The peer, who until 2010 was Conservative deputy chairman, said that Mr Cameron’s promise of an in/out referendum following renegotiation of the UK’s EU membership after the 2015 election “has not unleashed a desire for an overall Conservative majority”. The upsurge in debate about the EU in advance of the high-profile speech appears to have bolstered pro-European sentiments, with numbers saying they feel positive about British membership increasing from 18 per cent to 22 per cent and those thinking the UK would be better off out falling from 34 per cent to 26 per cent.
Lord Ashcroft’s poll – in common with most of those taken since last week’s speech – showed a small increase in support for Tories, but left Labour in the lead on 38 per cent, against the Conservatives’ 33 per cent and Liberal Democrats’ 11 per cent. The pro-withdrawal UK Independence Party was on 9 per cent.
However, Lord Ashcroft said that the change largely resulted from people who voted Tory in 2010 saying they would be more likely to do so again, as well as existing Conservative supporters becoming more likely to vote.
Writing on the ConservativeHome website, the Tory peer said: “If anyone expected an immediate leap in the Conservative Party’s popularity, the evidence should by now have disabused them of the notion.”