Listen to Jon Cruddas, Ed – give us a referendum

3:49 pm - January 23rd 2013

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by Renie Anjeh

This morning, David Cameron promised the British people a referendum by late 2017. Ed Miliband was right to question the timing of such referendum. He was also right to question the “pick and mix” Europe that Cameron was promoting. He was wrong to rule out (or appear to rule out) a referendum.

This could have all been avoided if Ed Miliband called for an in/out referendum in his conference speech, making it clear that Labour would support an ‘in’ vote. Not only would that have created absolute chaos for the Tories but it would have made Labour credible on the issue of Europe. Ed Balls and Jim Murphy have both hinted at the possibility of Labour holding a referendum.

There are also shadow ministers who are signatories of the People’s Pledge – namely Tom Harris, Jim Fitzpatrick and Jon Cruddas. Will they have to resign because of their support for a referendum?

The dormant Eurosceptic wing of the Labour Party – such as Frank Field, Kate Hoey, Graham Stringer and the Labour left – could erupt very shortly. If Labour divides over Europe then it would be a blessing for the Tories. That’s not to say that the Tories are now clean from their troubles on Europe.

In the unlikely event of the Tory majority in 2015, Cameron would face a two-year battle over Europe. He would have to deal with the embarrassing spectacle of Tory cabinet ministers publicly rowing over whether Britain should stay in or out and he would have to pick a side. Cameron is risking collateral damage to the Tories by even supporting a referendum, yet alone promising one.

However, that is not the reason why Labour should support a referendum. Pro-Europeans, who argue that refusing a referendum is a sign of strength, are wrong. Refusal to give a referendum would just be running scared of the Eurosceptics. Pro-Europeans also need to recognise that the public have never had say on their membership of Europe. Instead, they should embrace a referendum as an opportunity.

It would open up a national debate which would settle the European Question for good – and pro-Europeans can win.

Ed Miliband should listen to Jon Cruddas and call for a referendum, or else people will start to ask: ‘Ed Miliband does not trust the people, so why on earth should the people trust Ed Miliband?’

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Reader comments

The issue hasn’t been about being in or out of the EU for decades. It’s about being part of an EU that is stable, democratic and in all our interests, not just businesses.

I’d rather Miliband argued for a positive vision of our role in the union than be drawn into the silly obsessions of right-wing xenophobes.

It seems to me the Labour position is quite confused. One would have thought the time they have had to come up with a party position the message would be clear. What they appear to be saying is they are opposed to an in/out referendum, but we have not ruled it out. I think they blundered by not offering a referendum before Mr Cameron. Are Labour really going to fight the next GE on a ticket of refusing the people a say in their future? That is an inherently negative stance that will not poll well.

A “pick and mix Europe” is precisely what the UK already has so that is no change. Whether the “pick and mix” is the right mix is the crucial question to be answered. We are only half in Europe when we are outside the European monetary union anyway. That monetary union must fundamentally alter to survive, so I don’t think it is beyond the pale for the UK to also change its “pick and mix” relationship as the EMU evolves. Of course change may mean leave.

An excellent piece that largely aligns with my own views.

Milliband missed an incredible opportunity in not offering a referendum late last year. Instead, he’s handed the political advantage to Cameron and finds himself defending the indefensible – namely – that the British people shouldn’t have a right to choose. Political capital has already been lost, but if he’s wise he’ll stop being so elitist and amend his views pronto.

Have courage in your own convictions EM! Call for a referendum. Fight for continued membership.

Who needs a referendum, anyway? “Miliband has ruled one out! Miliband has ruled one out! For ever and ever and ever!” Thus shrieked the BBC. Even though the man from The People’s Pledge on The Daily Politics had not heard him do any such thing. Even though David Cameron only feet away had not heard him do any such thing.

And even though Douglas Alexander tried valiantly to explain simple concepts to Martha Kearney, including that “We never say never,” but merely continued to hold, in no change whatever to previous policy, that such a thing would not be appropriate at the present juncture. So, never absolutely ruled out, as it had been repeatedly and emphatically by Cameron and Hague until mere hours ago.

The BBC might have thought that Peter Mandelson and Tony Blair were the appropriate people to interview. But the Labour Whips Office, when not campaigning for Departments of State to take the Morning Star, managed to put up at PMQs the figures of Ian Lavery and Dennis Skinner. They asked about other (and very timely) things, but they made the point by standing up and speaking at all. Seated alongside each other, they had first been elected 40 years apart. The aberration in the middle is now well and truly that: an aberration.

David Cameron is not going to be holding a referendum until the end of 2017. Or, rather, he is not going to be holding a referendum at all, because he is not going to win the 2015 General Election. Nor need Ed Miliband hold one. Already committed explicitly to two more specific powers for repatriation than Cameron is, and also implicitly committed to the repatriation of agriculture and of fisheries, he could and should simply legislate to those and many more such effects.

Backed up by Ed Balls, by Jon Cruddas, by John Cryer, possibly still by Dennis Skinner now that there are not going to be boundary changes after all, and certainly by Ian Lavery’s 2010 intake and by that of 2015.

Excellent piece – been saying for some time that pro-europeans need to spend time thinking about how to win a referendum, not how to prevent one occuring as it has been inevitable for some time.

Milliband bottled it last year – the gains were always going to go to the leader who announced it first. He needs a motivational coach to give him confidence….

It would open up a national debate which would settle the European Question for good

Well, for a bit anyway.

7. domestic extremist

“It would open up a national debate which would settle the European Question for good – and pro-Europeans can win.”

No it wouldn’t. Even if a referendum was held in the near future, new generations are coming of age all the time, and are liable to resent any assumption that they should be bound by votes cast by their elders. Equally the EU is likely to evolve over time, which is another reason why UK membership needs to be subject to periodic referenda.

@1 – Times are changing. The eurozone crisis has made the country question its membership of the EU more than ever. Euroscepticism has sadly become the order of the day because pro-Europeans have not been hard-headed enough on Europe and have ended up defended the status quo. Ed Miliband made bold steps to address this by rightly calling for a real-terms EU budget cut. To EU referendum is the silly obsession of rightwing xenophobes is offensive to the majority of people. It is about democracy – people want a say about the institutions that govern them.
@2 – I agree with the first bit. The second bit, is what I disagree with. We do not have ‘pick and mix’ Europe, countries can have certain opt-outs but we have to follow the rules. Being the EU is like being in a footclub. Imagine if Wilshere told the Arsenal team, let’s ignore the offside rule or play rugby instead? That is what Cameron is doing. We can have reform of the European Union which I am in favour of, but pick and mix for Britain is not an option.
@3 – The problem is, is that there is a real lack of clarity and Ed Miliband needs to clean up his act on this issue. The point of Cameron’s referendum pledge was to try and win over those voters who are likely to vote UKIP.
@7 – I think you may have a point but the European Question would not arise for a very long time.

The referendum debate is so much political froth.

This in Wednesday’s FT makes grim reading:

Weak economy puts pound under pressure

It seems that the changes Cameron really wants are all things to screw workers. I’d rather be ruled from Brussels on those matters than be subject to Tory bullshit.

10, but that would not be on the ballot paper. It would be Cameron’s renegotiated deal, or withdrawal. Withdrawal it would be, then.

I love the BBC. I cannot, nor would I wish to, imagine Britain without it.

But today, and not for the first time, the BBC is a liar, endlessly replaying half a clip of David Cameron in order to distort the meaning of the reply (which in any case is not his job) by Ed Miliband. This was all corrected within an hour by Douglas Alexander on The World at One. But do not try and tell the Beeb that.

Anyway, as I have already explained today, there is no need for a referendum. As much as anything else, it would only deliver a Yes vote. What is needed is legislation. But a referendum would unite the Left like nothing since, well, I am not entirely sure what, exactly. Two options: whatever David Cameron had managed to “renegotiate”, or out. No contest.

There would be a contest, however, for the BBC’s beloved UKIP. As a party, rather than as individual Old Right or, it turns out, Old Left members, UKIP professes to be all in favour of Thatcher’s Single Market. It is to everything else that the party objects. Cameron says that he is going to get rid of everything else, but save the Single Market.

What, in that event, would UKIP say? What, in that event, would UKIP do? How, in that event, would UKIP vote? How, in that event, could UKIP, as a party, possibly hope to survive?

I tend towards a pro-EU position. In a referendum asking whether we should keep the EU we have now or get out, I’d almost certainly decide we should stay in. But if the referendum offers a choice of either getting out or having a Cameronised, renegotiated EU membership with even more opt-outs from European social protections than we already have, I see no reason to vote to stay in.

