Why doesn’t Ed Miliband want an EU referendum?

Cameron stole a march on Miliband on Europe last week - but why doesn't the leader of the opposition fancy taking the issue to the polls?

by Darren Rutland on 28 January 2013 11:19

When Ed Miliband told the Prime Minister that he didn’t support an EU referendum, it was too late. David Cameron had already taken the momentum, and the leader of the opposition was left wondering what might have been.

Imagine the support Labour would have gained if Ed had organised his own speech and declared that Labour was indeed committed to holding a vote on Britain’s future membership of the EU. He would have caught the Prime Minister off guard, and it would have filled Number 10 with regret for trailing the Cameron speech for so long. Instead, he was left to disagree with the Conservative pledge, and in doing so, buried his head in the sand.

Why has he done this? Why not wear his own jumper and declare his love for the EU? It’s possible that he’s been scarred by his last experience of a national vote, and the weaknesses in his leadership it exposed. While he supported the Yes to AV campaign, he was not able to take the Labour party with him. The No side realised the result depended on how much of the Labour vote they could attract. Miliband’s inability to get the party on his side made life harder for the Yes campaign.

In the end Miliband was associated with a losing campaign, in part because his party didn’t back him and his arguments. This helps explain another reason why he doesn’t want a vote on the EU – he is aware he may struggle to put forward his case to the people.

Dan Hannan points out how Miliband’s speeches on the EU don’t focus on the issues which the Out campaign will need to address in a simple but concise manner. It will be interesting to see when the respective sides line up and launch – even the most enthusiastic political observer would struggle to maintain excitement for a whole campaign if it was to last longer than a US presidential election.

His supporters in the Labour leadership race said that “Ed speaks human,” which seems an odd statement for supporters of any politician to say. While it may have been a dig at Ed Balls, I can’t imagine Miliband having a pint at his local, persuading punters to applaud the existence of the Common Agricultural Policy, and explaining to them why we need a European Commissioner for Taxation and Customs Union, Audit and Anti-Fraud.

Perhaps he just doesn’t trust the people. No one wanted AV, even the people campaigning for it. But people do want a referendum on the EU. In contrast, there are those who are content with the EU’s democratic deficit, because if democracy was one of its guiding principles, the organisation would look very different. It would involve listening to the people.

Maybe Ed Miliband knows he’d struggle to get his party to support staying in the EU during a referendum. Maybe he’s upset at missing the opportunity to make the pledge before the Conservatives. Maybe he’s just showing his contempt for the British people. But whatever his reasons, he has plenty of time to change his mind.

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