by Atul Hatwal
Judgement is a precious commodity. If a politician is seen to have it, they receive the benefit of the doubt from the media and colleagues alike. Their moves are viewed as part of a grand strategy, their competence taken on trust.
When they are seen to lose it, everything is questioned, loose threads are pulled and more often than not, much unravels.
Today, both Ed Miliband and David Cameron demonstrated desperately bad judgement. Both will pay a price. The immediate damage is to the Labour leader’s position, but over the coming months Cameron will be the one who suffers most.
For Ed Miliband, it is now a matter of when not if. When will he do a U-turn and commit Labour to an in/out referendum? The three options he has available leave him little choice.
Inside the leader’s inner circle there might have been some that still believed Labour’s current position of neither backing nor ruling out an in/out referendum was sustainable, but reality will be dawning. Witness Miliband’s own reaction in the heat of PMQs today when he seemed to rule out a referendum, only for Douglas Alexander and John Denham to walk back the commitment within hours.
Having no line to take is no way to run a party. Labour politicians trying to defend this position will be mercilessly skewered.
Alternately, permanently ruling out a referendum, as Miliband looked to have done, has the merit of certainty, but brings the certainty of unpopularity. Refusing to let the public have a say on such a contentious issue hardly locates Labour on the side of the people.
Which leaves supporting an in/out referendum as the only viable option.
Back in October I argued for a Labour commitment to a referendum to make the political weather and cast Cameron as weak when he was forced follow suit. Now Miliband will follow Cameron and will be the one to look weak.