A response: why the ‘Labour for an EU Referendum’ campaign is crucial now


11:30 am - May 17th 2013

by Guest    


      Share on Tumblr

by Dominic Moffitt

Firstly, I’d like to thank Sunny, for saying that the campaign for Labour to support an EU referendum is “cool”.

He’s right; out of all the groups calling for the Labour Party to support a policy launched this week, Labour for a Referendum is the most in vogue.

However, on the main crux of his article, that our campaign is “Dead on Arrival”, we would have to, somewhat controversially, disagree.

Sunny outlines three main points for his argument. I will try and rebut each of these points as thoroughly, fairly and, crucially, quickly as possible.

1) Supporting a referendum would make Eurosceptic Tory backbenchers more demanding.

I don’t see this as being Ed Miliband’s problem. If Labour supported a referendum one suspects that Tory MPs would attempt to push their own leader into a more hardline position rather than ours.

Sure, Tory backbenchers might become more demanding, but that would only lead them to more internal bickering, rather than dividing our party?

2) You shouldn’t get involved when your opponents are infighting.

The idea that we should adopt a grab-the-popcorn approach to opposition and let the victory come to us seems flawed. While it makes perfect sense not to rush into policy commitments so far before the election, when we see the Tories in disarray we should capitalise on it as best we can.

Milk that subject for all it’s worth. Grab it and run. Put a spanner in the works. Use whatever metaphor you want, but sitting back and relaxing is easy, but it is no path to a Labour majority.

3) Labour’s line is settled, we can’t go back on it now.

We’re not expecting to change Labour’s policy by the end of the week. That’s not the plan. What we want is for a commitment to an EU referendum to be in our 2015 manifesto. We think it’s the right thing to do, we think it’s popular and we think it will help get Ed Miliband in 10 Downing Street.

But we’re happy to play the long game. 2017 is indeed “far, far away”, although it is likely/definitely going to be half as far away when we go into the next election. Everything Miliband has said about it so far has been couched in language that suggests that this is a policy liable to change if circumstances do.

Our job, as Labour for a Referendum, is to make sure that the pressure is kept on, and that Miliband knows just how helpful a pledge could be.

Finally, I can only apologise that Labour for a Referendum did not exist a year ago. Circumstances changed.


Dominic Moffitt is Campaign Director for Labour for a Referendum

    Share on Tumblr   submit to reddit  


About the author
This is a guest post.
· Other posts by


Story Filed Under: Blog ,Europe ,Foreign affairs

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.


Reader comments


1. Mary Coulthard

Labour would be giving the organising platform its opponents will need to work for the demise of its government if it offers and in-out referendum. Talk about chewing your own leg off.

Labour need to offer not a referendum but a radical new vision for Europe and the EU (full employment, EU-wide living wage, end the bail out, People’s Banks, socialised monopolies, worker-elected management) which it will seek to negotiate with like-minded partners. In the meantime it should pledge not to enact anti-working class neo-liberal EU edicts and to renationalise the NHS whatever Brussels says about unfair blocking of markets. The working class needs to determine its own attitude to Europe and the EU not let some petit-bourgeois rabble decide for it.

Try this in Friday’s FT: Britain is hurtling along the road to a European exit

It will be challenging to attract inward business investment to Britain while that uncertainty overhangs any decisions, which will only help to prolong economic stagnation with persisting poor job prospects.

It will be challenging to attract inward business investment to Britain while that uncertainty overhangs any decisions, which will only help to prolong economic stagnation with persisting poor job prospects.

More or less exactly the same argument was made about Britain joining the Euro in the late 90s – we’d find it very hard to attract foreign direct investment if we stayed out of the Euro. In 2007 the UK was the 3rd highest recipient of FDI in the world, and easily the biggest in Europe (since the financial crash FDI has collapsed all over the world).

4. Natacha Kennedy

“2) You shouldn’t get involved when your opponents are infighting.

The idea that we should adopt a grab-the-popcorn approach to opposition and let the victory come to us seems flawed. While it makes perfect sense not to rush into policy commitments so far before the election, when we see the Tories in disarray we should capitalise on it as best we can.

Milk that subject for all it’s worth. Grab it and run. Put a spanner in the works. Use whatever metaphor you want, but sitting back and relaxing is easy, but it is no path to a Labour majority.”

Sorry Dominic this is a spurious argument. You have (deliberately?) conflated the general with the specific. Of course GENERALLY we should not sit back and expect Tory disarray and failure to hand Labour victory at the next election. But on this SPECIFIC instance, not interrupting the enemy while s/he is making a mistake, is a principle that remains sound.

In fact, if Labour did this right now, it would enable the media, especially the BBC, which has clearly now, directed by Central Office, to focus on Labour “divisions” and “splits” and portray us as divided in the same way as the Tories, and take the heat off the Tories while they squabble and disintegrate.

I heard Ed Miliband speak at a Socialist Societies reception last night and one of the things he said was that our main enemy is not the Tories but “the parties all the same”. We need to demonstrate that Labour is different if we are going to win. Appearing to do the same thing as the Tories, is only going to reinforce this dangerous impression and will be something the media will seize upon gleefully to try and reinforce.

I have trouble being polite. The Labour campaign to put Murdoch, the Barclay brothers, whatever PoS owns the Mail, UKIP and the BNP in charge of British politics should be strangled on arrival. How stupid can you get?

As #4 said, it is not “sitting back and grabbing the popcorn root to victory. This issue is toxic for the Tories, by jumping on a bandwagon, we would be letting them off the hook. Moreover, it is more advantageous if we concentrate on the things that matter, the economy, jobs, welfare reform, the things that when the election comes, the voters will care most about. We better to let the Tories bang on about Europe, while we are the party that concentrate on the things that really matter to voters.

While it may be fun to watch this ridiculous obsession with the EU take its toll on the Tories, to join in would also be foolish. Much better to call for and end to the instability it causes and the damage to putative foreign investment in the UK.

One of the reasons we don’t have the kind of influence we should have in the EU is this stupid, spurious in/ out debate. There are bigger issues such as the fiscal / currency unification problem and the sort of direction we need Europe to follow, as Mary @1 suggests.

The EU is our biggest trading partner and with the new trade agreement with the US forthcoming it can only become more significant. While the would-be robber barons behind the Tories might like the idea of removing every level of protection from us poor proles the truth is Britain would suffer terribly outside the EU.

If you want to do the political calculus then don’t play the game the Tories have started. In the terms described in the OP it looks like the kind of cynical politicking hated by the public. Much better to rise above it and take a practical and principled stand in any debate if the referendum ever materialises.

8. Richard W

Only the terminally slow in the uptake fail to realise that of all the options available it is the status quo that is unacceptable. The UK/EU relationship will change whether there is a referendum or not. The future EU for all intents and purposes will be the European Monetary Union. The UK will not join the EMU so under the status quo relationship can’t influence anything anyway. Therefore, the status quo relationship would mean all the disadvantages of the union with no advantages of policy independence. That is why the status quo is the worst outcome, it is better to negotiate a different relationship from the inside or leave and negotiate on an ad hoc basis.

Denying the people a say just looks a stitch up by the political class. Refusing to countenance a referendum because you fear that you may lose is moral cowardice. Look, there is not going to be a renegotiation of the EU around “socialist or lefty principles”. The left in Europe are about as popular as the salad on Eric Pickles menu. That is the stuff of fantasy politics the direction of European macro policies is not towards policies favoured by the left. I don’t think the Tories or Labour will get a renegotiation that is acceptable to the vast majority. Therefore, the real options probably will be permanent isolation or leave.

As Wolfgang Munchau among others have pointed out the benefits of the single market are almost nonexistent in economic data. Therefore, the scaremongering of the downside risks of exit must also be overstated. The idea that a country must be part of a larger union to negotiate trade deals is risible. This is the mob who do not have free trade deals with the U.S. and China. You know the two largest economies in the world. Forty years of membership and no trade deal with the U.S. is a long negotiation. The problem is not with the rest of the world. It is the protectionist instincts of the Europeans, with their persecution of Chinese solar panel manufacturers the latest of their crimes.

There is absolutely nothing that the UK left like about what has come from the EU that could not have been implemented with a majority in the HoC. Expecting others externally to implement a policy when you can’t domestically win the argument is moral cowardice. Tory infighting over Europe is unlikely to harm them as much as it would have done in the past. The electorate now are just not paying as much attention to the machinations of the political class. Eventually the question is going to be answered by the people in a vote and if Labour do not act proactively they will just look weak.

