Oh dear Ed, this Europe policy is a disaster

by Anthony Bonneville

Today, Ed Miliband blew it.

Contrary to some of the warm words from the likes of Martin Sorrell and Peter Mandelson, effectively ruling out a referendum has sabotaged Labour’s last chance to win over a strong coalition of business backers, not to mention irrevocably divide the Tories.

Labour is largely united on the benefits of staying in Europe. Trade, growth, jobs and the environment are all policy areas wholly dependent on our positive relations with the continent.

It’s a strong case but one that our frontbenchers seem reluctant to make.

The media is largely hostile and in the hurly burly of daily political debate, it’s understandable that Labour politicians prioritise issues more immediately relevant to voters.

Yes, today Ed Miliband gave a speech on Europe, but how many more times will he mention the subject in the next year?

It’s clear that today’s speech was an exercise in box ticking, in doing the bare minimum before abandoning the European battlefield.

If we, as pro-Europeans, want to play a positive role in Europe, we can’t do so without the engagement of the British public. There is a debate that is being conducted and right now Labour isn’t even in the chamber.

A clear Labour commitment to a referendum with a date set would have transformed the situation. A referendum and a deadline would have forced quiet pro-Europeans (distant cousins of the quiet bat people) to come out and say it loud: “We need to stay in Europe!”

For Labour, which has had a difficult relationship with business it would have been a rare chance to redraw the dividing lines of political debate.

Labour would have been the party standing with business. The Tories would have been left to make the difficult case that business people did not know what was good for their own firms.

For those who recall the damage done to Labour’s 2010 election campaign by the letter from businessmen criticising the party’s national insurance policy, the irony would have been rich.

Referendums are essentially conservative affairs. Those making the case for change generally face the more difficult challenge. Their opponents, meanwhile, busily convey the risks of any move from the status quo, from the known to the unknown.

As popular as Nigel Farage might be as an anti-politics caricature, can he really command the kind of trust needed from the wider electorate to win the case for exit? At this stage in our economic recovery?

Even with the barrage of anti-EU rhetoric in the press, the latest YouGov poll this week still found a narrow majority for staying in 41% to 39%.

Instead, today Ed Miliband did the opposite of what Labour needed. Rather than ruling out a referendum he should not only have committed to one, but sprung a real surprise on Westminster by saying he wanted one on May 7th 2015, the day of the next election.

This would have electrified British politics and defined the election, with a united front of Labour, Lib Dems, business groups, unions and civil society campaigning together.

Ranged against the pro-camp would be UKIP leading a rag tag group of sceptics that included a bitterly divided Tory party.

Think about it: David Cameron has already said he wouldn’t campaign for an exit. This means he would have been forced, in the middle of a general election, to oppose his own party on the defining issue of the campaign.

All that has happened in this parliament so far would have been rendered irrelevant.

There would have been obviously risks inherent in such an approach. However, given the narrowing state of the polls – a 3% lead in yesterday’s ICM poll does not augur a Labour victory in 2015 – maybe the time has come for a major play that resets the political clock.

If Labour had gone down this path, it is almost certain there would have been the votes on the floor of the House of Commons to pass the necessary legislation for an early referendum – a majority of Tory Ministers would likely have defied their whip to vote in favour.

The prize was so tantalisingly close. The opportunity was there. But Ed Miliband has spurned it.

Next May, Labour will reap the results.

Could have, would have, should have.

Anthony Bonneville works in investment banking.

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12 Responses to “Oh dear Ed, this Europe policy is a disaster”

  1. BenM says:

    This article is fantasy.

    Announce a referendum for election day 7th May 2015?

    Ed would rightly be accused of irresponsibly creating instability and uncertainty just at the point a recovery was getting going.

    Where the Tories have singularly failed to make the Ed-is-weak tag stick, they’ve been trying to make Ed look irresponsible instead. They’d have had a point had Ed chosen to follow this massive gamble.

    Let’s not forget, the EU remains firmly down the list of voter concerns.

