PMQs Verdict: Cameron (Euro)trashes Miliband

23rd January, 2013 1:12 pm

I wanted to see a decisive statement from Ed Miliband on Europe today. We got one in the end, but it wasn’t what I wanted to hear. After a few (repeated) questions urging Cameron to state that he would campaign for Britain to stay in Europe, Miliband was goaded into saying:

“My position is no – We don’t want an in out referendum”

It’s not a good place to be.

It allows the Tories to argue that they are the democrats who are giving the British people a vote, and that Labour are the status-quo endorsing, Europhile democracy haters. Expect that message to be rammed home in the weeks and months ahead. Cameron would have rammed it home today if he had been listening, instead of trying to claim that Labour has “no position” on an EU referendum, he should have noted that Labour now has a firm position – albeit the wrong one. Now was not the time to promise an EU referendum vote – and Cameron did it because of party issues not Europe issues – but to say no we’re not in favour of an in/our referendum full stop seemed unusually clumsy and finite from Miliband. Not very “One Nation” and not very confident about the arguments that will need to be made. And it’s especially surprising (and foolish) considering Douglas Alexander went to great lengths not to rule out a referendum earlier today.

Perhaps today Ed might have helped pour oil on the fires of inter-Tory Party splits over Europe that will surely burn Cameron in the years to come. But it certainly didn’t feel like it. By repeatedly asking Cameron the same question it made Miliband look daft, rather than focussing on Cameron’s daft position (which is roughly ‘I will renegotiate but won’t say what for, and we’ll have a referendum at some point if I win the election and my secret negotiation goes well’). Cameron was barely challenged today and didn’t even have to get out of first gear. Indeed it almost felt like the only exertion from the PM was that of standing up and sitting down, and by the end he might as well have been answering the questions sitting down too, such was his dominance of proceedings.

Last week, when Ed Miliband justifiably hammered David Cameron all over the park on Europe, seems a long way away. Labour’s Plan A – that this was not the right time for a referendum – was a good one. But terrifyingly, I don’t know what Labour’s Plan B on Europe is. It needs one.


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  • Politics is about more than Party advantage. Ed was right. Labour is right. Now they must persuade the people that it is right. It is. They can.

    • No, you are promoting a weak pro-European position rather than a strong one. People have never had a say over whether they are members of the EU. Pro-Europeans should take the case to the people and can win. Ed was wrong and Labour needs to clear up their message.

  • Bob

    You’re completely wrong Mark.

    Miliband is quite right not to copy the Tories on this and take his own principled stance. I’m actually quite impressed that Miliband had the guts to adopt a pro-EU policy.

    Simply backing a referendum would look opportunist and weak. Better that we go into the next election as a pro-EU party so we have our own distinct voice.

    • markfergusonuk

      I’m pro-EU – but I think ruling out a referendum was incredibly daft

      • Bob

        Why? Shouldn’t we be proud to have a leader who actually wants to focus on issues that affect people’s everyday lives (like the economy, the NHS, education) rather than spend the next few years stuck in an argument over the EU?
        Cameron is only offering a referendum because he’s too weak to stand up to UKIP and his loony backbenchers. Far better for Labour to actually carve out our own distinct voice and say there are better things for this country to focus on right now than the European Union.

        • Come off it, Cameron might be promising a vote because of his party but it is the right choice. We should be taking our pro-European case to the people rather than running scared of UKIP. It is a ridiculous position and Ed could have done something about it. Cameron couldn’t.

      • postageincluded

        I’m as in favour of “triangulation” as you are , Mark, but your knee jerk reaction is wide of the mark. There are more ways than one to skin a cat.

