Ed’s handling of Europe is eroding trust in his leadership

by Dan McCurry

In 1997, Tony Blair won an election by occupying the traditional home ground of the Tories. In 2010, Gordon Brown fought off the Tories by creating a clear dividing line between us and them. Today, Ed Miliband’s strategy is less easy to define, but I contend that it involves avoiding debate with the Tories. This is not good. This can be extremely damaging.

Miliband said at conference 2012: “The Labour party lost trust on the economy. And under my leadership, we will regain that trust.” I don’t think he has increased trust in the Labour brand. In some ways it has been damaged since he made this speech.

The Tories have a far more coherent economic policy than we do. Even though the whole world agrees that we were right and they were wrong, they have a clear offer and we have a confused one. Ed Balls and Rachel Reeves did a terrific job of explaining the difference between austerity and Keynesianism, but our commitment to a Keynesian offer has been vague and tentative. This is in contrast to Gordon Brown who confronted and contrasted Tory policy with our own Keynesian plan.

Most of the debate on the economy is over now, and people have a settled view of the parties. It’s likely that we are returning to positive growth, although few would attribute this to the government’s policies, so it is questionable as to whether they will benefit at the polls, even if the feel-good factor returns. Trust, in general, is likely a more important issue at the next election.

The problem with trust is that it is a two-way relationship. Would you trust someone who doesn’t trust you? Of course not. Would you trust a politician who won’t tell you his policy? Of course not.

How about a politician who won’t tell you his policy, because the other guys will attack it, and he thinks that you are incapable of sifting the arguments? No, you wouldn’t take kindly to that either.

Far too often, Miliband backs away from debate. Cameron has made a mess out of most things, but he isn’t scared of having a conversation with the British people. He makes a mockery of PMQs, but he gets his arguments across to the public. In the absence of a fierce debate, the electorate may choose to brush aside Labour for being too vague, and instead give Cameron a second chance.

I don’t think that our membership of the EU should be a major issue in the modern day, but the Tories are making it one, and Labour aren’t engaging. Labour are attacking the Tories for being divided, but that’s a cop-out. No one knows what Labour’s position is on the EU, and as long as only the Tories are having a discussion, then a negative view of the EU will persist and grow.

I can understand that Ed Miliband got his fingers burnt with the welfare debate. He let the genie out of the bottle when he spoke in favour of welfare. When he tried to put the lid back on by whipping a minor vote on workfare, he faced a rebellion. He should have confronted that rebellion. Being a consensus seeker doesn’t mean you should allow yourself to get pushed around.

I don’t think we should be in favour of a referendum. The only argument for a referendum is that we haven’t had one since the ‘70s. On that basis, maybe we should go back to farthings and shillings because modern coinage is not the same as the stuff we agreed to in 1971.

The only genuine reason for a referendum is to deal with an internal division in the Conservative Party. They are a mixture of Little Englanders and hard-core free marketers who want to get rid of employment rights. I say let them sort out their own mess, but in the meantime, let us take the opportunity to engage them in a debate about the issues.

Let’s have the British people considering the issues of the EU rather than considering whether the Labour Party are shifty. Let’s stop hiding and start debating. Let’s regain trust by having a good old fashioned political debate.

Dan McCurry is a Labour activist who blogs here

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6 Responses to “Ed’s handling of Europe is eroding trust in his leadership”

  1. Ex-labour says:

    Labour policy on Immigration ?

    Labour policy on the economy ?

    Labour policy on welfare ?

    Protest, protest, protest but no alternative or solutions. All been said before. Canute Miliband stands against every public opinion.

    As for Europe the old canard of the left that its all about employment rights is complete tosh and a smokescreen. If the public took and interest and really understood how much of our lives is controlled by the EU they would be shocked.

  2. aragon says:

    Well I don’t shy away from a robust debate, as you might have noticed!

    The EU has changed out of all recognition since 1975, apart from inflation decimalisation hasn’t changed. The EU is not doing well inside or outside the Euro. A choice may be forced on all members of Europe, which still sticks with Neo-liberalism and Austerity.

    We have policies, I have advocated many of them, but they are poorly presented and diluted, e.g. making the minimum wage a living wage, job guarantee scheme (future job fund) and renationalisation of the railways as franchises expire (not labour party policy).

    We need to defend people on welfare, housing and the city are much bigger issues as is the economy in general. But his performance over press regulation has not left him covered in glory.

    But you can’t expect much from the two Ed’s (despite Ed Balls reputation). So weather making is beyond them.

    Would anybody believe a significant change in economic policy from the two Ed’s. Consensus seeking tends to lead to small changes, not radical change. And we have seen the shadow cabinet under perform, not that the cabinet is any better,

    Policies are not the problem, leadership and judgement is or it’s absence is!

  3. McCurry says:

    I’m glad EU has changed since 1975, otherwise we’d all be driving VW Beetles and thinking that seatbelts are uncool.

    As for EU is not doing well since 1975. Compared to Africa, Asia and South America? How about compared to Russia?

  4. uglyfatbloke says:

    Promoting Keynesian economics? Is that wise? Remember that the New Deal programme had failed dismally in the US; it was only the advent of WW2 that brought growth and made America the greatest economic power in the world.
    I think we should stay in the EU, but the situation has changed; it’s no longer the common market that we joined 40 years ago. It’s not unreasonable that the people should get to decide. It’s certainly unreasonable that the cabal of the political class should do so.

  5. swatantra says:

    I’ve got a feeling that there will be some fundamental restructioning in all political Parties post 2015. Who knows, out of the melee we’ll get a radical New Social Democratic Party. The Labour Party no longer labour as its core base the Unions are declining; the Conservative Party is no longer conservative because a large parts of it are more compassionate and reformers than the rest; the Liberal Party is no longer liberal because its brief period of Govt has shown that you have to be tough to govern and take unpopular decisions for the good of the country. So politicians like Cameron Clegg and Milliband could work together quite comfortably in a broad based Govt/Coalition as has been shown by recent events.
    The next stage is an alliance of the Radicals againt the forces of Reaction.

  6. McCurry says:

    Your economic history is all over the place.
    @Swantra, the moderates would win.

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