Those in the Westminster bubble have convinced themselves, partly through all the publicity they give to Nigel “Thirsty” Farage and his fellow saloon bar propper-uppers at UKIP, and the activities of the Europhobic fringe of the Tory Party, that the electorate demands a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. Most of the press is in agreement. All parties have to toe that line.
After all, think of those votes migrating to other parties if anyone were to prove less than committed to the R-word. So when Mil The Younger announced that Labour’s position was not unadjacent to “Meh”, there was outrage. Had he not got the message? Did he not realise what the consequences would be? What about that opinion poll majority for getting out altogether?
And, as so often in the past, Miliband has called it right and the naysayers have called it wrong, and nowhere can this be seen to better effect than at the bear pit that is Telegraph blogs, where Dan Hodges, who was so right about Labour that he resigned from the party, has told that “Ed Miliband leaps off the fence on Europe – and lands straight back on it”.
Labour’s briefing yesterday was “shambolic”. For Labour, “the only circumstances in which such a referendum would be offered would be if there was a proposal for a major new transfer of powers from the UK to Brussels ... Miliband and his ministers would be well aware they wouldn’t have a cat in hell’s chance of securing popular support for such a measure”. Maybe, but see below.
The rest of those at Tel blogs proffering an opinion argue along the same lines (Benedict “famous last words” Brogan tells “Ed Miliband goes from uncertainty to confusion on EU referendum”) or assert that this means Labour think they will win next year, a view endorsed by Iain Martin and Mary Riddell. And all of them, sad to say, are plain flat wrong.
Miliband has figured out two things. One is that the EU, despite all the screaming headlines and scare stories, is not a high priority for voters – and that many of them appreciate benefits such as freedom to work and buy property, low cost flights, roaming charges and the spread of English as a de facto pan-EU language. And the second is that opinion on pulling out is changing.
Whisper it quietly, but, as Mike Smithson at Political Betting has pointed out, the latest YouGov tracker poll for the Sun shows, for the first time, a majority for remaining in the EU. Were that the position at the start of a referendum campaign, the No camp might as well not bother: in 1975, a 2 to 1 No vote at that point became a 2 to 1 Yes by polling day.
Once again Miliband has made the right call. Pity nobody can see it yet.