Ed Miliband was right about one thing: plebiscites are problematicby Peter Kellner / May 22, 2015 / Leave a comment
It is just as well I am not a Labour politician, for the following sentence would surely make me persona non grata in the post-election era, whoever becomes the party’s new leader. But, in for a cent, in for a euro, here goes: Margaret Thatcher and Ed Miliband were right, while Andy Burnham, Mary Creagh and Liz Kendall are wrong.
The issue is whether Labour should now reverse Miliband’s stance on an in-out referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union. Miliband opposed David Cameron’s plans for a referendum before the end of 2017. It was one of the issues on which he was clear, principled, courageous – and right. Now, three of the four people who have announced their candidacy to lead the party want to back a vote.
I understand their argument. Opposition to a referendum looks arrogant and high-handed, as if we don’t trust the people. Voters say they want a referendum, and it would be undemocratic to deny one. Labour’s opposition contributed to the party’s unpopularity in this month’s election. Far better to admit that Miliband got this one wrong, hold a vote, and put the matter to rest.
These are not ridiculous arguments (though I doubt whether Labour’s defeat is down to its stance on an EU referendum), but they are too short-sighted. Referendums have crept into our constitutional arrangements haphazardly, with little clear discussion about the principles that should apply to any proposal to hold one. When, and on…