If Cameron succeeds in his renegotiations (which is a big If), should Labour then campaign for a Yes to a half-in, half-out membership of Europe with even more social opt-outs than we already have? If Labour got back into power, would it be able to drop these opt-outs? Would it need a fresh referendum to do so?

Under the circumstances, I see no way that Miliband could or should support Cameron’s referendum. If he were to back a referendum it ought to be on Labour’s terms. Why should the public be forced into a false choice between Cameron’s EU and no EU?

@8 Renie

People’s views on Europe are largely misinformed due to lies in the press. Hardly an ideal starting point for a sensible debate.

Though we’ve seen the true weakness of the Euro I can’t remember any of the europhobes pointing it out beforehand. Claims of excessive regulation and silty legislation were the order of the day. As far as I can see the real motivation for many in UKIP and the Tory right is simply xenophobia.

Whenever the likes of the CBI moan about excessive red tape they are often hard pressed to demonstrate anything specific. Surveys, IIRC, tend to undermine their complaint. What they actually want is the removal of any workers’ rights.

So, anyway, it’s done now. We stand to lose a lot in the Tory re-negotiations. Could we hope that this precipitates positive moves on monetary union and its fiscal implications instead of the policy of kicking the can down the road and hoping something will come up? Could Cameron find allies in countries such as Norway, who want EU trade and might want more influence but who have concerns about monetary union?

Miliband is right not to commit to Cameron’s referendum because we don’t know what the choices will be. I still think that this is the politics of the 90s and should be left there, but if Labour wanted to promise a referendum it should be on something more solid.

“Though we’ve seen the true weakness of the Euro I can’t remember any of the europhobes pointing it out beforehand. Claims of excessive regulation and silty legislation were the order of the day. As far as I can see the real motivation for many in UKIP and the Tory right is simply xenophobia”

Blind as well as thick..

“It would be Cameron’s renegotiated deal,”

That isn’t going to happen. The rest of the EU are not going to agree to anything based on what they’ll see as a blackmail. Cameron will be left having to call a referendum on the EU as it shaped by other EU countries, not on his prefered EU-lite.

17. Juggzy Malone

Ed said that he wasn’t in favour of the referendum that Bumface was proposing. Yes, he could have said that more clearly.

I think you’ll find that Labour hasn’t ruled out a referendum on a renegotiated contract with Europe – we simply don’t have the terms and conditions on such a thing, yet.

Oh, and referendums are horribly expensive. Can we really afford a referendum about nothing in particular the results of which can be spun any which way or whatever? That’s another good thing about Ed not being in favour of the referendum that Bumface was proposing.

18. Robin Levett

@Renie Anjeh OP and #8:

Pro-Europeans also need to recognise that the public have never had say on their membership of Europe.

What happened in 1975 then?

I think you may have a point but the European Question would not arise for a very long time.

It took all of 8 years for Labour to get from (broadly – although both major parties were split) support for Europe at the referendum to promising withdrawal from the EU in its 1983 manifesto.

19. Robin Levett

@Renie Anjeh #8:

Ed Miliband made bold steps to address this by rightly calling for a real-terms EU budget cut

Really? You didn’t see that this was pure political point-scoring?

There was never any prospect of a real-terms budget cut. Quite apart from any arguments for/against such a cut and the lack of clarity (to be polite) or general agreement as to where a cut would fall (each state that did want a cut wanted it to fall on someone else’s benefits), the effect of disagreement over the budget would be that the budget would rise 2% as an inflation adjustment – higher than the Rompuy proposal. Cameron therefore had no bargaining power whatsoever. Milliband made the call he did purely to embarrass Cameron; either Cameron rejected the call, and enraged his Eurosceptics, or he went along with it and looked stupid in Europe.

20. David Ellis

Why should the Labour Party promise a divisive `in-out’ referendum that can benefit only the Little Englanders. Labour should stand on a policy of renegotiation of the founding treaties with other EU working class parties in accordance with socialist principles and pledge in the meantime if elected not to carry out any of the anti-working class edicts of the neo-liberal EU such as privatisation. In the event that there is an `in-out’ referendum it will be necessary to vote for `out’ as socialist cannot positively vote for the neo-liberal ideology that underpins the EU as is and no doubt the renegotiated treaty Cameron will be offering and asking people to vote positively for will see the Working Time Directive, Human Rights and any other minimum rights the EU affords the working class all disappeared.

