The story is based on a poll of 2,200 Conservative activists by ConservativeHome on the issue of Europe. It reveals 8 out of 10 want a Lisbon referendum come what may and four out on ten would like to withdraw from the EU. I'm not sure why those results are especially surprising, but by releasing the poll on the eve of the Tory conference, it does little to help the party. Indeed, one could reasonably assert that it causes quite a bit of damage, in that it allows the media to focus on a subject which has caused bitter divisions in the past.
The counter argument is that ConservativeHome can do what it likes. It is not an official party organ. It styles itself as the voice of the grassroots, and in part exists to put pressure on the party leadership to head in a certain direction. Fine. I am not suggesting the ConHome - or indeed this blog - should become uncritical lapdogs of the party, but there is a time and a place for everything. I would submit that now is neither the time nor the place for releasing a poll question like this.
This is a very important party conference for David Cameron and the Conservative Party. Unity is everything. We know what happens when parties appear disunited. Support seeps away. To highlight an issue which has in the past been extremely divisive on the eve of a party conference could be seen at best as ill judged, and at worst divisive.
There are of course, very helpful aspects to the poll. 92% express their full support for David Cameron and 99% expect him to form the next government, for example. But it was clear that the media would only pick on that part of the poll which could be controversial.
Still, it rather pokes in the eye those who thought that Lord Ashcroft's purchase of ConservativeHome would castrate it, doesn't it?
UPDATE 10.30am: Tim Montgomerie has left a comment...
Fair comment Iain but I think on the day Lisbon takes a giant step towards ratification it was a legitimate decision to publish. Lisbon represents a massive transfer of power and grassroots Tories are right to be worried.
Party members have little power in modern politics and the ConHome poll gives them a little more. I'm proud to do that.
I agree that it's an important Party Conference but it's not an eve-of-poll election. We'd behave differently (and will) if it was.