Not if but when should Ed back an EU referendum?

Not if but when should Ed back an EU referendum?

Ed with No 10 collage

Henry G Manson says Ed should do it sooner not later

Labour is signed up to an EU referendum in principle. Any new shift in powers will lead to one. That’s just a matter of time. Surely it’s better to take control and choose on your own terms and your own timing?

The argument for ‘not right now’ is reasonably coherent. We must focus on jobs and growth. ‘Not 2017’ makes sense because signposting such a timetable four years would play havoc with investment as the Tories are starting to appreciate. It would also dominate the first 2 years of a Miliband-led government and a defeat would seriously weaken his government.

With the Liberal Democrats also in favour of a EU referendum then it makes it impossible for Labour to go into the general election as the only party wanting to ‘deny the people a say’. It’s politically untenable. So Labour must have a position before 2015.

    Should this come before of after the European elections in May 2014? After May will look like weakness and reluctance if UKIP poll well. So a pledge may as well be before May.

Once this has been accepted it will shift the focus onto the Conservatives and their position. All of a sudden Adam Afriyie’s autumn 2014 timetable looks interesting. Labour’s Tom Watson already backs it. The economy will likely be a touch stronger and Labour can say a short run-in will minimise uncertainty to investors and is the responsible thing to do.

It will then put the question to David Cameron that if he is so keen to give people a say, then why not now when you’re in government? Eurosceptic Tories will look at the opinion polls, perhaps not fancy their chances of being in government in 2017 and recognise their best window of opportunity lies in late 2014.

David Cameron is in favour of remaining in the European Union and will be forced to make his case in the teeth of opposition from a sizeable portion of his party. He will be dependent on Miliband, Clegg and Salmond to help him win. Ed Balls would be quite comfortable arguing alongside the CBI for why we need to remain a EU member, Ed Miliband could stand alongside the TUC and do likewise. That’s a broad coalition for Labour to amass. Labour and the Lib Dems will be united, the Tories will be split.

If Britain votes to leave the EU better to do it on Cameron’s watch. If it’s to remain then better to do so with Labour’s assistance. Either way it will clear the decks before the election and the vote that really matters to the parties. It’s just a matter of timing.

Henry G Manson

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