        Who are these voters who are going to switch their vote to Tory in 2015 because of the prospect of a referendum? I doubt many of them come from the 29% who voted Labour in 2010, or from the 13% (mostly LDs) who say they’ll switch to Labour in 2015. For most of those people, whethere pro or con, the issue of Europe is a nowhere near decisive, and the hypothetical treaty-change or exit referendum even less so. On the other hand there are many people who are turned off by the Tories’ “banging on about Europe”, including not a few who switched to Cameron at the last election, and also a fair percentage of ex-LDs who are still looking for a political home.

        Opposing a referendum need not be a vote loser, and can, played right, be a vote winner.

      • Can i ask how he’s ruled it out when all he has said was no to an in/out referendum? That doesn’t seem like ruling one out to me.

    • I find it quite amusing that so many people are piling in here supporting Miliband’s “principled” stance when it seems that he might have had a slip of the tongue. For the little that my opinion is worth I reckon it’s a big mistake to tie yourself down to being against offering a choice. Instead we could be arguing about how WE would like to make the EU work better, while supporting a lot of the stuff that the Tories want to do away with (specifically, coordinated action on the environment and climate change, and social and employment protections to help keep us a civilised place to live and work). That’s the way to be principled and keep the conversation on the things that matter.

  • mark, i think you has lost it a bit, he doesn’t want an IN/OUT choice now and why should he when the parameters of that in/out are not even known. I will respectfully suggest that it is you that’s in a bit muddle. Too many political games going on, hence the reason why trust in politics is low. Ed has a position on this but he should change it because Cameron decided to gamble away, where is the principle in that I ask?

  • You didn’t properly hear Ed’s question Mark e was aking what Cameron would do if he didn’t get what he wanted which is a different one to that you say was asked. Incidently I agree on a referendum, but if you’re going to trash Ed make sure you have listened properly to the questions and answers. This is the blog I wrote last week btw

  • Stuart

    Do you guys ever actually support the centre-left on this website? All I seem to read is that politicians aren’t doing what you’d have liked them to have done. In politics it’s often not about what you want, but what’s best for the party in the long run. Ed has given the Labour Party’s position on a referendum, and the BBC acknowledged that he had done so. The job for the next 18 months is for the Labour Party to flesh out exactly why they do not believe Britain should leave the EU, something difficult to achieve in a set of tailored questions in which the Prime Minister always gets the last word.

    • I do support the centre-left – indeed I am a Labour party member. I just don’t see the point of supporting vote-losing strategies.

      • Stuart

        I was referring to Mark’s article when I asked if the centre-left was ever supported, not the comments section. It’s only a vote-losing strategy if the Labour Party fails to convince the electorate that we are better off being a part of the EU, and if the Conservative Party don’t win the 2015 election it will most probably be a referendum consigned to the dustbin of history anyway.

  • I think that you are missing that Cameron’s comeback in PMQs (when he didn’t realise that EM had ruled out a referendum) was that the Labour position for instability was fatally flawed whilst Labour failed to take a position. For better or for worse EM has taken a position and now has an “unflawed” argument that the referendum will cause instability and uncertainty in the UK. When you run this line against Cameron and Osborne’s postions on the instability caused by a 2 year delay in a Scottish Referendum.

    See here

    and here
    and here

    for just a few examples!

    If 2015 becomes about the economy (which it is likely to do) Labour have just added another massive stick with which to beat the Tories to their armoury.

    • franwhi

      Now now Neil – there is a mandate for a referendum in Scotland and it comes from the voters at the last Scottish election. If the Tories do get back in or even before they get in they will be saying to the electorate – back us and that will give us a clear mandate for a referendum – and so that case the referendum will represent or be seen to represent the will of the electorate – so its alot more politically nuanced than you think. What political party wants to get into a position where they appear to be willing to rule out an anticipated democratic process. Im pro EU and despair of the Europhobe mindset but cant help thinking how this will be painted

  • ColinAdkins

    I guess Nick Robinson on the BBC News will mention Ed’s discomfort when he never mentions the same when Cameron ‘loses’ at PMQs.

