by Kevin Meagher
An in/out referendum on Europe is “not in the national interest” according to shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander on Radio Four’s World at One earlier. Securing recovery and providing stability for investors is more important than political game-playing.
There will be some measure of satisfaction at the top of the party that here is an issue where Labour look serious and resolute, particularly with business audiences. Privately, they will praise Ed Miliband for his fortitude. ‘We don’t want the uncertainty’, they will tell him. ‘You are right to hold out.’
He should not be seduced by their platitudes. What he should tell business leaders is that they will need to get their hands in their pockets and pay for a show-stopping pro-European campaign ahead of any vote in 2017.
He should explain that the ball has been threaded between the legs of pro-Europeans (and I include myself here) and we are left running to catch-up. The referendum is now essential to rebuilding trust with the electorate on an issue where the governed and the governing have become dangerously unstuck.
Ed should also tell them that Labour remains positive about Europe and that the vote that can be won.
The underlying problem is that the cause of closer integration has always been an elite pursuit and there has never been any real attempt to explain and, if not popularise, then normalise our membership of the European Union. For Ed Miliband, it can be a genuine One Nation cause.
As it stands today though, Europe is a proxy for all the antagonisms the public feels towards its governing class. Like immigration, it’s something that has changed a traditional British way of life without the public ever feeling they were offered the choice, let alone gave their consent. That sort of anger doesn’t dissipate, it festers.
For Labour, the party’s refusal to accept any of this means death on the doorstep. All the Tories and UKIP need to do in next year’s European elections is frame Labour as the party that won’t give the electorate a say. It will ensure there is little scrutiny of UKIP and provide the Tories with an attack line that will resonate in all parts of the country with all groups of voters.
A rum state of affairs, then, for a self-proclaimed people’s party to find itself in.
Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut