Posts Tagged ‘EU in/out referendum’

Cameron has blundered on the EU

31/05/2013, 04:09:46 PM

by Malcolm Clarke

There cannot possibly be a more endearing sight for the left of centre politician than the sight of Tory MPs rabidly attacking one another over the issue of Europe, their reaction to the word ‘Europe’ as predictable as the salivating dogs trained by Pavlov’s bell.

But I do not believe that the issue of Europe is solely about UKIP, although they have seen big gains as a result of this issue. Europe severs the right and UKIP could have expected better results having mopped up floating Tory voters who are Euro-sceptic, the standard protest voters who used to vote Lib Dem and also the mid-term ‘we hate politics’ voters who look to inflict damage on the main parties.

If you consider the positive climate for UKIP gains given the heightened public consciousness on issues surrounding EU membership, getting 25% of the vote is underwhelming and I question the extent of the success that the media are heralding for UKIP. They have filled a void in protest politics, nothing more. That is not to say their position will not develop in time to a more established position, but as we saw in Scotland two days ago, there is no Cleggmania-like wave for Nigel Farage at present.

At Westminster, the Tories are treading familiar ground with a virile battle raging over the issue of Europe once again. The Tories just cannot resist a good row over Europe but I believe they should be dealing with the difficult domestic situation we face like the ever-increasing cuts to public services, the ideological attack on councils and the flat-lining economy. They have reverted to type and it’s the same old Tories. They showed it over the NHS and they are showing it over Europe.

Many of their ills are self-inflicted by a strategic error by David Cameron. By declaring that he will defer an in-out referendum until after the next general election and after a renegotiation on our terms of membership within the European Union, he walked headlong into three big problems.

Firstly, whilst in opposition Cameron gave a ‘cast-iron guarantee’ for an in-out referendum. Now he has gone back on his word and people have noticed, particularly those in his own party who were previously appeased by this pledge. Cameron now faces distrust to the extent that a private members bill has been tabled by Conservative MP for Stockton South, James Wharton, to ensure the matter is cast out in binding legislation. As no party can legislate to bind their successors, Cameron is dangling a carrot to the electorate and to his disparate MPs saying, ‘stick with me and get your referendum’. Unfortunately for Dave, they electorate may well kick him out of Number 10 for not delivering an in-out referendum now.


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Staying in carries as much risk as leaving – that’s why we need an EU referendum

14/05/2013, 11:32:10 AM

by Jonathan Roberts

“There is no question of any erosion of essential national sovereignty,” said the white paper of 1971 that began our entry into the European Economic Community.

It was the start of a debate on the future of the UK and its place in the modern world, but one that paid little attention to what part of our sovereignty should be defined as ‘essential’.

“In the modern world, no country can go it alone,” read the government pamphlet issued during the referendum of 1975. Amidst rising unemployment and persistent recession, joining a free trade agreement with our closest trading partners was seen as a welcome opportunity to turn the economy around.  We needed jobs and prosperity in a rapidly changing world, and the Common Market was sure to deliver it.  This, twinned with assurances on national sovereignty, was the argument that persuaded the electorate to ratify the UK’s entry 2 years earlier.

And in many ways, it worked.  When international trade forms such a fundamental part of UK GDP, easy access to a market of 500 million people has immense value.  Within a few years of the Common Market coming into force, airlines, as an example, had increased their flights to European destinations by 60%, and new opportunities for trade, business and tourism flourished.  The freedom of movement, in many ways a libertarian principle, was matched by new protections for working people that prevented exploitation at home and abroad.

But as an electorate, our agreement to join the Community was on the condition of protection of sovereignty and the preservation of democracy.  And it is here that, as the EEC became the European Union, the ‘project’ started its road to democratic illegitimacy.

Our ability to protect British sovereignty was then, and continues to be, on the decline.  In 1975 we were told, in the same government pamphlet, that “No important new law can be decided in Brussels without the consent of a British Minister, answerable to a British Government and a British Parliament…the British Minister can veto any proposal for a new law or a new tax.” It provided reassurance to an uneasy electorate. But whilst this claim may have been true at the time, that time was long ago.


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Labour’s policy on the European referendum means death on the doorstep

13/05/2013, 05:04:39 PM

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

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