    • Come on, what discomfort? Ed was in good form and nothing to concern him. Nick Robinson can say what he likes but the facts remain, what is this new relationship that is going to be so great for Britain? If you or Mark can answer that, then fair enough but until then this is vacuous nonsense from Cameron full stop.

  • Miliband needs to get out there now and flesh out his position. He should point out that the things Cameron and co want the EU to drop are the social questions, women and workers’ rights, education, migration, and of course all the legislation aimed at reforming finance industry: Basel III, AIFMD, Emir etc, which are already being undermined by lobbying. Paint the Tories again as in the pay of finance.

    BTW there was a story in Financial News last week that said 40 per cent of the £11m donations to the Tories last year were from finance industry, and most of that was from the hedgers, private equity nabobs.

  • A major blunder by Ed. Farage will run him ragged as will Cameron (“Why should we trust you – you don’t trust the British people – One Nation? Pah! etc.”). It could cost him the general election.

  • rekrab

    Who believes that Europe will wait 5 years for Britain to make it’s mind up on whether it stays in or out? and it’s odds on the SNP will make hay of this tory isolation bid by running the in Europe position with the Independence referendum.

    I suspect no one in Europe apart from Cameron wants to be tied to austerity for a further 5 years and the other member states will be calling for the ropes to be cut and let Britain slid away.

    • AB

      But if the SNP win the Scots Independence referendum Scottish voters may well be out of both the 2015 UK General Election and the 2017 EU referendum.
      If Scotland has to negotiate its own membership of the EU rather than ride in on the UK’s coat-tails it’ll be interesting to see whether it is happy to sign up on the terms negotiated in the past by the UK or might rather decide that it, as an independent sovereign state, ought to seek a brand new settlement suitable to the Scots people’s aspirations.
      That might, ironically, rather support the position of Cameron seeking to do precisely that for the remainder of the UK even if their respective assessments of their national interests may well be rather different.

  • leftythinker

    “Labour are the status-quo endorsing, Europhile democracy haters.”

    i wil vote for taht.

  • Perhaps the conclusion from all this is … Ed should have emphatically made that statement some weeks ago. Now it appears reactive. And unsatisfactory.

  • Chilbaldi

    It was a fantastic thing for Ed Miliband to do. It showed guts, it showed conviction, and sets out our position.
    Vote for us and you know what you get as far as Europe goes. And we will set out a solid case for Europe from now until 2015.
    Mark – I joined the Labour Party not the referendum party. I expect the party’s MPs to use their mandate to govern, not delegate to the public with endless referenda. Your proposal would see Labour completely falling into the Tory trap and appearing even more opportunistic and without principle that we have been already since 2010.
    This will become clearer when you see our poll lead extend over the next couple of months.

    • And what’s more as the EU membership is an important part of foreign, diplomatic, social and economic policies; going into a general election leaving your most important policies to an emphemeral referendum would make the party look like a bunch of idiots.

      • Chilbaldi

        very true.

    • It all depends on whether the EU turns into a big issue by 2015. If it doesn’t then Ed Miliband will get away with this, if it does then Labour will again be tainted by the European referendum issue. It’s a risky strategy with no real benefit for Labour: there aren’t many votes in taking a ‘brave’ anti-referendum stance even if it doesn’t end up harming you.

  • How can Ed Miliband support Cameron’s rigged proposal which is vote Yes for renegotiation (withdrawel for all common social and employment legislation) or vote No to leave (withdrawel for all common social and employment legislation).

    So there’s the choice Thatcherism in the EU or Thatcherism outside of the EU.

  • Amber_Star

    Mark, this referendum thing is typical nasty party stuff. David Cameron plans to offer a referendum where the choice is:
    1. Vote In & lose employment protection like the 48 hour working week, maternity & paternity leave, holiday pay for part-time workers etc. etc.; OR
    2. Vote Out.

