“No, we don’t want an in-out referendum”: Ed Miliband, right first time
“No, we don’t want an in-out referendum,” Ed Miliband told the House of Commons in January last year. There was uproar, and afterwards Ed Balls told him off for not adding “now” at the end of the sentence. But what Miliband said then has turned out to be what he meant.
Today is a triumph of media management for Miliband. He wanted the headline “Labour favours EU referendum” and managed (mostly) to get the opposite. Even the Daily Mirror (pictured), which presumably had the positive briefing, used a sub-headline that contradicted the main one.
The headline on the front of the Financial Times, which carried Miliband’s article (limited access), was: “Miliband rules out early EU poll”.
Which is what happens when you try to tell a business audience, which doesn’t like uncertainty, that there won’t be a referendum under a Labour government, while trying to tell a mass audience that you are in favour of their having a say (in principle).
Miliband’s people tell us that what is new about his article and speech today is that he has confirmed that the referendum, which Labour wants if there is a further transfer of powers to Brussels, would be an in-out choice rather than simply to approve or reject the transfer. This is a confirmation of what we thought was Miliband’s position anyway.
I thought Miliband would stick to this as long as Labour was ahead in the opinion polls – and today’s ICM poll putting the lead at three points hints, although it’s only a one-point change, that this might not be for much longer.
But I am not so sure now, because something else is happening in the polls, which is that public opinion is moving back in favour of Britain’s EU membership. The YouGov tracker chart shows that this week those who say they would vote to stay in the EU overtook those who say they would vote to leave (41 to 39 per cent). And that is even before people are asked how they would vote after a hypothetical renegotiation after which David Cameron recommended an “in” vote (52 to 27 per cent). This probably reflects the shortage of “eurozone in crisis” headlines more than anything else.
I suspect that Miliband has decided to set his face against a referendum and stick with that come what may, not least because it might help to secure some big business support.
That means that there will be a clear choice at the election: the Conservatives offering to use the leverage of a referendum to renegotiate EU terms; versus Labour’s talking about reform but denying people a say. I suspect (as I said last year) that Miliband wanted the summary of his position to be “in favour of a referendum in principle but at the right time”. But against the promise of a referendum with a date, that was never going to work.eu, euroscepticism, referendum
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