Memorandum submitted by Mr Nick Sparrow,
The polls say that most people are opposed to
the Euro, but few are solidly opposed or fervently in favour.
So while many people are mainly against the idea of the Euro,
it is possible to imagine that at some point in the future their
opposition might soften. Large scale quantitative polls tell us
that these people are most likely to be found in demographic groups
that are least likely to take political news of any sort seriously,
unless it is an issue that they feel is going to be important
to them. The more interesting question is why people think the
way they do on the Euro, and for that qualitative research gives
us a far better insight.
For some political issues one can easily trace
a line of reasoning voters follow to reach the conclusions they
do. But sometimes it is a fog of emotions, attitudes and half
developed reasoning that gradually coalesce into a settled view,
but it is almost impossible to say precisely how voters have reached
their conclusion. Attitudes to the Euro have developed out of
a number of such thoughts.
1. Mention the Euro and most people immediately
bristle. Why? Some are instinctively suspicious that Continental
Europeans want to take over, and get by this means what they have
failed to achieve in conventional warfare. The feeling that Continental
Europeans are not really "on our side" will have been
confirmed by arguments with France and Germany over military action
2. Some others remember decimalisation,
or have parents who warn them that any change in the currency
is used to mask big price increases. This suspicion will have
been confirmed by news stories suggesting the switch to the Euro
has resulted in price increases across Euroland.
3. Many people will say that going into
the "Euro" means going into "Europe" often
using both words in the same sentence. It happens too often for
it to be a slip of the tongue by a few respondents. It may be
that many people see adopting the Euro as a large and irrevocable
step towards a united Europe, therefore going into the Euro means
going into Europe.
4. Some people clearly fear being left out
of the Euro party. The fanfare of the initial announcement, the
introduction of notes and coins in Euroland left some feeling
that we may be missing out on something. Despite their hostility
to the idea of the Euro some were unsure that our decision to
stay out was the right one, especially given the obvious enthusiasm
of participating governments.
5. There is a feeling that Britain was a
Great but is now a small island anchored off Europe. Few can accept
that Britain has the fourth largest economy in the world; they
would place us in about tenth position. Therefore our ability
to withstand the will of continental Europe is, for some, in doubt.
6. Many simply don't understand the economic
arguments and openly admit to being confused. Will we get the
price of their Mars bars or will they get ours? What will happen
to pensions? Will they be able to come over here and raid our
pension scheme? Have we got to give them all our reserves?
The polls suggest that voters remain hostile
to the idea of joining the Euro. The graph shows that opposition
is at present just as strong as it has always been.
In the run-up to the launch of the Euro, the
pro-Euro lobby expected feelings of inevitability would soften
the resolve of those opposed to the Euro and that, however reluctantly,
voters would begin to accept that we would have to adopt the Euro
at some point, and therefore we might as well get on with it.
But the Euro has been a reality for four years now, the world
has not fallen apart, and the window of opportunity, to get people
to agree to the Euro on the basis of inevitability, may have gone.
Of course the Eurozone economy may start to sparkle and the British
economy stumble, in which case opposition to the Euro may subside.
But the Government here may suffer a significant drop in support
if the economy does start to slide shifting the balance of power
back towards a Euro-hostile Conservative party.
The pro-Euro groups also hoped the introduction
of notes and coins, and experience of them on trips abroad would
encourage some to drop their hostility. But people who tend to
travel abroad to the eurozone on holiday were, by the time of
the introduction of notes and coins, more enthusiastic about the
Euro than others. Indeed, were the decision left to them alone,
we would probably join the Euro. But they did not become even
more enthusiastic as a result of handling the currency, and others
who do not tend to holiday in the eurozone (the majority of voters)
remained firmly opposed. Therefore polls conducted before and
after people had visited Euroland countries showed no signs that
the public was warming to the new currency.
Equally some voters have reasoned that pro-Euro
arguments don't hold too much water. Price transparency will not,
they think, lead to lower prices. Although some things are cheaper
elsewhere in Europe it does not mean we will get those prices
here. Eating out may be cheaper in Spain, so what! We already
know cars are cheaper elsewhere in Europe, we don't need to adopt
the Euro to confirm that fact and we still don't get cheaper cars
The government has attempted to give the impression
that a serious assessment is taking place on the basis of the
five tests. Yet only 17% of people have ever heard of these tests,
only 5% know they have something to do with Europe or the Euro
and only 2% could correctly name one or more of these tests. Therefore,
if the government were to announce that, after careful consideration
the tests had been met, few would believe them. The most likely
explanation for this apparent ignorance is a totally logical mental
reaction to a piece of news that lacks credibility: it is immediately
The same scepticism is shared by businesses.
In a survey of 1,000 managing Directors of companies of all sizes,
39% thought the government would hold a referendum if they the
polls suggested they could win and regardless of the economic
case. Only 17% thought they would hold a referendum if the economic
case is clear but the polls suggest they would not win.
There is much confusion about the economic issues
surrounding the Euro. But there are signs that a consensus is
slowly forming around the argument that adopting the Euro means
giving up control over interest rates and therefore over monetary
policy. It is the one sound argument from either side of the debate
that many can now understand, and gives a reasonable argument
to back up historically based prejudices.
Many voters feel that the Government want to
take us into the Euro, in spite of the fact that the polls say
most people are opposed. Perhaps this reflects the perception
that the Government is preparing for entry but is not engaging
the no-campaign in serious debate. This feeling is so strong that
some think they will not get a chance to vote in a referendum
at all despite what the Government says. Therefore, some do not
pay too much attention to the debate, because they feel their
views are irrelevant.
While struggling to see how the Euro will benefit
individual consumers, many people will accept that the Euro will
be good for big business, especially multinationals. Unfortunately
this encourages the view that the opinions of ordinary voters
do not count.
Voters are ready to accept that they are badly
informed about the Euro. In any discussion many will call for
someone (preferably independent of the two campaigns and not a
politician) to tell them what the real issues are so that they
can make an informed decision. This demand to be informed may
reflect the poor standard of debate so far on the issue of the
Euro, but may also be aimed at defending their continuing ignorance.
Indeed many will admit they would be unlikely to read any detailed
arguments both for and against adopting the Euro, no matter how
carefully set out.
Many will also say that they will start to concentrate
on the issues when a referendum is called. Again this may be an
excuse for their continuing ignorance. But in any event it is
a campaign many people think is some way off, given the state
of the polls on the issue, and the perception that Mr Blair will
only call a referendum when he is sure of winning it.
It would be wrong, therefore, to take at face
value the demand by most voters to be informed and imagine that
they are likely to engage in a debate in advance of a real campaign.
Voters will engage in a debate, if the issue
is of importance to them in their daily lives, if the arguments
are made clearly and with passion by both sides and if people
perceive they will have a chance to vote on the issue. Most have
an informed view about Iraq, and whether or not we should go to
war. It is because politicians on both sides have been willing
to stand up and argue their case, without reference to what the
polls say. The same passion is required if people are to become
better informed about the Euro.