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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