Jon Cruddas is right, pro-Europeans need to get their arguments straight – and prepare for the referendum

26th January, 2013 4:33 pm

Is there such a thing as a “timely” book review? Perhaps there is – because if so Jon Cruddas has written one today.

After a week in which Europe has moved to the top of the Tory Party’s to-do list (overtaking the economy, unfortunately) Cruddas has chosen an interesting time to take a look at David Charter’s “What if Britain left the EU?” which is a “road-map for a UK exit from the Union”. This is of course of particular interest because Cruddas is a prominent and long-standing supporter of an EU referendum, and that’s a position he hasn’t renounced since he became Labour’s policy chief.

So this book review is unlikely to have been done by accident – and Cruddas is no stranger to using reviews to explore issues he cares about (see this one on the Tory “rising stars” and this one on class).

That said, Cruddas’s interest seems to be less why he would want an EU referendum (essentially, if previous statements are anything to go by, because he think the political elite needs to give the British people a say) and more why the Tory right wants a referendum, and why Cameron has been forced into acquiescing to their demands. Essentially, Cruddas believes that the Tory Party is determined to take us out of Europe entirely on the basis of internal party wrangling – and that the left should be alert to the risk that this could actually happen. He says:

“This is a shockingly coherent book. It ascribes a logic to what, from the outside at least, appears degenerative Tory thinking. For pro- Europeans – about whom the author states “only the scale of their defeat remains to be settled” – it implies that with Cameron’s speech, we have begun another interregnum leading to the 2017 referendum. The honest assessment is that the mainstream of the Conservative Party want out. We now have under five years to rebuild a pro-European case from first principles.”

The Tory Party knows it’s having a referendum, and – apart from Cameron’s desperate (and ultimately doomed to failure) hopes of renegotiating Britain’s place in in the union – it knows it wants to leave. The Labour Party has no such certainty on a referendum, and little certainty on why staying in Europe is a good thing. Cruddas is right to say that pro-European forces have only a few years to get our house in order and our arguments ready. And whether he intends to imply it or not, it’s hard not to believe that Cruddas also thinks that an EU referendum is a racing certainty – with all of the impact on Labour’s next manifesto that might entail…

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  • MarkHoulbrook

    The debate continues on the British position on the European Union German adventure. Jon Cruddas is yet again spearheading a debate from the comfort of his armchair in his private library. The story of Europe is not a new phenomenon. It raises its head every time a serving goverment wishes the attention to move away from a British crisis on monetary and fiscal policy or just plain old “I have run out of ideas” syndrome. The dilemma for Labour is how do they utilise Cruddas to spin their way out Milibands “On the Hoof” reply to Cameron during question time.

    80 per cent of Labour supporters and its small 200, 000 membership favour a referendum. The British people want to part company with further european federalism but remain in a flexible market and favour a referendum. The political elite as Crudass describes ( HE thinks) need to give the people there say. The political elite withing Labour ranks do not do referendums( Please refer to New Labour’s term in Government)

    My question to Cruddas who I find extremely annoying, (who has time to read books, be a Labour Party Policy Review Guru, write for independent websites and represent his tax payer funded role as a Member of Parliament) is how does Ed Miliband make the relationship with Europe more flexible given that if Britain joins the destined to fail Eoro club it will become more rigid not flexible?

    The Labour Party potentially is in more of a pickle than the Tories given there are just as many who wish to see a referendum. The Labour Party is split well 0.33 % of the population.

    Cruddas will fall nto the Conservative trap.

  • NT86

    He’s obviously right, but it’s sad that Labour now has this task until 2017, when popular opinion seems to favour the referendum. Blair and Kinnock should have never been so staunchly pro EU because it’s now come back to bite Labour in the bum. It has overshadowed the fact that the broad political left also has a very long history of Euroscepticism in its DNA. Look at how the right wing media portrays it as a communist superstate. It’s not only a concern of the Tory right and UKIP. One just has to look at those Labour MP’s who voted for the referendum in 2011. Many were from the Socialist Campaign Group. Euroscepticism was nearly a dirty word in the last Labour government. I don’t necessarily favour withdrawal, but there is a serious need for reform. The status quo won’t suffice.

    In Labour’s 13 years, they certainly should have taken a balanced approach to the EU.

  • Couldn’t agree with Cruddas more. On the other post about the anti-Cameron poster by Benedict Pringle, people were pointing out (rightly) the “Gene Hunt” risk of the poster’s message. But infinitely more importantly, I also think that approach is the wrong approach on the core issue. If we were planning on demonizing Cameron for supporting a referendum, I wonder whether our next brainwave would be putting Labour on record against Cameron’s asinine love of Christmas, puppies and motherhood? We must stay in the EU, and the shift in the polls the last few days proves that we can win a referendum on economic and geo-political arguments as Wilson did in 1975, but Labour has to adopt Cruddas’ position sharpish and sound eager to promise, fight and win a referendum from here on in. Our lack of referendums since ’75 on the EU eats away at both our domestic politics and our relationship with Brussels, and we need an attitude change if we are to have any hope of fixing either of these problems.

  • Daniel Speight

    The fear of an EU referendum is really the fear of the public by our political class, in this case those in the Labour leadership. If the economic argument can be made for why leaving the EU would be a disaster, and I suspect it can, then that fear is unnecessary or at least inflated. Cruddas is the one figure that gives me hope among the presence of so many apparatchiks and red princes.

  • Amber_Star

    People are aware of the upsides of being in the EU. They want the downsides mitigated. They want politicians to cease talking about ‘the British people’ unless being British confers some advantages above those which accrue to an EU citizen who is resident in Britain. And I don’t mean getting to vote for the politicians who bang on about ‘the British people’ because many British people don’t consider voting in the UK general elections to be much of an advantage.

    So, IMO, that’s the challenge for Labour. Show people that being British, being able to vote in a UK general election, matters by having policies which allay their fears about strangers benefitting from their contributions (via their effort & taxes) to build infrastructure, systems & social security which they believe will benefit (generally speaking) themselves, their families, their friends & neighbours.

    The above may sound selfish; but how it sounds is neither here nor there, politically speaking. There’s lots of polling & studies which show this is people’s attitude to the EU. Polling also supports my assertion that people already recognise the benefits of being in the EU but they want the downsides dealt with. And just telling them they are wrong about the downsides (even if they are wrong) will not do. If there is an entrenched belief there’s a ‘problem’ then Labour must come up with an imaginative, easily understood, ‘policy’ to deal with it.

  • Get our arguments right, yes. Referendum, no. Labour are not taking us out of the EU so we cannot offer a referendum where that may be the outcome

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