Editorial: Mr Miliband can afford to be bolder on Europe

Labour's position is sensible, but its presentation has been shambolic

Share
Related Topics

Labour's leadership has helped to make the past few days easier for David Cameron than they should have been. Normally the party's media operation is as disciplined as it was when Alastair Campbell ruled. Shadow cabinet members stick to a message with machine-like rigidity, even if their words are light on policy detail. In the leadership's response to David Cameron's speech on Europe, though, the opposite has applied.

As far as is possible in a fast-moving situation, Labour has a policy on Europe and referendums that is sensible and fairly principled. Yet the presentation of its position since Mr Cameron's speech has been shambolic. At Prime Minister's Questions, Ed Miliband appeared to rule out an in/out referendum. Within hours, his office clarified that he only meant he was ruling one out now. Later, on BBC's Newsnight, his spokeswoman on Europe, Emma Reynolds, appeared at once to rule one out and possibly rule one in. The sequence helped to make Mr Cameron appear more decisive than he had been and Labour more incoherent than it was.

So far as can be divined from these confused statements, the party leadership argues that promising an in/out referendum so long before its projected date will cause instability and deter business from long-term investment. While it does not see the case, or the need, for such a referendum, Labour cannot exclude holding one at all, given the state of flux in the eurozone and more widely in the European Union.

Of course, there is another crudely expedient reason why the Labour leadership refuses to rule out a referendum in the future. It might be forced to offer one in order to win an election – or not to lose one, if Mr Cameron's offer proves to be overwhelmingly popular in more than two years' time. This is a perfectly reasonable position for an opposition party to take, but its leaders need to work out a way of explaining this approach in a confident, accessible manner. In opposition, words are the only weapon available.

Mr Miliband deserves some credit for not acting with wholehearted opportunism by pre-empting Mr Cameron and offering a referendum earlier. In the short term, such a move would have unsettled the Prime Minister, made restive Conservative MPs even more insurrectionary and won Mr Miliband plaudits in the same Eurosceptic newspapers that are now cheering Mr Cameron. Such an initiative would also have been pathetically weak, as Mr Miliband – quite rightly – does not believe that a referendum is in the national interest. Nor, if he were to win the election, would he want to be diverted by having to win a plebiscite or face the catastrophic consequences of defeat. He has chosen the bolder course and one, in the medium term, that is also in his best interests; it moves him on to common ground with the Liberal Democrats and many business leaders. Currently, though, this common ground is almost as ill defined as Mr Cameron's leap into the unknown.

The Prime Minister's speech on Europe has raised many other big questions. For the first time since 1975, there is doubt about whether Britain will remain part of the EU, uncertainty about whether Mr Cameron would lead a campaign to stay in or pull out, and imprecision about what he would seek to negotiate if he won the next election – a prospect that is highly uncertain itself. For a single speech to generate such a destabilising set of questions presented the Opposition with an opportunity. So far, though, Labour has only shown how nervous it is about challenging Mr Cameron's Euroscepticism. Mr Miliband needs to summon up his courage, lay his Europhile cards clearly on the table and proceed from there.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Physiotherapist / Sports Therapist

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Physiotherapist / Sports Ther...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Advisor

£8 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives / Advisors are required...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operative

£14000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Ashdown Group: Senior .Net Developer - Kingston Upon Thames, Surrey

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A long-established, technology rich ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Women are less likely to become scientists and engineers  

International Women's Day: How much could be achieved if we scrapped the idea of 'male' jobs?

Anne Richards
Dame Maggie Smith stars in Downtown Abbey as Countess Violet  

We need to see Maggie Smith and Michael Gambon on stage again

David Lister
Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable