From time to time I try to find out what my party members in the North West think about the issues that most concern me. We do our best to make sure that the questions are serious and that we do not try to ‘lead’ members into giving particular responses.
Of course I always hope that my own views will be generally reflected amongst the membership, and I also note that the answers we get do not always reflect preconceived views.
For example, it became clear long before our Secretaries of State changed the party’s position that the general membership was not at all so opposed to nuclear power as party conference votes might suggest.
The questionnaire goes by post to every member and returns are pre-paid. This year the response rate was 15%, with more than 600 survey forms returned. It’s a self-selecting sample but I suspect at least as representative as any other survey undertaken.
I’ve already sent the results to every member in my region but here are some highlights for readers of Lib Dem Voice.
I asked whether members accepted the need for the Liberal Democrats to be in the coalition government with the Conservatives.
78% of North West Lib Dems said Yes, 16% No and 6% did not answer the question. There have been many comments in the press that things are worse for us in the North than in the South but there is strong acceptance still for Liberal Democrats being part of the coalition – despite the impact it has had on our councillor base in the region.
When asked to rate Lib Dem influence in the coalition on a scale of 1-5 64% of members gave us a three or above. Members seem to appreciate that our Ministers are influencing the direction of the government – if only by stopping mad Tory ideas! Not bad given that Lib Dems are outnumbered on the green benches by five to one.
Given the dependence on public sector jobs in the region I was a bit surprised by the answer to a question about whether reducing the country’s budget deficit has to be a top priority. A massive 77% said yes with only 12% saying no and the remaining 11% not answering. Levels of government debt in many EU countries are causing huge problems and the UK is no exception. We are borrowing 2 billion every week just to pay the bills!
When I asked about the EU I was encouraged by the answers I got. 90% of members thought that we should definitely stay in the EU although 64% of members wanted to see it reformed and improved. If people aren’t massively enamoured of the EU at this moment in time that is hardly a surprise given the problems in the Eurozone.
When I asked what people thought of the Lib Dem attitude to the EU 68% thought we had the tone about right, 18% thought we were too enthusiastic and 9% thought we weren’t enthusiastic enough. Given the hostility of the press and the problems the EU is facing this is a pretty encouraging result!
My next article will turn to what members said about the environment and overfishing – including the views of North West members about nuclear power
* Chris Davies is MEP for the North West and the Liberal Democrat environment spokesman in the European Parliament