by Kevin Meagher
As politicians, Bob Geldof and the Catholic Church compete to entreat the British public to give up their spare room for a Syrian family, are we in danger of misreading where the real centre of gravity of British public opinion actually lies?
There’s a strong hint in the Survation poll in last Sunday’s Mail on Sunday that we are. Beneath the headline finding that 51 per cent of Brits would now vote to leave the EU, were a series of, what are, in the current climate, counter-intuitive findings about the migrant crisis.
Presented with a sliding scale of numbers from 0 to 300,000 and asked: ‘How many Syrian refugees should the UK accept’, the biggest response – 29 per cent – said ‘none’.
Half that amount – 15 per cent – said they thought Britain should take up to 10,000 (roughly the ministers are proposing over the next couple of years). Just four per cent were willing to see 30,000 or more.
And only a third of respondents (34 per cent) approved of Yvette Cooper’s plan ‘for each town to take in ten refugee families.’ 42 percent disapproved.
Meanwhile, a fifth (22 per cent) of those who believe we should remain in the EU changed their minds and opted to leave, ‘[i]f the migrant crisis gets worse’.
64 per cent of respondents thought David Cameron was ‘right to refuse to sign up to the EU’s migrant-sharing plan’. Just 22 per cent agreed.
What conclusion do we draw from these figures?
First, it seems apparent that political and media reaction is way ahead of public opinion. This isn’t to say voters aren’t moved by refugees’ plight, but they are experiencing ‘cognitive dissonance’ – holding two mutually exclusive opinions at the same time.
Or, to put it another way, they are responding with their hearts to individual tales of suffering relayed to them on the television news, but they think with their heads on the general issue.
There is no doubting that the public’s outpouring of sadness at the heart-rending pictures of tiny Aylan Kurdi’s body washed up on a Turkish beach was utterly genuine, but that doesn’t mean voters have dropped their guard when it comes to worrying about immigration.
Second, it’s clear that the prospect of further mass migration will send voters towards the EU exit in next year’s referendum.
Third, liberal politicians should beware thinking they can transpose individual tales into wider trends.
On the basis of this poll, they can’t.
Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut