Coffee House

‘Weak, weak, weak’ Labour will have to avoid looking panicked on any referendum pledge

2 July 2013

David Cameron’s statement on the European council was another example of how easy it is at the moment for the Tories to portray Ed Miliband as a weak leader. He made it perfectly clear what he wanted those watching to take away by stealing Tony Blair’s ‘weak, weak, weak’ line in 1997 when attacking John Major (which is well worth watching again). Today the PM told the Commons that Ed Miliband’s position on Europe could be summed up in three words: ‘weak, weak, weak’. He said:

‘What I thought was interesting about the right hon. Gentleman’s response was that we heard not a word about the referendum that we are going to discuss and debate on Friday. I think I know why. The right hon. Gentleman has said that he is not in favour of a referendum; the shadow Chancellor has said that it is pretty stupid not to have a referendum; his chief adviser has said that it is conceivable that they might have a referendum—mind you, his chief adviser thinks all sorts of things are conceivable. Now the Labour leader has a new approach, announced in The Sunday Times—that Labour is not going to talk about a referendum. I think I can sum up the right hon. Gentleman’s policy in three words: weak, weak, weak.’

The problem is that for as long as Labour either opposes an EU referendum, or abstains on votes providing for one, as it will on Friday, Cameron can continue to call the party ‘weak, weak, weak’. An abstention is not a position of strength, no matter how hard spinners try to dress it up as one by saying they’re more interested in jobs and growth. It is a dither. Yet the party cannot oppose a referendum outright because it is aware of the electoral damage this would incur. Hence the weak dither.

This make it even more difficult for the party to resist committing to a referendum. But Labour can only move into a position of strength on this policy by timing the announcement with precision. If the party does decide that it wants a referendum, it should take lessons from the way Number 10 dealt with John Baron’s Queen’s Speech amendment vote and do precisely the opposite. The Conservatives published the draft referendum bill two days before the vote in a manner that to all intents and purposes appeared weak and rushed, not planned at all. Labour will need to find a time to make any referendum pledge that stops it from appearing panicked, panicked, panicked as well.

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  • AureliusMarcus

    I think the interesting thing (from a labour perspective) is that quite a lot of the unions are coming round to the idea that the EU is a bad thing; unfettered immigration of low cost workers = bad for their members. Bob Crow in the RMT has been pretty vociferous on the subject and Unite’s McLusky has muttered about it as well in the past. At what point do the paymasters of the Labour start making their feelings felt? And whither then Milliband? Dithering on your own make be perceived as being weak, subsequently having your arm twisted by someone else proves it beyond doubt. However, I think that the issue here is an intellectual one for Milliband. He is a genuine Marxist socialist, who really believes that the State knows best and that the State should decide; the people are an irrelevance in his world view, they exist merely to do as they are told, not to be participants in the dialogue. Referenda are thus an anathema. It will be interesting to watch him wriggle in the jaws of the dilemma as political reality of his position is set against his political idealism.

  • bob andson

    A referendum is just that, A referendum, a document saying how the people feel about a certain subject, there is no compulsion for the government to act on it, but our Magna Carta is set in stone and it states that our sovereignty shall not be passed to a foreign power, the E.U. is a foreign power, so therefore the U.K. governments have committed treason, which makes our signing up to the E.U. an illegal act. — is there anyone out there who would like to tell me this is wrong.

    • HookesLaw


      Every time we sign a treaty we sign away some sovereign power. We are in NATO, that means going to the aid of a fellow member if attacked. That is going to war. Not too long ago that might have meant going to nuclear war.

      And the EU is not a ‘foreign power’, despite its attempts to attract that panoply. Of course if it enacts a fiscal union treaty it is moving closer to that since it means moving to a more political union. Thats why such a move would need a referendum in this country at least.

  • Will Rees

    Given that no parliament may bind its successors makes the vote meaningless, and as this site has already pointed out, the online parallel campaign is just a tory email harvesting exercise. It is the Tory’s that look cynical rather than anyone else weak.

    But the longer the political establishment of all colours put off consultation the less likely they are to win it in the end.
    The deck chair waltzing of the last 20 years are fooling less and less of the electorate.

    • HookesLaw

      ‘ no parliament may bind its successors’ Yes and all Labour have to do is fight the election on a policy of no referendum and repealing the triple lock on a EU referendum if there is a treaty change.

      Parliaments do not ‘bind successors’, because paries can put their policies before the electorate. Without stating its position the Labour party have no mandate to avoid a referendum.

