The Tories have been hoping that their pledge for a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU would split Labour – it was the rationale behind John Baron’s regular pushes for legislation in this parliament for a referendum in the next, which David Cameron eventually satisfied as far as he could with the Wharton Bill. But so far the only dissenting voices on Ed Miliband’s pledge today for an ‘unlikely’ referendum have been the usual suspects on the backbenches such as Graham Stringer and John Mann. That’s hardly a ‘furious backlash’ and more expected and manageable rage – at present, anyway.
It will be interesting to see whether there are many more senior figures who break cover or at least brief off the record about the Labour stance on this issue. But Miliband’s team certainly don’t think there will be. One says to me that:-
‘Ian Austin and Tom Watson may have their say on this at some point, but we’re not expecting anything like what the Tories have had to put up with.’
Whether or not their judgement is correct on this will tell us a fair bit not just about how well Miliband knows his own party, but also how loyal his team feel towards him. The benefit of installing so many Milibandites in the most recent reshuffle is that many of them do have that personal loyalty – but others, such as Andy Burnham, have long pressed for a referendum pledge and may feel as though this is a rubbishy compromise. Some Labour figures see Burnham’s increasingly vocal interventions on issues such as HS2 as a sign that he’s gearing up for Labour to lose in 2015 and fight a leadership contest after that in which he’ll look to gain significant support from the left of the party. It will be interesting to see if he lets slip his views on this matter too.