Apparently the Labour leadership is considering making a commitment to hold an In or Out referendum on British membership of the EU sometime in the next parliament. Guido says this would be "opportunistic, calculated and brilliant". Well, he would say that wouldn’t he? He would, I think, quite like to see Britain leave the EU. Of course the Better Off Outers would welcome Labour’s conversion to an In or Out plebiscite. But since Labour remain, I believe, a Better Off In party it’s a mystery why they would wish or risk a referendum that can only – by dint of just asking the question – increase the likelihood that Britain might actually leave the EU. Why would any sensible leader risk that?
A sensible leader would not. So the move is just a ploy and transparently disingenuous at that. As a piece of mischief-making it is entertaining but such a move can’t make Ed Miliband seem a statesman. Indeed it jeopardises whatever progress he has made in persuading the public to view him as a credible Prime Minister in waiting.
Does anyone really believe Miliband really believes this is an issue that needs "settling" one way or the other? Of course they don’t. So those Labour supporters entertained by the idea of putting Mr Cameron in an awkward position are arguing that their leader should parade around the country making an argument he does not believe in. That’s certainly one way of making Miliband appear ridiculous. Moreover, at a time when voters distrust political gamesmanship and seem to crave some notion of "authenticity" such a ploy strikes me as being wholly counter-productive.
The Better Off Outers at least have a respectable case for their beliefs and, rather importantly, actually believe Britain would be better off outside the EU. I suspect there might be some downside to being subject to EU regulation without having an input into creating those regulations but, perhaps, there would be other benefits. Nevertheless there’s is a position that merits some respect.
That can’t be said of a party that so obviously makes a game of what might be thought quite an important issue. Granted, no-one knows what sort of EU will emerge from the present maelstrom and so, in this respect, the matter remains mooter than moot. Which is another reason for not making silly promises for a referendum you haven’t justified and don’t actually really believe in.
The best that might be said for now is that if this or that happens in the wider EU realm in the next 18 months or so then the issue of Britain’s relationship with the EU might have to be reconsidered. That ain’t a sexy message but it at least has the merit of not being dumb. Asking the people is all very well and good but it might be worth wondring what you might do if the people give you (what you consider) the wrong answer. Among the likely consequences for a Prime Minister Miliband? The end of his ministry.
Finally, while it is not as esoteric an issue as a referendum on reforming the House of Lords I spy no great enthusiasm for subjecting the electorate to this particular referendum either. This is so even if, in passing, the people tell pollsters they don’t mind or even might be quite keen on a referendum. Salience matters too.Tags: Britain, Brussels, Europe, Labour, Miliband