Miliband’s tightrope walk: No in-out EU referendum. Or…

Is it something what could spoil the chances of Labour in the elections or maybe Ed Miliband’s statement is not such a big deal? Read few comments.

Mark Shephard, Senior Lecturer, Department of Government, University of Strathclyde

I think Labour are being quite clever. There is pressure from a sizeable electorate for an in/out EU referendum, but most business leaders want in. What Labour are saying is not now but not never (and so unlike Cameron who has been pushed into a promise of a referendum, Labour are pleasing all sides which could be a tightrope walk that pays off). One thing we do know about Europe is that it pays to be cautious as it is a moving target and so Labour’s position of ‘maybe a referendum if powers accrue to the EU in the future’ is a compromise winner for the yes and no camps. Besides, other than a likely flurry of support for UKIP at the EP elections this year, by the time of the general election what will matter most to voters is the economy and the perceived degree to which economically we have ‘all been in this together’. The Conservatives have been burnt before over Europe and they should think hard about the end of the John Major years when internal division helped cost them the 1997 election to Labour. They also need to pay more heed to the perceived fairness of the belt-tightening and the degree of recovery across the UK.

Bill Jones, Adjunct Professor of  Politics,  Liverpool Hope University

It seems he is trying to get the best of both worlds, though mostly it seems he is ruling one out.

He has argued against the measure in the past but now says he will allow one should a major shift of power from UK to EU be proposed.

Though, he adds, he thinks this eventuality ‘unlikely’.

Labour take a much more pro-EU stance than the Tories- weighed down as they are by a faction-well over half the party- which is heavily anti EU, but all parties are terrified of UKIP, the raucous right-wing organisation which wants UK to pull out of Europe.

UKIP is taking votes off all parties as the UK has become increasingly euro-sceptical, and Labour is probably frightened it will lose votes to UKIP in the imminent Euro-elections.

So Ed is being more negative than positive on the referendum but can’t risk being too positive because of UKIP’s threat.

Nicholas Randall, Senior Lecturer and Head of Politics, School of Geography, Politics and Sociology University of Newcastle

I think Miliband has decided on a policy of a referendum in the event of further treaty changes as a result of competing pressures. Firstly, there was some electoral pressure to do so. Both the Conservatives and UKIP are offering a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU, albeit UKIP would like an immediate referendum and the Conservatives propose waiting until as late as 2017. Labour’s pledge offers a way of countering UKIP and Conservative criticism that Labour is indifferent to popular hostility to the EU and that it would acquiesce in the transfer of further powers to Europe. Secondly, Miliband’s pledge is a means of countering pressure within Labour’s own ranks for a referendum. However, as Miliband has himself admitted, it is unlikely that he would need to call a referendum since treaty change is very unlikely for the foreseeable future. This means that if he wins the next election he doesn’t spend his first term in office mired in a referendum campaign. It also offers some reassurance to business interests which are worried about the uncertainty a referendum would generate. Will this make much difference to Labour’s electoral changes? I would say no. It provides a way of dodging the attacks of his opponents but we have to remember that the opinion polls show that Europe is very low priority for voters and comes significantly below issues like the economy and the public services as an issue which determines how people are likely to vote.

Eric Shaw, Department of Politics, University of Stirling

There was a lot of coverage of Miliband’s speech  on BBC radio this morning with the Tory line clearly that it showed ‘weakness’. In fact it indicated that he wasn’t prepared to play to the – anti-EU – gallery. I think his judgment is that the EU issue is not going to sway many votes either way. In my view this is correct. People have acquired the habit (probably largely from largely hostile press coverage) to look at the EU with generalised irritation, sourness and impatience but I suspect that most people know little about the organisation, its powers and policies and how it operates. The issue only becomes really salient and toxic when linked to immigration.  This is the great recruiting sergeant  for UKIP, coupled with resentment towards ‘the political class’.  Labours points of vulnerability are the economy (with many still evidently believing that it was responsible for the financial crisis), immigration (which remains a very emotive topic) and social security fraud (hugely exaggerated but with Labour seen as a soft touch). The EU doesn’t really figure on the radar  with not many sharing the Tories’ obsessiveness. Miliband has got some problems of internal party balancing  on the issue but these are quite manageable.

Robin Pettit, Senior Lecturer, School of Economics, History and Politics, Kingston University

I think Labour’s opponents would certainly use it to attack Labour (e.g. The Conservatives and UKIP). However, no one really believes in the Tory pledge to have a referendum, so there is a limit to how much they can use Labour’s rejection of a referendum.

Also, despite how much it fills in newspapers, most people do not really care that much about the EU. It has become a symbol of perceived open borders to immigration, so the real concern for a lot of people is immigration not the EU. So, really I think it will make very little difference to Labour’s chances overall.

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