Guest blog from David O’Leary: An EU referendum: bad for the UK, and bad for Labour

In last Sunday’s Observer, we were told that Ed Miliband is being urged to pledge an ‘in-or-out’ referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union should Labour be elected in the 2015 General Election.

It is clear from this article, and other noises off (by Lord Mandelson, for example) that Labour Party opinion is being prepared for a change in direction, just months after Labour rejected the idea of such a referendum in a House of Commons vote.

It is ‘clever politics’, we are told. (For fans of political irregular verbs, I practise clever politics; you are opportunistic.) My view is that Labour is playing with fire. We do not want the most likely outcome (withdrawal), and while there may be some initial advantage in being the first to commit to such a referendum, the Conservatives, under pressure from the UK Independence Party, could do nothing but follow suit – eliminating that advantage.

If Labour did win in 2015, what next? There would be a distracting and unnecessary referendum. The Labour Party would be divided. The referendum would, based on current opinions, be lost. The government would lose credibility and authority just months after it had won an election. Instead, Labour should be working with its Socialist colleagues to develop an effective vision for Europe – a way-out of the dead-end into which the austerity-fetishists have driven us.

There are also non-partisan arguments against a referendum on EU membership. We are told that a plebiscite will ‘settle this issue once and for all’. This is nonsense. A narrow victory for the ‘pro-EU’ campaign – the only type of victory supporters of EU membership could possibly imagine at this stage – is more likely to give succour to the UKIP and its allies. The question will continue to be part of public discourse and we could well see a further referendum after the 2020 election. If anyone thinks Nigel Farage or Daniel Hannan will say, ‘Well, we gave it a good shot but the people have spoken and that’s it for another generation’ then they are seriously deluded.

And that is not to mention the many good reasons to oppose referendums on principle. They can be dangerous, distilling complex political debates into bumper-sticker-friendly yes-or-no arguments. Their results are misleading and without nuance. Options A and B may be on the ballot paper, but options C and D may be preferable to both. The 1999 referendum in Australia on maintaining the Queen as the Head of State is a case in point: polls showed that the majority of Australians wanted a republic – but they did not want the type of republic offered in the referendum. In the case of a vote on EU membership, people are being asked to take it or leave it – not to express discontent with particular parts of the European project and support for others, a position that probably reflects the majority view.

Read more here.

Reminder – LI delegates to Party conference

This year Labour Party conference will be held in Manchester from 30 September to 4 October.

Based on current membership numbers, Labour International is entitled to send four delegates to conference, one of whom should be a youth delegate (under 27 years old).

Brussels Labour is considering providing some help to support a youth delegate from Brussels Labour to attend conference this year. To be considered, you must have been a member of the Labour Party for at least 12 months, be a member of Labour International, and be able to attend the entire conference.

If you would like to be considered as a delegate to conference, please send an email to the Secretary explaining why you should be considered. The deadline is Tuesday 5 June 2012.

If you would like more information, please contact the Secretary or another member of the Brussels Labour Executive Committee.

Reminder – Registration for the Communal elections

Should you wish to vote in the next local elections in Belgium on Sunday 14 October 2012, you will need to make sure you are registered by Tuesday 31 July 2012.

For Brussels residents, registration is very easy. Just print out and complete the application form in the link below and send it to your “Maison Communal” (see links below for your commune).

Anderlecht | Auderghem | Berchem-Ste-Agathe | Bruxelles Ville | Etterbeek | Evere | Forest | Ganshoren | Ixelles | Jette | Koekelberg | Molenbeek-St-Jean | Saint-Gilles | Saint-Josse-Ten-Node | Schaerbeek | Uccle | Watermael-Boitsfort | Woluwe-Saint-Lambert | Woluwe-Saint-Pierre

Next branch meeting – French elections with Catherine Trautmann MEP

The next Brussels Labour branch meeting will feature Catherine Trautmann MEP of the French PS, who will talk about the French elections.

The meeting will be held on Tuesday 29 May at the Press Club Europe, Rue Froissart 95, 1000 Brussels.

Doors open at 19:30, with the meeting beginning at 20:00.


Next meetings


Wednesday 20 June 2012

Belgian Communal elections: Pascal Smet – Flemish Minister for Education, Youth, Equal Opportunities and Brussels Affairs

L’Horloge du Sud, Rue du Trône 141, 1050 Ixelles

Venue open from 19:30 – Meeting at 20:00If you would like to eat, please come early and order before the meeting starts.


Tuesday 10 July 2012

Brussels Labour Summer Social – Kindly hosted by Maggie Coulthard & Peter Wragg

Rue Alphonse Hottat 33, 1050 Ixelles

Maggie has asked us to inform you that it is impossible to park near their house, so please take public transport (bus 95 Ave de la Couronne, bus 71 Flagey, bus 59 Ixelles hospital, or tram 81 Germoir or Brasserie stops)

Please join us from 19:30 and bring a bottle! (Out of respect for our host, the Social will end at 22:30)