Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

The Lib Dems should support Cameron on an EU referendum

As I type David Cameron is delivering a speech on Europe in which he will promise an in/out referendum on Europe after the next election following a renegotiation of terms of membership for the UK.

There are lots of comments from across the political spectrum both for and against the PM's move. Many on the left are attacking him as "weak", the argument being he has capitulated to his backbenchers and is running scared of UKIP. There may be some truth in that but politically being on the side of "the voters" and giving them "the choice" is pretty damn hard to argue against.

And that is where the danger lies for the Lib Dems. Senior parliamentarians have been active in recent days making it clear that we are not in favour of an EU referendum unless something significant has changed (which technically has been our position since Clegg took over). I have argued previously that our position was too nuanced. We used to be for a referendum (and caveats were often not applied before the election), now we appear to be rowing back. There will be a temptation to try and distance the party from Cameron and fall in with the criticisms of him being "opportunistic". That would be an error and also failing to respond to the suddenly shifted ground.

Cameron's speech gives us the chance to get back on track. We should agree with allowing a referendum once terms have been negotiated. That will help to neutralise it as an issue. It's perfectly consistent with our position as we can clearly argue that renegotiated terms are a change and therefore our promise of a referendum should then kick in.

This actually gives us a way out of the political cul-de-sac we have got ourselves into on this issue in recent weeks. We should take it and back Cameron.


asquith said...

Agree with this, both the for and against sides should want a referendum. All eyes are now on the “renegotiation” Cameron would bring about before the referendum. I suspect he will (if he’s in a position to do anything at all by 2015) make a huge deal about how much he’s got out of Europe and campaign for a Yes vote, albeit possibly with little enthusiasm. The other question is whether he’ll allow a free vote by ministers and who’d take what side. It looks very much like 1975, but with more honesty in the debate and less one-sidedness.

Miliband is, imho, shafted today. His state reminds me of nothing so much as that Brown was landed in in 2007 when Ozzy pledged to cut inheritance tax. Whatever he subsequently does will make him look bad and low-information voters will simply register that he wassn’t there when Cameron made a dramatic move. The Labour core vote vote Labour as they’re wholly incapable of doing otherwise, and floating voters might forget if he’s lucky, but that grey streak (can anyone else not stop themselves looking at it whenever he’s on Marr, PMQs etc?) will be widening today.

It could end up being even worse for kippers. They're assuming the public would vote no. What if they vote yes?

asquith said...

Presumably also, your ministers will play a role in the renegotiation?