    As it is Cameron is going to be pressured daily now by his frothing anti-EU backbenchers to promise something that he palpably is not in a position to give.

  2. Mike Homfray says:

    No, this is the right way forward

    WE do not hold referenda where a possible outcome may be something we are not prepared to do

    Labour is a pro_Europe party – let the Tories and UKIP argue about Europe

  3. John P Ried says:

    Mike, Labour maybe a pro EU party,it’s just everyone from Keith Vaz,to John Cryer, to Kate honey want a referendum,at the 2005 election Labour promised a referendum on the new treaty,and just because the EU changed its name from a treaty, we didn’t bother having one,how are we going to get the publics trust,that we’ll only have a referendum,if there’s a new treaty,if we broke the promise last time,and Eds claim,that there’s no point wasting time on preparing for a referndum,seems silly as if we have anew treaty,then we’ll have to have had a referendum,and we wouldn’t have done any preparation,

    The EU may be down the list of voters concerns,but immigration unemployment and law,all are voters concerns,and they’re all related to the EU

  4. Tafia says:

    This could well go down in history as Miliband’s ‘Sheffield’ moment.

    Bearing in mind the overwhelming bulk of the press wants a referendum, he has just sentenced himself to Europe hogging the papers right through to the General Election.

    Politicians do not set the political agenda in the media. The media do.

  5. The real news from Ed Miliband is that there will as good as certainly be nothing so much as a suggestion of the further transfer of powers to the EU if he is Prime Minister. Since Michael Foot, no major Party Leader has ever before said that, or anything remotely approaching it.

    Consistently, all of two per cent of people place the EU the top of their list of priorities. Even only 20 per cent of UKIP supporters see a referendum on EU membership as important. Cameron’s commitment is to hold one only after his imaginary renegotiation, itself following his inconceivable General Election victory.

    He and Miliband are both saying no to one. It is just that one of them is doing so on the basis that there would be no further transfer of powers. Cameron is not saying that: a renegotiation could result in anything. But there is not going to be one, because he is not going to be in office.

    Even for the European Elections, the Conservatives and UKIP remain statistically tied, 10 points behind Labour. Ten.

    The main cause now is opposition to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which perfectly embodies everything that the Eurofederalist project has always been about, and which gives incomparable explanation to the fact that, whereas the Left has opposed that project since the 1940s, next to no one on the British Right, including Margaret Thatcher, was anything less than wildly enthusiastic about it until the perceived need arose to oppose John Major on absolutely any available ground for his daring to be Prime Minister while not Margaret Thatcher.

    To this day, someone like John Redwood, the intellectual guiding light who wanted Teresa Gorman and Tony Marlow in his Cabinet, could not tell you anything in particular about the EU to which he was opposed. He could have written the TTIP, just as the framers of the Treaty of Rome, of Thatcher’s Single European Act or of Major’s Maastricht Treaty, against which Redwood did not vote, could have done.

    It offers the culmination, at least to date, of the entire dream. Attempts to claim that that dream was ever about anything else are the stuff of borderline, if borderline, insanity.

    Which privatisation did the EU prevent? Which dock, factory, shipyard, steelworks or mine did it save? Well, there you are, then.

    If we needed the EU for the employment law that, since we do not have it, the EU is obviously powerless to deliver, then there would be no point or purpose to the British Labour Movement.

    Beyond fighting the TTIP every step of the way, Labour needs to commit itself, not to a referendum the result of which, as of all such, would be determined in the month leading up to it by the BBC, exactly as happened in 1975, but to primary legislation in and through the Parliament of the United Kingdom.

    First, the restoration of the supremacy of United Kingdom over EU law, and its use to give effect, both to explicit Labour policy by repatriating industrial and regional policy (whereas the Conservatives are not committed to any specific repatriation), and to what is at least implicit Labour policy by repatriating agricultural policy and by reclaiming our historic fishing rights in accordance with international law: 200 miles, or to the median line.

    Secondly, the requirement that, in order to have any effect in the United Kingdom, all EU law pass through both Houses of Parliament as if it had originated in one or other of them.

