Deal or no deal? Answer the question Ed

‘If you can’t decide, you can’t lead’. That was the scathing assessment David Cameron handed out to Ed Miliband in the Commons on Monday over Ed’s apparent reluctance to inform the country what he would have done if he had been in Cameron’s seat in Brussels last Thursday. Unfortunately, on this rare occasion, I would have to agree with our Prime Minister.

Miliband’s unwillingness to spill the beans on what he would have done stems mainly from the sort of conundrum that has come to dominate his leadership so far; his perspective on the issue just simply doesn’t tally up with popular opinion amongst the general public. Miliband believes, just like the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, that Britain’s future prosperity is tied up with that of Europe, and as a result, we need to be at the heart of the decision-making process, not standing at the door, hoping to be let back in if the Eurozone recovers, but ready to bolt it if it all goes belly up. Yet with 62% of the electorate backing Cameron’s veto, Miliband feels deeply uncomfortable echoing such sentiments too strongly.

Miliband also knows that if he comes out too strongly in favour of reaching an agreement with our European partners, the media will rush to tell us how this is another indicator of just how much of a loony lefty Miliband really is. Of course this completely ignores the fact that a desire to trade openly with our European partners and to maintain budgets that are fiscally conservative is a position that one might more logically associate with someone on the right of the political spectrum. But then that would be to admit that the position of Britain within the EU is rather more nuanced than the ‘get out and stay out’ position that large sections of the media like to adopt.

Yet whilst these are clearly reasons for Ed to be apprehensive about coming out strongly in favour of doing a deal that would have deepened our bond with the rest of Europe, his current position of criticising Cameron whilst refusing to commit to what he would have done, is only succeeding in leaving him looking weak and indecisive. Miliband may well be right in insisting that he never would have left Britain so isolated going into the negotiations, as Cameron did through his decision to withdraw the Conservatives from the main centre-right party in the EU and instead line them up with minor parties on the extreme right. He may well also have negotiated in a more skilful and diplomatic manner than Cameron managed; as even Ed’s greatest critics would acknowledge, he is an incredibly accomplished performer when it comes to the art of diplomacy and negotiating deals. But refusing to answer the question because he rejects the premise that he would have ever have allowed himself to be forced into such a dire diplomatic situation is a tough sell to the electorate; it makes him look weak and indecisive. It makes him look like he doesn’t have a satisfactory answer to give. It makes him look like Cameron looks every Wednesday lunchtime as he stumbles through another PMQs.

What’s more, everyone who has even a passing interest in politics knows Ed is pro-Europe. His refusal to say whether he would’ve done a deal last week hasn’t convinced anyone otherwise. What people don’t know is how that stance translates into policy. Cameron is currently strolling round the halls of Westminster telling anyone who will listen that the Labour party, under the stewardship of the two Ed’s, would have Britain sign up to the euro. That’s not true; Ed Balls made it perfectly clear that wasn’t the position of the Labour party just a few weeks back. Yet when Cameron has raised the suggestion at PMQs in recent weeks, Miliband has failed to slap him down for the misinformation he is so gleefully spreading.

Anyone who stops even for just a minute to consider how isolated Cameron’s veto will leave Britain in the future, rather than glorifying him simply for sticking two fingers up to the rest of Europe, will realise just how rotten a decision this was from the Prime Minister. When even Big business comes out against the veto that Cameron probably thought he was delivering for them, you know just how misguided his tactics were.  But it is not enough for Miliband to simply castigate Cameron for his diplomatic failings. He must make it clear, as Caroline Lucas did in the Commons on Monday, that Cameron is mistakenly conflating the national interests with the interests of the City of London. If only Cameron hadn’t gone to Brussels last Thursday in the pockets of the hedge funds who bankroll his party, he might have been able to see the virtues of working with our European partners and not squandered our seat at the negotiating table.

Perhaps most importantly though, Miliband and the Labour party must make the case that the national interests of individual countries within the EU are not playing off against each other in a zero-sum game. The Conservatives want us to see it that way, because they believe their power to legislate is a zero-sum game. That in itself is disputable, but either way, it is not the same as our national interest. There was a deal to be done last Thursday that was in Britain and Europe’s best interests, and Miliband must make it clear he would have got that deal done.

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Posted on December 15, 2011, in Labour Party and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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