    I am neither Europhile nor Eurosceptic but I can say with certainty: There is nothing about the aims of this Tory referendum which Labour should be supporting. If the facts change then Labour can change its position. Meanwhile, Labour need to make the case that the Tory plans are bad for British workers & bad for British business.

    • kb32904

      “Meanwhile, Labour need to make the case that the Tory plans are bad for British workers & bad for British business”

      Precisely !

      I hope to hear every single Labour MP hammer this point home every time the EU is mentioned. They could also mention Dave’s hypocrisy at voting with Ed in 2011 against a referendum !

      The press will love it for a few days but its over 2 yrs that this hype would need to be maintained and its just not going to happen. Sure, he will get a short term poll boost but he got that after his ‘veto’ but it didn’t last long and nor will this.

  • ClearBell

    Agree with many comments – the argument against Labour offering to hold a referendum are convincing on a very basic level. How could Miliband convincingly argue the case for staying in Europe and at the same time for an in/out shake -it-all-about referendum? And guess what, appeasement isn’t the way to deal with the unholy alliance of business leaders, anti-trade unionists, tabloid believers and owners, or even those with more nuanced views on the whole issue.

  • David Parker

    Mark Ferguson is absolutely right. Cameron’s most telling argument is that the the EU has been foisted on the British people without their consent. The Labour Party has consistently failed to acknowledge the remote and undemocratic nature of the European Union’s political and bureaucratic arrangements.

  • JoeDM

    For Ed Miliband to come out as the pro-EU champion is ‘courageous’ indeed. There is now clear blue water between the parties which will make life easier for Cameron.

    • Monkey_Bach

      That water looks more of a sickly murky green than blue to me thanks to the addition of some Liberal Democrat gold (some would say yellow) to the unholy mix. Unless Cameron wins an overall majority at the next election, which is extremely unlikely, none of the nonsense he spouted today could or would ever happen. (As he well knows.) In 2015 either the Labour Party will form the next government or the Tories forced to jump back into bed and coalition with their old Europhile pals the Liberal Democrats, who will doubtless have a “headache” whenever a Tory bedmate makes advances, mooting the possibility of an in-out referendum as per EU membership.


  • Ed’s position wasn’t a principled stance – his comments were made mistakenly, as proved by Douglas Alexander’s ‘clarification’ of not ruling anything out immediately afterwards on the World at One.

    The simple trouble here is that, time after time, poll after poll, the people of the UK say they want a referendum. Ideology and political postuiring aside, now they have the option of having one. This has nothing to do with the intricacies of policy – it’s to do with a long standing desire from the public. The PMs poll ratings will go up because of today, but we shouldn’t panic just yet.

    But what matters more, as far as voting intentions go, is the state of the economy. There was more good news re job figures this morning, but it looks like GDP will be down when figures are announced on Friday. The economy will still prevail in importance come the election.

    Nevertheless, when the people clearly want a referendum, for Labour to be opposed to a referendum and in favour of the status quo, it needs to be very clear as to why the status quo is good, and be prepared to spend time and money convincing a eurosceptic public that they are wrong and shouldn’t get a referendum. If it really is Ed’s view – good on him for being honest and good luck. But if not, he has just backed himself into a massive corner that he may find impossible to escape.

    • franwhi

      “Nevertheless, when the people clearly want a referendum, for Labour to be opposed to a referendum and in favour of the status quo, it needs to be very clear as to why the status quo is good, and be prepared to spend time and money convincing a eurosceptic public that they are wrong and shouldn’t get a referendum”
      What hypocrisy ! Up here in Scotland we’re still waiting in vain for the exact same articulation from Labour about why the status quo is good. Vote NO and get NOTHING seems to be the reply

    • Chilbaldi

      Jonathan – I don’t think there is clear evidence that the British people want a referendum.

      • Hugh

        The UK Polling Report begs to differ: “Polls consistently show that people support the idea of a referendum on Europe.”