    Thirdly, the requirement that British Ministers adopt the show-stopping Empty Chair Policy until such time as the Council of Ministers meets in public and publishes an Official Report akin to Hansard.

    Fourthly, the disapplication in the United Kingdom of any ruling of the European Court of Justice or of the European Court of Human Rights unless confirmed by a resolution of the House of Commons, the High Court of Parliament.

    Fifthly, the disapplication in the United Kingdom of anything passed by the European Parliament but not by the majority of those MEPs certified as politically acceptable by one or more seat-taking members of the House of Commons, with the provision that no MEP who was a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council, or of anything that the Speaker or the House deemed comparable, would be eligible to be so certified.

    Thus, we should no longer be subject to the legislative will of Stalinists and Trotskyists, of neo-Fascists and neo-Nazis, of members of Eastern Europe’s kleptomaniac nomenklatura, of people who believed the Provisional Army Council to be the sovereign body throughout Ireland, or of Dutch ultra-Calvinists who would not have women candidates.

    And sixthly, the giving of effect to the express will of the House of Commons, for which every Labour MP voted, that the British contribution to the EU Budget be reduced in real terms.

  6. swatantra says:

    Its the right move, and a brave move. No eferendum on Europe.
    The electorate simply don’t understand the full consequences of leaving, and if by some fluke they voted to leave, it’ll be too late to take it out on Nige and the narrowminded Skeptiks.

  7. John reid says:

    Swatantra, the public don’t understand so can’t be trusted to vote on it?

    David Lindsay, i hope you’re right, labour promised a referendum on The last set treaty, then when it changed its name we backed out,the public have t forgive us, and wouldn’t now if we stood on a no referendum, unless there’s a new treaty, I can’t understand the Foot comparison, all the other parties have been promising a referendum for years,

  8. swatantra says:

    John, its one of those issues best left to the politicians. I’m happy for the Labour 2015 Manifesto tp say: No, you won’t be getting a Referendum, because we had one in 1975, and nothing in principle has change. So let it be decided at a GE. If the electorate do agree with Labours position then they don’t have to vote for us.
    But if they agree with the Tories and UKIP, then they’ll vote the other way. And one thing is certain: they may well be ringing the bells on election day; but I guarantee they’ll be wringing the necks of Farage and The Skeptiks 2 years later. By then it’ll be too late and a defeated Britain cannot re-apply for EU Membership.

  9. John Reid says:

    We’ll agree to disagree, for a start quite a lot has changed and they’ll be 40 years olds voting next year who weren’t born when there was last a referndum

  10. Ex Labour says:

    Quote: “it’s understandable that Labour politicians prioritise issues more immediately relevant to voters”.

    The voters are prioritising Europe. The rise of UKIP has been phenomenal in the last couple of years. Yes they dont represent a strong enough challenge to any established party in a GE, but come on, everyone recognises that most of their rhetoric on the EU is striking a chord with the electorate. Not to do so is yet again typical arrogance of one of the main parties.

    @ Swatantra

    Your comment just sums up this arrogance. If the Labour party are so tied to the EU why wont you let people vote on it ? Dont trust the proles to do the right thing ?

  11. Tafia says:

    Latest ComRes has UKIP now ahead of the field for euro2014 amongst those certain to vote:-

    UKIP 30% (+3)
    Lab 28% (+5)
    Con 21% (0)
    LD 8% (-10)
    Green 6% (+2)
    Other 7% (0)

  12. Tafia says:

    Ih and swat – John, its one of those issues best left to the politicians.

    That is one of the most disgusting comments I have ever seen on here. In that statement you elevate politicians as being superior to the voters. That is something that must never ever be allowed. Politicians are there to do the behest of the voters (not their party) whether they personally agree or not and the minute they do otherwise they cease to perform any useful purpose (incidentally that’s why most of them are fit only for composting and only a cretin shows any of them a shred of respect and only someone below a cretin looks up to them. Disgusting roadkill that they are.).

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