@ 18 – In 1975, people had their say on their membership of the EEC. That is not actually the same as the EU, which was formed due to the Maastricht Treaty (there should have been a referendum on that). The Labour Party in 1983 was a political entity which was in grave need of repair, part of the reason why the SDP was founded and Labour was rejected for a good 18 years.
@19 – It was the right call. It was the Labour Party saying very clearly that the EU should not be increasing its budget when countries across Europe are having to make cuts. A real-term cut was the right call, and yes it did embarass Cameron but it was still the completely right thing to do and was a long-held position. The CAP and many EU allowances could be reduced, so it was not unrealistic. Do you think the EU Budget should rise by an extra 2% at a time of austerity?
@20 – Absolute rubbish. Is Jenny Jones a Little Englander? Is Peter Mandelson a Little Englander? A 70% of the country, Little Englanders? That is just completely offensive and uninformed. It is about democracy – the people should have a say, and Labour is the party of the people. As for your ‘socialist nirvana’, name one country that would accept your belief that would renegotiate the whole terms of the EU? Just one country that would accept, your narrow and ideological propositions? Calling for withdrawal is probably a more realistic argument, if that is what you are proposing.

22. Robin Levett

@Renie Anjeh #21:

In 1975, people had their say on their membership of the EEC. That is not actually the same as the EU, which was formed due to the Maastricht Treaty

Apart from the Euro, the Maastricht Treaty was largely a change of name and rebranding of what had been going on in Europe for many years. Why the Single European Act (itself rather more significant for Europe than Maastricht) or Maastricht should have required a referendum, or can be seen as fundamental changes not foreseeen in 1975 escapes me. After all, the Tories in 1974 were making quite clear that membership was “not a matter of accountancy” and promising to press for greater European unity in areas of benefit to Britain. But then perhaps you weren’t alive or politically aware at the time?

The Labour Party in 1983 was a political entity which was in grave need of repair, part of the reason why the SDP was founded and Labour was rejected for a good 18 years.

Point of fact; the 1992 election followed 3 years of Labour leads in the opinion polls – the result was a surprise…

This doesn’t answer my point. Your claim was that an in/out referendum in 2017 on a specific set of proposals meant that “the European Question” would not arise for a very long time. Mine was that UK politics was such that it took only 8 years for “the European Question” to arise again after the last in/out referendum; to the extent that one of the major parties put exit in its manifesto (and the other already had a substantial minority of “Eurosceptics” questioning continued membership). Why would the 2017 referendum settle things for any more than 8 years? Or is it your contention that 8 years is “a very long time”?

@ Robin Levett:

The Labour Party didn’t change much between 1975 and 1983, however the leadership did.

Conference was 2:1 in favour of leaving the EEC at the time of the referendum. (As a result, Labour itself was not involved in the referendum campaign). However, most of the new Labour government was in favour following renegotiation of our terms of membership.

24. Robin Levett

@Jack C #23:

Fair point (although remember that back in 1975, Labour Party Conference was somewhat affected by union block votes, and the TUC was adamantly opposed to EEC membership); but it doesn’t affect the broader point that the one referendum we have had settled “the European Question” (on a 2-1 majority, no less) only until one of the major parties decided to raise it again as a result of its own internal politics. It’s a little like the Schleswig-Holstein question; whenever anyone gets close to answering it, the question changes.

An in-out referendum result favouring remaining in would not lead to the dissolution of UKIP, or shut up the Tory Eurosceptic wing for longer than 5 minutes. As we have seen and heard over Lords/boundary reform, principle is for other people, what matters is getting their way.

It certainly was affected by block voting, but this remained true beyond 1983.

I do agree that the question wouldn’t go away, the 70’s referendum on Scottish and Welsh independence being good analogies, but this rather depends on the scale of the result doesn’t it?

The 1975 margin was indeed 2:1, but the EU is rather different now. Given the changes to come in the Eurozone, a new mandate seems reasonable to me, and I doubt that it will just be the UK. Ireland will have to have a referendum, as their constitution dictates it, and this probably applies to Germany as well.

One other question arises: why was Labour against membership, and were they right?

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