Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Labour's post election U-turn on an EU referendum

Anyone familiar with my work knows that I'm scathing critic of Labour's strategic ineptitude. I've already written at length about how their strategic incompetence cost them their political heartland of Scotland (where they lost 40 of their 41 Westminster seats) and how their unwillingness/inability to articulate a clear and coherent anti-Tory, anti-Austerity narrative severely damaged on their General Election campaign

In this article I'm going to consider Labour's strategically inept decision to leave it until a couple of weeks after the General Election to make a complete U-turn on their opposition the EU referendum. I'm not writing this article from a pro-EU perspective, nor from an anti-EU perspective, I'm simply interested in showing how Labour's decision to leave their U-turn until just a couple of weeks after the General Election is yet another demonstration of their strategic incompetence.

The decision by the Labour Party to drop their opposition to an EU referendum just weeks after their dismal General Election defeat is almost beyond belief. I say "almost" because anyone who witnessed the way they squandered 40 seats in Scotland by siding with the politically toxic Tory party over Scottish independence (instead of offering a distinct and clearly defined alternative of their own) will be familiar with the woeful strategic incompetence of the Labour Party leadership.

In the lead up to a General Election we had the bizarre spectacle of the Labour Party being utterly paralysed with incompetence as Nigel Farage actively told UKIP supporters to go vote Tory. Had Labour dropped their opposition to the EU referendum at that point, they could have drawn the UKIP thorn by offering the Eurosceptic public the referendum they wanted, which is nothing more than what they are now willing to offer after the fact.

Instead of playing the situation to their advantage by dropping their opposition to an in-out EU referendum at a strategically significant time, they sat in paralysis whilst Nigel Farage actively and explicitly reduced the UKIP threat to the Tories by instructing cohorts of them to actually go out and vote Tory.

As a breif aside before I get back to Labour's strategic ineptitude, it's worth thinking about how incredible it is that Farage has managed to hang on as leader of his party when he was guilty of losing an absurd all-or-nothing resignation gamble and of actively promoting a rival political party during the campaign (in which they actually lost one of their two seats). If the leader of the party I supported had advised me to go off and vote for another political party, I'd either have demand their removal as leader, or abandoned the party altogether if they clung on to the leadership. Most Ukippers on the other hand seem deleriously happy to have him back for some reason!

A pre-election announcement that Labour would drop their opposition to an EU referendum, but campaign in favour of continued membership could have worked very well indeed. Not only would this change of position have drawn the UKIP thorn, a clear contrast could have been drawn with David Cameron, who leads a Tory party that is clearly split down the middle over the EU.

Labour could easily have framed the debate to contrast their policy of having a referendum and campaigning in favour of staying in, with the fact that the Tories would be incapable of delivering anything even remotely resembling a coherent message on EU membership should they win the election and get to administer the referendum.

Such a stance would also have allowed Labour to draw a very favourable comparison against the Lib-Dems too, by casting Labour as the pro-EU party who want to give ordinary people a say on the issue and have the confidence in themselves to articlulate a pro-EU stance in the debate, and criticising the Lib-Dems as intent on denying people the right to decide because they believe themselves incapable of coherently defending their support for the EU.

Had Labor framed the debate this way they could have offered Eurosceptics the referendum they wanted, and offered Europhiles the chance to support a pro-EU party that is not afraid to give the public their say and articulate their case in the debate. Only those who are fearful of the "wrong result" in an EU referendum would be deterred, but since the incredibly untrustworthy Lib-Dems would have been the last party standing on a platform of refusing to let the public have their say, Labour probably wouldn't have lost many Europhile votes to them over it.

After the election many people were surprised that there had been huge swings towards UKIP in several Labour seats, but that Farage's party had failed to displace a single Tory MP. I wasn't that surprised. After all, David Cameron had offered Eurosceptics the referendum they wanted, and Labour hadn't. Add to that the fact that Nigel Farage had even instructed his followers to go and vote for his ideological blood-brothers in the Tory party, and it's not difficult to see how UKIP probably caused much more damage to Labour than to the Tories in 2015.

In my view this post-election U-turn from the Labour Party is utterly absurd because had Labour supported letting people have their say before the election instead of after it, it's not beyond the bounds of possibility that a shift of a few hundred thousand disillusioned Eurosceptic Labour supporters in marginal constituencies back from UKIP would have been enough to prevent the Tories edging an absolute majority.

Who knows what the outcome might have been? But one thing is for sure, changing tack when the party is wallowing leaderless in the wake of an inepty managed General Election campaign is not exactly what anyone would call a strategically opportune moment.

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Austerity is a con
The terrifying scale of political illiteracy in the UK
Labour vs the Lib-Dems in the strategic ineptitude stakes
How George Osborne has created more debt than every Labour government in history combined
The Tory "economic recovery" mantra is a lie
The Tory ideological mission
How Labour completely lost the plot in Scotland
Nigel Farage's undignified un-resignation