Is Miliband Quietly Leading the UK out of the EU?

This is, on the face of it, what the journalist and commentator for the Independent, John Rentoul, would describe as a classic “Question to which the answer is no“, but bear with me.

It is certainly true that in the past 20 or so years, the Labour Party has been largely very strongly pro-EU. However, it is often forgotten that for much of the preceeding 40 years it was very strongly against the UK being a member. Right at the start, Clement Attlee was reported as breezily dismissing over the phone while on holiday in the South of France the idea of joining on the basis that “the Unions will never buy it”. At the beginning of the end of that period, Labour campaigned at the 1983 General Election on the basis of immediately commencing negotiations to leave (without mention of a referendum) were it to win. In between, it is notable that the UK joined the Common Market under Heath and that the campaign to remain in ahead of the 1975 referendum was led more enthusiastically by Margaret Thatcher, complete with wooly jumper knitted with the flags of the then current Member States, than the Labour government of the day. 

The move from that position to one of barely giving thought to having another referendum let alone contemplating campaigning for exit in one is an interesting one. My theory of this is that it was probably a mix of a desire to become more pro-business, to benefit from EU social policies which would be unlikely to be enacted by any Tory government and which might be easily reversed by one if only in domestic legislation and a hearty dose of schadenfreude at the way in which eurosceptics undermined John Major’s time in Number 10. So, why might Ed Miliband move his Party back from this?

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Ed’s Red, Baby, Ed’s Red

This is a good thing. Not because I agree. You’d all expect me not to particularly, but because it means that finally we can see beyond the vague and wonkish scene setting of Ed Miliband’s previous speeches to the Labour Conference to what he would actually do if he became Prime Minister. Before looking at his speech in any detail, another strong positive from it is that it finally breaks apart the stifling semi-consensus crowding the middle of the political spectrum. That meant that it was too easy to say, as UKIPpers and others were wont to, that all three of the major parties were largely the same so it didn’t really matter which was in power, alone or in coalition. David Cameron’s task next week of putting “clear blue water” between himself and Labour is made easier and the LibDems’ task of attempting to be appealing coalition partners for both Labour and the Tories much harder. If nothing else, Miliband is looking to do something different and carrying through with his promise to take a different direction to the one of the past 35 years. However, merely being different doesn’t mean being good (as the US fast food chain, Arby’s discovered in failing to break the UK market with its slogan of “Different is Good”).

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