        • Hugh

          And to prove its point, the Sun’s poll today shows 63 per cent of voters support the pledge to hold a referendum, with 23 per cent against.

      • Are you being serious? Over 70% of the people want a referendum.

  • David Lindsay

    Who needs a referendum, anyway? “Miliband has ruled one out! Miliband has ruled one out! Forever and ever and ever!” Thus shrieked the BBC. Even though the man from The People’s Pledge on The Daily Politics had not heard him do any such thing. Even though David Cameron only feet away had not heard him do any such thing.

    And even though Douglas Alexander tried valiantly to explain simple concepts to Martha Kearney, including that “We never say never,” but merely continued to hold, in no change whatever to previous policy, that such a thing would not be appropriate at the present juncture. So, never absolutely ruled out, as it had been repeatedly and emphatically by Cameron and Hague until mere hours ago.

    The BBC might have thought that Peter Mandelson and Tony Blair were the appropriate people to interview. But the Labour Whips Office, when not campaigning for Departments of State to take the Morning Star, managed to put up at PMQs the figures of Ian Lavery and Dennis Skinner. They asked about other (and very timely) things, but they made the point by standing up and speaking at all. Seated alongside each other, they had first been elected 40 years apart. The aberration in the middle is now well and truly that: an aberration.

    David Cameron is not going to be holding a referendum until the end of 2017. Or, rather, he is not going to be holding a referendum at all, because he is not going to win the 2015 General Election. Nor need Ed Miliband hold one. Already committed explicitly to two more specific powers for repatriation than Cameron is, and also implicitly committed to the repatriation of agriculture and of fisheries, he could and should simply legislate to those and many more such effects.

    Backed up by Ed Balls, by Jon Cruddas, by John Cryer, possibly still by Dennis Skinner now that there are not going to be boundary changes after all, and certainly by Ian Lavery’s 2010 intake and by that of 2015.

  • Monkey_Bach

    Cool down, folks, and have a word with yourselves.

    The idea that people will vote to support an absolutely sh*t government, every policy of which has failed or is failing, simply because said sh*t government promises that they might offer in-out vote in respect to the EU, under certain circumstances, if they win an absolute majority (like that’s going to happen!) seems preposterous to me. The next general election will be won or lost on domestic matters not European hypotheticals important though the continent is to our own future prosperity and strength.


    • Very true and this referendum proposal will see the EU as an issue slip down the media and political agenda as it is likely to calm the Tory backbench tea party. If they don’t they will look like an even bigger bunch of nutters ‘banging on about Europe.’

      • jaime taurosangastre candelas

        Do you think so? If anything, I see a “ratchet” effect between the tories and UKIP, with UKIP feeling triumphant over having forced the Cameron to offer such a referendum, they will only keep on the pressure to set the terms of the renegotiation. These fights will be reported by the media, and so the issue kept “on the boil”.

        • Quite right Jaime. This isn’t the beginning of the end, it isn’t even the end of the beginning. It is the beginning. And today’s events served to highlight Labour’s absence of policy. Ed should’ve banged in his retaliation even before Cameron’s speech but one has to assume, as far as Labour policy is concerned, one can only say: “There’s nothing to see here… move along now.”

    • jaime taurosangastre candelas

      I think you may be a little “complacent”, although I do see some logic in your argument.

      The issue as to whether Europe is decisive as an issue – or not – in the next election is not really a matter of mainstream opinion or consciousness, but rather only a measure of minority opinion and whether it is able to capture and maintain a “hard core” of those who want a referendum. At the moment, from the Lord Ashcroft polling, it is about 6% of people who have Europe as their top priority, but anything up to 40-something % who do want a referendum, but maybe it is not their top priority.

      If Labour do not offer a referendum in the 2015 manifesto, it has automatically lost the potential support of 6% of the electorate. Maybe those 6% would be assumed to not be natural Labour voters, but I think that some among them probably would be. Being anti-EU is mostly a tory/UKIP voter position, but not exclusively. Look at some of the comments on this website.

