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Cameron’s ‘No’ leaves Clegg in a tight spot

9 December 2011

3:18 PM

9 December 2011

3:18 PM

It’s days like this when we should remember that Britain is,
officially, the most eurosceptic nation in the EU. Europe may not rank high on the average Brit’s list of
policy priorities, but many will nonetheless cheer at the idea of us stepping aside from Merkel and Sarkozy’s bulldozing plan. Whether the PM swashbuckled or blundered into saying ‘No’,
that ‘No’ is unlikely to harm the public’s perception of him — and will probably boost it.

That’s what makes all this particularly difficult for Ed Miliband. Unlike some in his party, the Labour leader is not inclined to out-sceptic Cameron, so that leaves basically one alternative: to
claim that the PM has irresponsibly alienated Britain from Brussels, and that our influence will wane as a result. And that is exactly what MiliE has done today. As he put it on Twitter earlier, ‘David Cameron should be building alliances. The UK went into the summit without them and the outcome
showed we lacked influence.’ Quite how that will go down in the, erm, ‘court of public opinion’ — especially when Miliband is asked the question ‘Would you have said
No, or not?’ — is something that ought to concern Labour strategists over the next few days and weeks.


But the trickiest position, I’d say, is reserved for Nick Clegg. The FT’s Kiran Stacey has a great post about Lib Dem concerns
here
. But the basic point is that Clegg’s statement this morning — which highlighted the coalition’s ‘united’ front in last
night’s discussions — will only go so far in reassuring the party’s europhile supporters, still hurting from the tuition fees fiasco and all that.

What’s becoming increasingly clear is that Clegg is going to have to reach out far beyond his party’s wavering traditional vote at the next election. Either that, or kick some dirt in Tory faces
over the ECHR, or something like that, in the meantime. ‘Tis one to keep an eye on in the new year.


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