Labour offering an EU referendum? What a load of Balls
But Labour's mischievous suggestion that it would outbid UKIP has got the Conservatives at it again…
ED MILIBAND'S hint that Labour could go into the next elections offering a manifesto commitment to hold a referendum on whether Britain should stay in or get out of the European Union turns out this morning to be well, frankly, Balls.
The hare started running as soon as John Cruddas was appointed by Miliband last week in the world's smallest (and most boring) reshuffle after some sharp-eyed journalists had spotted that he had toyed with the idea of an 'in or out' referendum to settle Britain's role in Europe for a generation. It was encouraged to keep running by Europhile Lord Mandelson (former EU commissioner with a big fat pay out from Brussels) and Balls himself on Sky News at the weekend.
Spin doctors for Miliband suggested it could happen. It was even the splash in the Observer, which faithfully reported the Labour leader was "leaving the door open to a referendum…"
Labour friends of the Mole (he has a few) were frankly gobsmacked at the idea that the party could outbid UKIP at the next election. "You can't be serious," one Labour veteran MP told the Mole when it was discussed over coffee.
Meanwhile, David Cameron raised the stakes at the weekend in Chicago by following German Chancellor Angela Merkel's line at the G8 by saying that if the Greeks voted for anti-austerity left- or right-wing parties in their second general election in June, they would in effect be turning that election into a referendum on the euro.
Tory europhobes were quick out of the traps, saying that if Cameron was in effect giving the Greeks a referendum, why not Britain? The only europhile in the Tory Party high command, Ken Clarke, weighed in on Sky News saying calls for a referendum in Britain were 'irresponsible': "I can't think of anything more irrelevant to the present situation actually, nor personally can I think of anything more disastrous than the British leaving the European Union…"
This morning, the grassroots ConservativeHome website is full of Tory eurosceptic anger at Clarke, with the usual calls for his resignation.
Miliband, meanwhile, must be rubbing his hands with glee at the sight of the Conservative Party tearing itself apart again over Europe.
Especially, as it now appears, there is very little likelihood of Labour committing itself to any ‘in or out' referendum.
Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, said as much on the BBC Today programme this morning. Presenter Sarah Montague put it to Balls that Labour's teasing talk about a referendum was just "mischief making".
She put it to Balls: "Your policy hasn't changed at all has it?"
Balls replied: "We are not advocating a referendum. That isn't our position…" Balls explained that the question he was asked on Sky News at the weekend, which set the referendum hare running, was whether it was something he would rule out.
"As a matter of principle, well of course not," said Balls. He said Peter Mandelson was merely pointing out that Europe should not be run by lots of people who were not elected to do that job (like Commissioner Mandelson, perhaps?). "I don't think Peter is advocating that as an issue now,' said Balls. "It is saying we will have to win the argument."
That should kill the issue. But it won't; at least not while Cameron and George Osborne - who had a front row seat at the Champions League cup final in Munich as a guest of Wolfgang Schauble, the German finance minister - are going round the world advocating closer integration in the eurozone to save the euro from cracking up.
It led to the extraordinary spectacle at the weekend of the arch-eurosceptic flagship in the Murdoch stable, The Sunday Times, doing a complete volte-face by joining the chorus for closer integration in the eurozone.
It said in a Leader article: "Economically, the eurozone needs to become a United States of Europe - or go bust." Times columnist David Aaronovitch, author of Voodoo Histories, said on the Andrew Marr show he never thought he would live to see the day.
If a United States of Europe came about, the calls for an in or out referendum would become unstoppable. But then that, too, could be just more Balls.