      That is the most positive outlook for Labour: with a current 10% overall poll lead, the party should still beat the tories. But if the “single-minded want a referendum” electorate poll numbers move up to 10%, or more (and potentially well into double figures, given 40-something % do want a referendum somewhere in their list of priorities), then Labour’s poll lead of 10% begins to look as it will crash down.

      It is possibly going to be a mathematical example of the power of minorities to affect election results. “Gearing”.

      I find Nigel Farage amusing, even though I would not vote for his party. But I think he is correct in his interview to say “the genie is out of the bottle”. Without any positive statement on Europe, I think it will be hard for Labour to try to put it back into the bottle, and keep the number at 6%.

      • Monkey_Bach

        The purported 6% of people who would be willing to vote for any party offering a referendum in respect to EU membership are only significant to Labour’s fortunes if they are potentially Labour voters and that their antipathy to Europe outweighs their disenchantment in a Conservative mastered coalition government which has failed to reduce the deficit as it promised, failed generate any significant growth in the economy, made an horrendous mess of welfare reform (with flagship “digital by default” Universal Credit unravelling, crashing, and burning leading to a rising tide of poverty, homelessness, and other social ills), failed to build any social housing, or regenerate the private housing market, failed to get people off benefits into decently paid jobs while at the same time forcing hundreds of thousands of desperate men and women reluctantly into insecure self-employment or low-paid part-time and/or temporary work… and so on… and so forth ad infinitum.

        This I doubt. Especially when the electorate sees what austerity means after it fully kicks in from April 2013 right up until the next general election. The real horror has yet to begin: my instinct is that most of my countrymen will recoil and be repulsed by it.

        As far as psephology and polling goes how many people would vote for a party promising to hold a referendum to bring back capital punishment? Or to make a life sentence really lifelong? Or to stop immigration? Or to repatriate immigrants back to their country of origin? There’s bound to be a minority that would support and vote for a party promising to offer a referendum on any or all of these things. A political party worth its salt should remain principled both in and out of office and not stoop to horse trading with the electorate or with its own members simply to benefit the party’s hierarchy rather than promoting the interests of the country in an honest and a rational way.

        My suspicion is that Cameron’s antics will encourage Conservative defectors to UKIP to consider returning to the fold (none of whom would ever have voted Labour anyway) and pacify his own vocal anti-European backbenchers to an extent. But he’s like the little boy that stuck his finger into a dyke to hold back the sea; the plug won’t last long and he may very well be swept away by the rising tide.

  • Ed spoke the truth, he didn’t pander to the euro sceptic, by saying NO he said we will stay in the EU and work to reform the EU from the inside, he didn’t pander to the right wing or to the press, as Cameron has, Cameron is the one who should beware he’s so transparent the public see right through him. The people don’t want politicians who ‘promise this and promise that and do the total opposite’ , we want politicians to be open and honest and that is what Ed is, he has shown the courage of his convictions and deserves to be given credit for that.

  • darren clifford

    I think drifting through some fantasy renegotiation for the next 4 years will do nothing but create uncertainty for business, the country and our people. I want to see a mature debate about how the EU works for its citizens, but sadly can’t see that happening any time soon. I am in favour of both Europe and a referendum, we shouldn’t be scared of democracy. If Ed doesn’t want one, he needs to set out a number of non status quo positions sooner rather than later while exposing the rift within the tory party and the coalition over this..then he’ll have my support.

  • E.M. is absolutely right. Cameron has damaged the economy by discouraging f.d.i. for the next 4 years, indeed we should fear his having driven existing foreign investors away by his speech because our position is so uncertain. Miliband’s comment does not exclude his taking a pro or anti position when Cameron brings preliminary legislation before the Commons (next year?), and choosing a response to the referendum question in the light of the prevailing situation in 2015 and 2016.. Ed’s a statesman!


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