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Labour is in danger of finishing third in the European elections

Were the opposition to be beaten by the Tories and Ukip, it would send shockwaves through the PLP. 

Were the opposition to be beaten by the Tories and Ukip, it would send shockwaves through the PLP.
Ed Miliband speaks at the CBI conference in 2012 in London. Photograph: Getty Images.

With the Tories in the lead for the first time since March 2012, it's the national polls that have attracted the most attention this morning. Lord Ashcroft's survey putting the Conservatives two points ahead (34-32) was followed by an ICM poll for the Guardian similarly putting the Tories two in front (33-31). But just as notable was the European section of the latter. 

For the first time since polling on the 22 May contest began, it showed Labour in third place on 24 per cent (down a remarkable 12 points since April), with Ukip in second on 26 per cent (up four) and the Tories in first on 27 per cent (up two). After Ukip's recent surge, few in Labour have expressed hope of winning the election but they must now contemplate a worse outcome: finishing third. 

Were the principal party of opposition to be beaten by the Tories and Ukip next week (as it was in 2009), it would send shockwaves through the PLP. Those inside and outside of the shadow cabinet who demanded that Ed Miliband promise an in/out EU referendum would claim vindication. As I've reported before, Miliband has no intention of changing his current stance: that a vote will only be held in the unlikely event of a further transfer of powers to Brussels. He (rightly) regards the issue of Europe as a distraction from the defining question of how to raise living standards and fears the consequences of being forced to hold a vote as prime minister. But he will encounter significant resistance if Labour is beaten by the eurosceptics and better off outers on 22 May. 

As I revealed yesterday, some shadow cabinet ministers are unhappy at his failure to talk more about how Labour would reform the EU, which they regarded as a quid pro quo for the non-referendum pledge (which a majority of members initially opposed). Unless Miliband shifts his emphasis soon, they will regard this promise as increasingly worthless.