Coffee House

Ed Miliband’s non-policy EU policy

13 March 2014

5:16 PM

13 March 2014

5:16 PM

‘You only offer a referendum if you want to ratify your existing policy,’ a Tory veteran told me this morning while discussing Ed Miliband’s recent referendum announcement. The Tory illustrated his point with reference to the Major government’s row over a proposed referendum on the single currency. He said that the pro-European side of the argument ran from a referendum, fearing that the public would say ‘no’ to EMU. His logic was: there isn’t time to change minds during a referendum campaign, so the public backs the status quo.

Leaving aside the matter of whether or not this old Tory’s interpretation of those historical events is correct, his logic suggests that Miliband might have been quite shrewd yesterday, regardless of how complicated the Labour leader’s position appears.


There will be no In/Out referendum, Miliband says, unless there is another transfer of power to Brussels. But the calculation behind that offer – that the British will suffer the status quo but not another powergrab – is immaterial because Miliband says that such a powergrab is unlikely. A deeper referendum pledge (ie, beyond the existing ‘referendum lock’) might have made Europe a ‘doorstep issue’ for the party in 2015, exposing it to the splits that have dogged the Tories – see comments from the late Bob Crow and Kate Hoey for two very different strains of euroscepticsm within the Labour movement.

Miliband’s policy on Europe, then, is not to have a policy. After yesterday, only the European Union can make Europe an issue for Labour in 2015. Unless, of course, the bigger beasts on the Labour backbenches decide to follow the shining example of the Tories. No one would do that, surely?

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  • global city

    The only way to ensure that there would be a clean and honest referendum would be for UKIP to gain sufficient seats to be the minor partner in any future government. Part of the coalition negotiations would have to involve UKIP taking the main EU related departments on.

  • Makroon

    It is in the interests of UKIP to have an early referendum, before the economy returns to something approaching ‘normal’. Protest parties always have most purchase when there is a crisis and panic.
    Red calculates that the threat to his electorate from UKIP is trivial and on the wane.
    The UKIPpers think exactly the opposite – who has miscalculated ?

    • global city

      Well, if Miliband is so prescient then he should be Prime Minister!

  • Conway

    Miliband’s policy on Europe, then, is not to have a policy” Just like his policy on everything else, then.

  • MalcolmRedfellow

    … regardless of how complicated the Labour leader’s position appears?

    Help me, someone.

    The wheels of the EU may grind small, but they grind exceeding slow. The chance of getting any negotiated change through by 2020 (and — please! please! — any incoming majority government would end this nonsense of five-year parliaments), let alone by Mr Cameron’s promised 2017, strains any twitch of passing credulity.

    It seems to me that Mr Miliband has stated the bleeding obvious. And there’s nothing “complicated” about that.

    Have a 2017 referendum if you must, but it would be a blind in/out thing. And that’s nothing like the terms of the Cameron/Tory promise. You could have had it yesterday, on the same basis.

  • Denis_Cooper

    Firstly, be clear that the trigger for a referendum would not necessarily be a proposed treaty change, it could be a transfer of power from the UK to the EU not involving any change to the treaties.

    Consider the position of the Tory party if Miliband’s alternative “referendum lock” was in place, and then the Labour or Labour/LibDem government announced that it wanted to join the euro, but ackowledged that by law there would have to be a referendum before that could happen.

    Which side would the Tory party take in that referendum?

    The referendum question would be framed along the lines suggested by Mario Monti back in December 2004 as a way of bullying populations into accepting the EU Constitution, his article may still be read here:

    and in essence the question put to the British people would be:

    “Which do you prefer – joining the euro, or leaving the EU?”

    So which side would the Tories be on when faced with that choice, having been deprived of the option of saying that they want to stay in the EU but they do not want to join the euro?

    • realfish

      Faced with that choice? Leave the EU – I have no doubt, no doubt whatsoever.

      • Denis_Cooper

        I know how I would vote, but I don’t know which side those leading the Tory party would take and I doubt they have even started to consider the possibility that they could be faced with that choice.

    • global city

      But we had the referendum lock, which didn’t trigger anything when the EU made the massive move to control the whole financial sector under three new EU regulation agencies.

      These referendum locks/ transfer promises are bogus.

  • London Calling

    Britain has already given up powers to the EU, too many………Eds proposal is half baked and burnt round the edges…….lets hope Cameron keeps to his word on a referendum, it will sidekick Farage and the like……….otherwise we face another hung parliament, mark my words………..:)

    • Conway

      But people will have to vote before 2017 when Cameron’s supposed referendum is scheduled to take place (if it ever does). That means that as an article of faith they would have to trust him to keep his word. How likely do you think it is that this would happen?

  • Colonel Mustard

    Why does he wear a blue suit and tie? What is he hiding? The rabid communism of his father? More honest if he wore a Mao suit.

    • telemachus

      ‘A former member of Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet has accused the Daily Mail of “telling lies” about Ralph Miliband after the newspaper claimed that the Marxist writings of the late father of the Labour party leader meant that he hated Britain.

      In the biggest blow yet to the Mail editor, Paul Dacre, who has launched a strong defence of his paper’s decision to claim that Ralph Miliband had left an “evil legacy”, Lord Moore of Lower Marsh said his former tutor was a good man who never had a bad word to say about Britain.

      Moore, who served in Thatcher’s cabinet between 1986 and 1989 and was briefly tipped as a potential successor to Thatcher, said it “beggars belief” that the Mail could impugn the patriotism of Miliband, who taught him at the London School of Economics.’

      • Colonel Mustard

        That would be the Lord Moore who was President of the Students Union at LSE, went to Chicago where there was already a sense of common purpose and joined the Democrats. Another possible Manchurian Candidate who unlike Cameron was unsuccessful in his bid for leadership.

        “Most commentators at the time considered him to have been a weak politician who had been promoted beyond his ability”

        Meanwhile, back in the here and now why the blue suit and tie and not a Mao suit and cap with a red star?

      • Tom Allalone

        If you must cut and paste Guardian stories from 5 months ago, at least have the courtesy to attribute them.

      • Makroon

        Would that be the Paul Dacre who is a personal friend of your chum Gordon ?

      • Andy

        Ralph Miliband – even his name is fake – was Polish born in Belgium. He fled here on the last boat from Ostend. The quotes the Daily Mail used were correct and I have never read that the odious Miliband retracted or modified those views – he hoped the UK would lose the war. Had we done so he would almost certainly have ended up back in Poland, albeit for a short duration.

        One notes that the Communist Miliband did not seek to go back and live in Poland, his ancestral home, when it became a Communist State: rather he was content to remain here in the UK, a country he loathed and hated.

  • telemachus

    Miliband’s policy on Europe, then, is not to have a policy
    Is that not what Cameron said before the 2010 election before he did the weak knees bending to Baron, Reckless and co

  • Ricky Strong

    Given there is no chance of a referendum with either the Lib Dems or Labour and a so-called promise of one with the Tories, the next election may serve as an indication of whether the country wants a referendum or not.

    • Wessex Man

      Vote UKip!

      • Ricky Strong

        I certainly will be Mr Wessex.

        My utter contempt for the three main parties is insurmountable.

      • Whizjet

        Vote UKIP – elect Miliband.
        Useful fools = Labour dupes.

        • Ricky Strong

          Nonsense. Vote LibLabCon get the same old under a different guise.

          I’d sooner have a Labour government in power knowing my vote said f*uck you to all three major parties.

          • Whizjet

            And I suspect you may get what you deserve.

        • global city

          Vote Cameron = elect…. what exactly?