Richard North, 27/01/2015  

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We saw this in October last year when, after years of campaigning by Ukip, we saw the support for remaining in the EU surge to a 23-year high.

This introduced the so called "Ukip paradox", where, as support for Ukip rose, enthusiasm for leaving the EU waned. And now, apparently, we see it again with support for staying in the EU increasing despite the "growing popularity of Ukip.

Actually, I don't think there is a "Ukip paradox". With virtually every opinion poll (apart from Survation) showing Ukip losing ground, it looks more like support for Ukip and antagonism towards the EU are independent variables.

Increasingly, those who support Ukip are not primarily motivated by their dislike of the EU, while the majority of those who wish to see us leave the EU most certainly do not support Ukip.

Nevertheless, there is a great deal to be concerned about in this current poll from YouGov – even if it is commissioned by the pro-EU British Influence group.

It finds that 43 percent of people would vote to stay in the EU in a referendum, while 38 percent would vote to leave. The tables have turned since a year ago, when 46 percent said they would vote to withdraw and 36 percent to remain.

The poll also confirmed the dynamic with which we have become familiar. If David Cameron negotiates and recommends a new EU deal for Britain, the number wanting to stay in the EU rises to 57 percent, while only 21 percent would support withdrawal.

Given, as we suspect, that Mr Cameron will go for the Article 48 "simplified procedure", and come back with a package of modest treaty changed, bolstered with political declarations and legislative commitments from Brussels, he could be well-placed to deliver a superficially convincing "reform" deal and romp home with a convincing referendum win.

In these circumstances, Farage's willingness to support a Tory-led coalition if David Cameron promises an immediate referendum, has to be considered high-end stupidity, as there is no way we could win a referendum under those terms.

Within the time frame of what is practicable (not least getting a referendum Act through Parliament), Mr Cameron could bring back his "package", leaving us ill-placed to fight the campaign, which we would then almost certainly lose.

But then, this is the man who has never supported the idea of producing a coherent exit plan, and is nowhere near delivering one. Consistently, he has under-estimated the difficulties in preparing our departure, allowing diverse party members to make damaging and incoherent statements which can only make it more difficult to win a referendum.

Only by Herculean effort, on the basis of a 2017 referendum, could we stand a chance of winning, and that will only be if Ukip can be persuaded to keep away from the campaign, where it is more likely to do harm than good.

Fortunately, it is unlikely that Mr Cameron would ever accede to an early referendum, and it is also unlikely that he will need Mr Farage's help in forming a coalition government.

Smart money is beginning to suggest that Ukip will be lucky to end up with one Westminster seat after the election while Mr Cameron, up against Miliband, will cruise to a narrow victory, as voters find they cannot bring themselves to accept the opposition leader as a credible prime minister.

With Ukip also delivering never-ending train-wrecks and holding out for a joke manifesto which will be torn to shreds the moment it pokes its head over the skyline, Mr Cameron must already be planning the next make-over for the Downing Street flat.

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