Are we going to let David Cameron be Harold Wilson?

16th January, 2013 3:16 pm

Even though we aren’t yet privy to any exact details – which has become something of a theme under this government – we can be pretty confident in what David Cameron will say in his speech on Friday.

Demands for changes to various laws and treaties, all in the name of securing “a better deal” for Britain, followed by the promise of a referendum. By turning any future referendum into a discussion not of EU membership more broadly, but toward the merits and demerits of the outcomes of such a deal, not only does Cameron make it more likely that people would vote to stay in the EU, but he is also is likely to placate many of the more Eurosceptic members of his party for the time being.

Of course, we’ve been here before. Labour’s referendum in 1975 centred less around the issue of European membership more generally, but more around the “better deal” achieved by Wilson in his own negotiations. This “better deal” essentially boiled down to the creation of the European Regional Development Fund; you can make your own minds up on whether we can call that a “better deal”. In reality though, it didn’t matter. What was important was that people felt that such a deal had been achieved and rewarded Wilson for it. Cameron appears to be positioning himself in the same way, and this is set to dominate debate about the EU in the near-future.

People may also remember how, just a few months ago, it seemed a likelihood that Labour would seize the initiative on this subject and offer a referendum on the EU based on improved terms. Nigel Farage referred to this as “the Jon Cruddas approach”, but you could call it “what Cameron is going to announce on Friday”. While Douglas Alexander now has a European speech scheduled for tomorrow, what he says has already become almost irrelevant. So known are the rough outlines of what will be in Cameron’s speech that trying to say we would do essentially the same will not work. He could announce that we will oppose what Cameron wants to renegotiate, or commit to an in-out referendum regardless of any negotiation outcomes, but I fear neither would make up for the missed opportunity of last year.

Having baulked at the chance to genuinely set the agenda, we are now in a position where we might not even be seriously afforded a hearing as an opposition. It is a tragedy that Labour did not do as many then suggested, and as a result have granted Cameron the initiative. The idea that Cameron appears most likely to lay claim to Wilson’s legacy is incredibly depressing, but it is worse still that this has left Labour with so few options. Cameron is often said to have many similarities to Edward Heath, but on this he is more like Wilson. Let us hope that this is not the policy that spurs Cameron to a majority.

  • Ian Young

    Cameron as Wilson on Europe? Strategically he’s more somewhere between John Major and Michael Foot.

    As for his main target for repatriation of powers-to deny British workers some fairly uncontroversial minimum common labour and social rights, puts Cameron politically nearer to Friedrich Hayek than Harold Wilson.

    And if the Labour Party can’t win the argument on that woeful agenda we should all pack up and go home.

    On the subject of Wilson, he may not of been a heartfelt European like Heath, but as a technocrat he realised the UK was no longer an imperial power with the economy of scale to go it alone against the might of huge economies like the US- an argument that is more relevant now than in the 1960s.

  • Daniel Speight

    A lack of courage on Ed Miliband’s part not to take the Cruddas approach I suspect.


  • News More free votes ahead? Labour MPs put pressure on Greenwood over Heathrow

    More free votes ahead? Labour MPs put pressure on Greenwood over Heathrow

    David Cameron is reportedly within days of making a decision on airport expansion, with many expecting him to support a a third runway at Heathrow. This could cause a headache for the Tories, with Boris Johnson, Zac Goldsmith and several Cabinet ministers all opposed to expanding Heathrow’s capacity. However, it could spell trouble for Labour too: Harriet Harman backed the Heathrow expansion recommended by the Davies Report in July, but the party are now committed to examining the evidence again. […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Featured A free vote was always the best Corbyn could have hoped for

    A free vote was always the best Corbyn could have hoped for

    There’s a great Smiths track called ‘I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish’. Actually, I think all Smiths and Morrissey tracks are great, but that’s a column for another website. That phrase sums up the approach taken by Jeremy Corbyn to the Syria vote. Starting an unnecessary fight and then having to climb down. I don’t know if it is Jeremy himself strategising, or persons unidentified in his team, but they are progressively squandering the immense political capital that his big […]

    Read more →
  • Europe Featured News Alan Johnson to promise distinct Labour EU campaign

    Alan Johnson to promise distinct Labour EU campaign

    Alan Johnson will today launch the Labour Party’s official campaign to stay in the European Union, promising a distinct campaign that focuses on jobs, workers’ rights and national security. “The first duty of any government is to keep our country safe and I firmly believe that leaving the EU would fail that test,” the former Home Secretary will say at the launch in Birmingham. “From the European Arrest Warrant to cross-border data sharing on terrorists, the speed of our response […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Featured Labour MPs give Corbyn a “lively” reception after Syria position decided

    Labour MPs give Corbyn a “lively” reception after Syria position decided

    Meetings of the Parliamentary Labour Party are now never unremarkable. This evening’s saw one of the biggest gatherings of lobby journalists outside Committee Room 14 at 6pm on a Monday in a very long time. Just two and a half hours after the Shadow Cabinet met to decide Labour’s position on Syria, leader Jeremy Corbyn and Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn stood to address Labour MPs and peers about the outcome. It was, apparently, a bizarre scene. The two appeared […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Europe Featured Leaving the EU would put Britain’s economic security under risk

    Leaving the EU would put Britain’s economic security under risk

    Terrorists bring death and destruction to the streets of Paris… Europe faces its biggest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War as thousands of refugees flee conflict in Africa and the Middle East… world leaders gather in Paris at the UN climate change conference to find solutions to the looming global climate crisis… These are some of the biggest global challenges facing us today, challenges that require urgent action, challenges that can only be solved at international level, in cooperation […]

    Read more →
Share with your friends