3

“More or less exactly the same argument was made about Britain joining the Euro in the late 90s – we’d find it very hard to attract foreign direct investment if we stayed out of the Euro.”

That’s a very silly argument since entirely different considerations apply to being part of a European single market for trade access and harmonising technical standards or becoming part of a European monetary union. As Delors said in an interview with the Telegraph in December 2011:

“Euro doomed from start, says Jacques Delors: The euro project was flawed from the start and the current generation of European leaders has failed to address its fundamental problems, Jacques Delors, the architect of the single currency, declares today. ”

According to the eligibilty criteria set out in the Maastricht Treaty for joining a currency union, only Luxembourg was eligible to join but politicians decided to over-ride the treaty criteria so as to speed up European integration as they believed that politics trumped economics. For a reliable report, try: Birth of the Euro (Penguin Book).

I first became informed of the prospective risks to macroeconomic stability from creating a monetary union unless the conditions for an optimum currency area were met and the union went ahead without political and – mostly importantly – fiscal union on reading Rudi Dornbusch on: Euro Fantasies, in Foreign Affairs September 1996:
http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/52431/rudiger-dornbusch/euro-fantasies-common-currency-as-panacea

Sadly, there is a costly pay barrier to access that paper but the relevant analysis is included in Rudi Dornbusch’s textbook on: Macroeconomics (McGraw Hill). Dornbusch, born a German national, was professor of international economics at the MIT. There are other academic papers available online which spelt out the potential hazards of monetary union in the wrong conditions – try googling for: Martin Feldstein on: EMU and International Conflict

What we have learned to our cost in Europe is that politics doesn’t trump economics.

Wolfgang Munchau in the FT may well be right about saying Britain doesn’t need to belong to the EU but withdrawal will certainly create uncertainty, when we desperately need to get Britain’s economy growing again to generate greater tax revenues so as to pay down the budget deficit.

There remains the fundamental issue of whether Britain will be better placed to defend British interests by continuing as a member of the EU or by withdrawing.

The EU won’t disappear if Britain leaves but we will be obliged to accept EU decisions on technical standards, trade access, and, very importantly, currency transactions. Several financial centres in the Eurozone look with envy on the status of London as a global financial centre.

Try this prescient paper from Martin Feldstein, professor of economics at Harvard: “EMU and international conflict” (Foreign Affairs, 1997)

To most Americans, European economic and monetary union seems like an obscure financial undertaking of no relevance to the United States. That perception is far from correct. If EMU does come into existence, as now seems increasingly likely, it will change the political character of Europe in ways that could lead to conflicts in Europe and confrontations with the United States.
http://www.nber.org/feldstein/fa1197.html

Under the guise of giving the people a democratic choice, the pro-referendum lobby is, in fact, the get- Britain-out lobby.

If voters want that, let them vote Ukip (or, the way things are going, Tory) at the next general election.

Labour should not give any quarter to these little-England reactionaries and racists. The likes of the ‘Morning Star’,Seumas Milne, and elements within ‘Blue Labour’ who think there’s a “progressive” case for EU exit and therefore want Labour to commit to a referendum, are playing into the hands of the isolationist right. Labour should have no truck with Ukip’s useful idiots.

12. Charlieman

@8. Richard W: “The UK/EU relationship will change whether there is a referendum or not. The future EU for all intents and purposes will be the European Monetary Union.”

Isn’t that hypothesis dependent on the Euro being what it was perceived to be before the banking catastrophe? The UK and Denmark will not join the Euro full stop; Sweden will join when the economy of Greece converges with its own, which will occur shortly before the implosion of the sun. At least four Euro zone countries with huge populations cannot afford to be members any longer.

Of the outsiders, Poland or the Czech Republic might see membership of the Euro zone as a long term goal, but they don’t seem to be gagging for it on current terms.

The EU cannot expand if Euro zone membership is an obligation. For years, Turkey has been a tentative applicant (no, I don’t understand either) so that opportunity is closed off.

“Only the terminally slow in the uptake fail to realise that of all the options available it is the status quo that is unacceptable.”

Now that’s spot on.

