Rumours are swirling at this Labour conference that the party leadership is considering offering a referendum on Britain’s relationship with the European Union. If the party did do as Jon Cruddas hinted it should over the weekend in the Telegraph, we at least know how Douglas Alexander would campaign. The shadow foreign secretary told an Open Europe fringe last night that staying in would be in Britain’s interest:

‘We are struggling to sense any growth as it is, and shrinking our market from 500 million to 60 million would not to help. We should be working in the nation’s interest to return to growth.’

Alexander also made clear his regret over the way British politicians have handled Europe. He said:

‘I think it’s a genuine pity that our country has so frequently dealt itself out of the game in the last few years, when we could have been a genuine force for good.’

One man he believes is such a force is François Hollande, who Alexander praised, saying he demonstrated that there is now a consensus building across Europe against the present dogma of austerity and reform:

‘There is a warning for the centre left – the divide is not about growth vs. austerity….austerity is lengthening the tunnel, rather than bringing the light nearer. It is seen as a shortcut to growth and sustainable public services’

But on the referendum question, well the audience were left wondering. Alexander later attempted to address the issue (without actually giving anything away at all) on the BBC’s Westminster Hour later, saying:

‘Jon is entitled to his position, but that’s a fundamentally different position from the Labour Party position where as far as I can tell there is almost total unanimity for Britain’s continued membership in the European Union from a position in the Conservative Party where you’ve not got a few individuals but you’ve got dozens and dozens of backbenchers who were elected at the last election who sincerely believe Britain’s best future lies outside of the European Union.’

Tags: Douglas Alexander, EU referendum, Francois Hollande, Labour conference 2012, Open Europe, UK politics