      This vote is indeed meaningless, apart from embarrassing Labour – what counts is the position stated by the parties at the next election. Labour’s unwillingness to vote for a referendum speaks volumes.

      • Will Rees

        Not really volumes. Labour won an election saying they would have a referendum on the EU constitution then side stepped saying Lisbon was n’t a constitution so no referendum required, then Tories won the next election saying Lisbon needed a referendum, only it didn’t when they got in to power. Libs said they wanted a ref then 3 line whipped an abstention at the best shot we had in my lifetime of getting a puplic consultation (and I’m going grey). THEY ARE ALL, ALL ABOUT POSTURING, but an actual plebiscite scares them shitless.

        Not sure why, though it has actually helped (unfortunately). Having worked hard to help get a referendum on the Euro, I’m glad we never managed it, coz as right as Jimmy was,the majority couldn’t see it and probably would have joined backing UK entry. Now only an idiot or Tony Blair would recommend it.

        The longer it is left, with either Germany or PIGS democracies breaking on the whee,l the clearer to a generally disinterested majority it will be that hanging on to the coat tails of an EU we are out of step with isn’t in the national interest.So perversely the best way to get a vote that isn’t a stitch up is to not have one now. The EU its like a Chinese Finger trap (where coincidentally the Chinese own enough Eurozone bonds to hold sway).

        • Andy

          The lie was Labour’s. The Lisbon Treaty is the old constitution with a shiny new cover stapled on it. Labour lied and lied and lied. They know full well had we had a referendum on Lisbon the people would have thrown it out. Cameron got himself in a mess with it because Labour ratified the treaty before the election and every member of the EU also ratified it before our election.

          In many ways you are right. The way to defeat the EU machine is to allow this to fester even more. The longer it goes on and the more of a mess the Eurozone becomes the less the British people like it.

        • HookesLaw

          ‘then Tories won the next election saying Lisbon needed a referendum, only it didn’t when they got in to power.’ — your knowledge of history is shaky and I suspect your ignorance is shared by many others. There is no excuse for it but it does show that people’s prejudices arr based on ignorance.

          Cameron and the Tories did not go into the 2010 election saying they would hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.
          The tories said before the 2009 Euro elections that if the treaty was not ratified by the time of the next election they would hold a referendum.
          The treaty was ratified by then and Brown signed the treaty himself.

          There was no commitment to hold a referendum in the tories 2010 manifesto. Following the 2010 election there was no majority in parliament to hold one anyway.

          Soon after the 2010 election Cameron said that they would hold negotiations with the EU and there would be a referendum. This is being pitched at 2017. I expect that such a promise will be in the 2015 manifesto.

  • HookesLaw

    The only reason for Labour not wanting a referendum is that they are irredeemably committed to the EU.
    This is the party that UKIP policies would give to the UK.

    There is no reason for labour or the LDs to avoid a referendum because the UK will not be a party to the coming EU fiscal treaty and the UK needs to negotiate its new position and then there will be a referendum.
    Labour should be stating what that position would be.

    • Hexhamgeezer

      You might not have noticed but ‘cast iron dave’ is ‘irredeemably committed to the EU’ . I know this because he keeps telling us and his chums in Europe, and it is the only thing that comes out of his mouth that is unequivocal and unqualified.

      • HookesLaw

        Cameron voted against the lisbon treaty.
        Like a lot of people he thinks Britain is best served on balance by being in the EU. offering a referendum hardly seems ‘irredeemable’ to me.
        You are free to argue against that, but your arguments might be helped if they were founded on truth and reality, not pejorative hyperbole.

        The truth is there would not be much difference if we were out (being in the EEA means, quite sensibly, being in the single market) and arguments for being in are mainly surrounded by the issue of political influence.

        If you ask me what I think then if the EU does move to a closer fiscal union (hence political union) then I think on balance we would be better off in the EEA and linking to the EU that way. It depends on whatever actually turns out.

        But the difference is a very fine one and life would be hardly noticeably different – and it still means that a labour govt even in those conditions could bring the UK closer to the EU by stealth.

        The point is the EU will not go away and we have to have a relationship with it.

        • ButcombeMan

          “If you ask me what I think then if the EU does move to a closer fiscal union (hence political union) then I think on balance we would be better off in the EEA and linking to the EU that way. It depends on whatever actually turns out”.

          That sounds better. Have you changed your position? You are almost where I am. Late to the party but better late than never.

          Your determined attacks on kippers has missed the point, we need to keep the pressure up on both Labour & Tory leaders.

