not know where their law comes from.