Miliband urged to pledge in/out EU referendum under Labour
Senior colleagues say a referendum is in national interest – and very much in Ed’s interest, too
GROWING pressure on Ed Miliband to commit Labour to an in/out EU referendum if the party wins the 2015 general election has surfaced in the Financial Times this morning. Members of the shadow cabinet also want their leader to push David Cameron to hold a referendum as early as next May rather than wait for the 2017 date he’s proposing.
It has been known for some weeks that former Brownites in the Miliband camp want a change of direction on referendum policy. While many of them hope Britain will stay in Europe, they believe a referendum is in the national interest because it would remove business uncertainty.
The FT’s report suggests some of Miliband’s most senior colleagues are now persuaded of that argument – and want him to use his leadership speech at the party conference in September to make a referendum pledge. He has to pull /something/ out of the hat to silence the critics within Labour who say he has been too limp over the summer - and this could be it.
George Parker, the FT's political editor says: "By pressing for an early vote, Mr Miliband’s advisers believe Labour would align itself with public opinion, help to stop a loss of votes to the UK Independence party (UKIP) and ferment an uprising by Conservative MPs who also want an early poll."
Calls for a change in Labour policy first emerged in July when the shadow work and pensions minister Ian Austin, a former aide to Gordon Brown, broke ranks to call for an in/out EU referendum on the same day as next year's European elections.
"The truth is that the UK needs to decide and I would prefer it to do so more quickly,” said Austin. “I know this isn't Labour Party policy but my view is that we should have a referendum next year on the same day as the European elections."
Austin is a eurosceptic - but his call was reinforced by a europhile, Tom Watson, who was Miliband's election coordinator until he was forced to step down over the recent vote-rigging allegations in Falkirk.
Watson used an interview in the Guardian about the unfairness of the allegations (the police found no evidence to warrant further action) to push the case for Miliband to back an early EU referendum on the day of the May 2014 European elections.
Watson said: "Cameron has set the agenda on Europe; he wants a referendum, and if we don't engage with that debate then it won't be on our terms. So I would argue for a referendum next May – get it out the way before the election. That should be Labour's position. Yes to a referendum, and yes to remaining part of Europe."
It was picked up at the time by the New Statesman, but not given wider circulation.
Promising a referendum under Labour – and/or pressing for an earlier one from Cameron - would certainly prove attractive to the grey vote, if Miliband pursues it. A Populus poll for Saga, published by the Daily Mail, shows that 73 per cent believe an in/out referendum should be held. Support increases with age, rising to 78 per cent for those aged 80 to 89. ·