13. donuthingeparty

Sorry but this is singularly unhelpful. What is needed is stability, and soon. The best thing Labour can do is pledge NOT to hold a referendum for five years and to work within the EU to have our needs listened to. At the moment, international companies which might want to come to Britain have no idea whether the whole shop will be thrown up in the air or not, so arent investing. Plus, of course, Cameron is already negotiating so we’re either saying we want an EU change based on him (working time directive and whatever the hell else) or we’re going to have to go back to the EU in 2015 and say “hey, you know that stuff we wanted? Well we want more.

14. donuthingeparty

Oh, and don’t forget that Blair’s rebate exemption which he allowed to cover the costs of the Accession countries expires this year, so we’ll get that back anyway. Whatever you do, don’t let Cameron get away with claiming credit for it.

This headlined report in Saturday’s Financial Times may well be what is generating the pressure for Britain to withdraw from the EU:

Bonus cap to catch tens of thousands more bankers in Europe
http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/d379d10a-bee8-11e2-a9d4-00144feab7de.html

Recap: In testimony on 24 October 2008 to the US House of Representatives Oversight Committee, Alan Greenspan said: “Those of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholders’ equity, myself included, are in a state of shocked disbelief.”

“The Financial Times has examined what has happened since the crisis to the payrolls of 13 glocal financial institutions – expressed as a proportion of pay plus net profits (including those distributed as dividends). This approach allows you to see how the ‘cake’ has been shared out between employees and shareholders.

“What the analysis shows is that the lion’s share has been taken home by the bankers in the form of pay and bonuses, rather than paid out to investors or left in the business to support lending activity. The part represented by payroll has on average gone up from 58 per cent in 2006 to 84 per cent last year. Meanwhile, the share accounted for by dividends has slumped by two-thirds – from 15 per cent to just 5 per cent. . . Banks’ return on assets – an unleveraged measure of performance – has barely changed in decades.” [Financial Times 5 June 2012]

16. Richard Carey

The notion that the major parties ignoring the calls for independence will give stability misses the fact that the major parties are reacting (or not) to the pre-existing and growing desires for independence. So the cause of the ‘instability’ is the people who want independence and/or feel the political class is treating them with contempt, and the stances of the major parties is only an effect.

“In the meantime it should pledge not to enact anti-working class neo-liberal EU edicts and to renationalise the NHS whatever Brussels says about unfair blocking of markets.”

I agree Labour should be campaigning against Europe-wide measures to enforce privatisation and drive down wages – but being realistic the EU would find such behaviour massively more objectionable than right wingers demanding exclusion from migration rules. Should any attempt be made to reduce their role, private healthcare companies would sue, and do so successfully.

To renationalise the railways or NHS (the most routine demands of the left wing of the Labour Party) would, I think, mean leaving the EU.

Labour should not give any quarter to these little-England reactionaries and racists

I hate it when lefty people throw around such insults so easily. Would John McDonnell also be included in that category then?

I wish I could feel confident that people would consider the issues and vote on the merits of the case.

As it is, if Labour wants the outcome of the vote to be pro-EU, rather than have it distorted by a midterm protest vote, they should hold the referendum either in 2015 (November if need be) or failing that 2020 (coinciding with the following GE – a bit more risky).

one reason for labour going for an early referendum that has not been raised is that if cameron mannages to renegotitate the eu treaties we will get the bits the left/greens/liberals like removed and the bits that the right like enhanced. an early referendum forced in alliance with the tory right that does not allow cameron to renogitiate would now be for the best

one reason for labour changing tack and going for an early referendum that has not been widely considered is the issue of renegotiation. if cameron is aloud to renegotiate he will remove the thing about the treaties that the left/liberal/greens eg like and enhance the things that the right like. an early referendum would deny cameron the chance to renegotiate. of course we would then need a stategy for winning it.

Just remember that if we want to do anything about the way corporation tax is applied through the single market, we would have to leave anyway.

Sunny asks (about my description of the anti-EU crowd as “reactionaries and racists”): “Would John McDonnell also be included in that category then?”

I’m afraid that, good guy as he is on many issues, Comrade McDonnell is, objectively, in that camp. Our job is to educate the “mainstream” left, not to pander to their backwardness or humour them just because some of them are good people in general.

It cannot be repeated frequently enough: there *is no* “left” case for campaigning for EU exit. Leftists who delude themselves that there is are the useful idiots of Ukip.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs




Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.