Miliband EU referendum pledge sends confusing signals
It might have been a lot easier if he'd just said: vote Labour and you won't get a referendum
ED MILIBAND has not got the headlines he wanted with his unveiling today of Labour's long-awaited policy on an in-out referendum on Britain's continued EU membership.
Labour briefers had hoped for a string of headlines in this morning's newspapers putting a positive gloss on his plan for a referendum in strictly limited circumstances: namely, a Labour government will hold an in-out referendum only if and when further powers are transferred to Europe under a new treaty.
As Patrick Wintour of The Guardian writes, Labour's newly declared position, agreed by the shadow cabinet, "was designed to prevent Labour being portrayed as the anti-referendum party in the European elections in May at a time when hostility to Brussels is gaining public traction".
Which leaves David Cameron the only one of the big three party leaders who will go into the European elections this May - and the general election next year - with a commitment to hold an in-out referendum in 2017 if the Tories form the next government.
As the FT reports it, Labour's position is based on Miliband's wish that a Labour government should not be "deflected from its economic agenda" by pursuing David Cameron’s “arbitrary” plan to hold an in–out referendum in 2017.
"In an attempt to reassure voters, Mr Miliband says Labour would pass a 'referendum lock' law, requiring an in-out EU vote if a new treaty passed powers from Westminster to Brussels. But he says that no such proposal is on the horizon: 'It is unlikely there will be any such proposal in the next parliament'."
Miliband's position will suit the likes of Europhiles in the Labour Party such as Lord Mandelson but it may not go down well with the old Eurosceptic left of the party, particularly among some unions who put him into power.
It is a difficult position to hold. You can almost hear the Today programme's John Humphrys smacking his lips at the prospect: "So, Mr Miliband, exactly what powers have to be surrendered to Brussels before you allow a referendum?"
The Mole is not alone in thinking that it would be easier for Miliband and the voters if he had just came out and said it: Vote Labour and you won't get a referendum; vote Tory and you will.