European elections 2014: Labour MPs call on Ed Miliband to promise a European referendum
Andrew Grice has been Political Editor of The Independent since 1998. He was previously Political Editor of The Sunday Times, where he worked for 10 years, and he has been a Westminster-based journalist since 1982. His column, Inside Politics, appears in The Independent each Saturday.
Sunday 25 May 2014
Ed Miliband will be put under pressure from Labour MPs calling on him to promise a referendum on Europe in the wake of the Euro elections.
Fifteen Labour MPs have already urged Mr Miliband to match David Cameron’s promise of a referendum and will renew their demand as a way to limit the threat from Ukip at next year’s general election.
Several Labour MPs believe Ukip’s advance in last Thursday’s local and European elections showed it could win working class votes and deprive Labour of victory in key marginal seats where Labour and the Conservatives are in a tight race.
Frank Field, Labour MP for Birkenhead and a supporter of a referendum, said on Sunday: “The greatest challenge Ukip poses is to Labour. If we are to win next year, it will be Ukip that becomes our main opposition.
“If we lose, after the country going through the worst recession ever, we could see part of our vote moving over permanently. For much of this vote, we don’t represent their interests any more and Ukip is prepared to voice their fears on immigration, which rate high in their politics.”
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But allies of Mr Miliband made clear that there was “absolutely no prospect” he would change his stance on Europe.
In March, the Labour leader said a referendum was “unlikely” in the 2015-20 parliament if he is prime minister, but promised to hold one if Britain proposed to hand more powers to the European Union.
Miliband supporters insist that Ukip poses more of a threat to the Tories than to Labour But some Labour MPs believe the party leadership is still underestimating the danger from Nigel Farage’s party.
There are tensions in the Shadow Cabinet over Labour’s campaign for the elections. Allies of Yvette Cooper, the shadow Home Secretary, suggested that she wanted a harder line against Ukip.
But Miliband supporters insisted Ms Cooper was asked by the leader’s office to write a newspaper article attacking the anti-EU party.
Some shadow ministers complain that Labour’s campaign was “all about Ed” but the leader’s allies replied that some frontbenchers did not pull their weight. “A lot of people are being wise after the event,” said one.
On Sunday Harriet Harman, Labour’s deputy leader, said: “As far as the public is concerned, us turning inwards and having self-criticism is not a good idea. We need to be listening to their concerns and acting on them.”
Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, she dismissed the idea there was an “Ed Miliband problem” and urged voters to judge him on what he had done.
“Since 2010 when Ed Miliband became leader we have had the momentum of moving forward when people are voting. The momentum is there,” she said.
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