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.