          • HookesLaw

            No I have not changes any position. My position remains that the difference between being in or out is very small and not worth the hysteria that surrounds it. certainky not worth handing the government to labour in 2015.
            The greatest danger to this country lies in a return of a Labour govt – not least because they are rabidly pro EU.

            the EU will not go away and we have to deal with it. If OUT then that would be a trade agreement under the EEA which means we still obey single market rules and payments. This would still involve free movement of labour as well as goods – look at Norway.

            As it stands now we are better IN – in my opinion. If the EU move to a closer fiscal union and closer banking regulation then we will it is clear have to negotiate fresh terms and one way or another that I think will lead to being more semi detached.

            • Lady Magdalene

              The difference between being IN the EU and OUT of the EU isn’t very small.
              It’s the difference between being a Sovereign, Independent and self-governing Democracy – where those who make the law are accountable to those who elect them. Or being a region in an anti-Democratic supra-national organisation where the laws are made by people who are completely immune from any kind of democratic accountability. In other words, a dictatorship.

        • David B

          I agree with the sentiment but I think being out of the EU will have a larger effect on business confidence and growth with the release from the regulations Brussels imposes in the name of integration.

          Cameron should be allowed to have his own position. What we want is a choice so that parliment’s position reflects that of the public.

          The only requirement is that the PM at the time of a referendum must resign if he backs one side and the other side wins. So if Cameron (or Miluband for that mater) backs the in campaign and out wins they are uniquely poorly based to negotiate the leaving terms and they must go in favour of the highest placed member of their party in the winning campaign

          • HookesLaw

            Being in the EEA and single market will not have any effect on sparing us from regulation. We would simply have no say in what they are.

            Your notion of how parties chose their leader is a bit naive. If we chose to vote OUT without any notion of what the consequences are then we are a bit dim. Basically if we are out we would want I suggest to be in the EEA and thus still have access to the single market. If we vote out we have to face the fact that we have voted for a pig in a poke and the notion that the PM should simply walk away seems crazy to me.

            • David B

              I think it was Switzerland who just voted to scrap EU regulations and after a bit of venting of hot air nothing happened. So being an EEA country does not automatically require the taking of all regulations. That will be a key part of the exit negotiations and a key reason why we cannot have a lame duck PM.

              With regard to the PM I am not aware of it being a requirement of our constitution for a party leader to be PM. The outgoing PM can suggest anyone in the house to form a government. In these circumstances the new PM would only be for the exit period at which time an election would need to be called to resolve the long term government of the country in the new position of being outside the EU.

        • Lady Magdalene

          We don’t have ‘a relationship’ with the EU, we’re ruled by it. And all the time we’re a member – which is what Cameron wants – we will continue to be ruled by it.
          All Cameron wants is a Mandate to keep us IN. Currently there is no mandate.

  • telemachus

    Pro Europe is a position of strength
    The strength to resist the baying mob and seek the best interests of the UK
    And the courage to say so

    • HookesLaw

      Good – lets hear labour shouting that ever more loudly. So all the UKIPers can hear.

    • Tom M

      Depends how representative your baying mob is does it not?

      • Andy

        He has no mob – representative or otherwise.

        Actually the mob would be very happy to see telemachus dangling from a lamppost.

    • chudsmania

      You should be sectioned. You wont be happy until either this country is bankrupt , or fully enrolled into the rotten EU edifice. You need serious help.

    • David B

      Then why does Labour not have the strength of its on convictions and vote against the referendum. The reason is simple they don’t want to upset the pro Europeans in the socialist group and in the unions but need to leave the door open for the enevatable change of policy, before the next election, because he knows he will lose if he doesn’t.

      But I said it at the time, the referendum is the enevatable result of Miliband’s shortsighted, politically motivated decision to vote for a budget reduction at the end of last year when he knew Cameron could only deliver that be gong eurosceptic and taking the country further in that direction.

      So man up Tele and support the enevatable result of your party policy! – that’s why you and Ed are so weak, you played politics and lost and now your trying to forget

      • telemachus

        The referndum is a political irrelevance to any other than the 1922 committee and the Tory leadership

        • David B

          Tele it is only an irrelevance to Labour and the Lib Dems because they are scared of it. By the time of next years Euro elections the two Ed’s will be fully signed up to the referendum and the party leaders will be trying to outdo each other on how euro skeptic they are.

          Don’t worry I’m sure the “great” leader will tell you when its time to start posting in that manor.

    • Fergus Pickering

      The baying mob being the people who disagree with you?

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