In his interview on Today this morning, Nigel Farage again expressed his belief that Ed Miliband would be forced to guarantee an in/out EU referendum if Ukip wins the European elections. To date, Miliband has said that a Labour government would only hold a referendum in the event of a further transfer of powers to Brussels, a condition that he believes is unlikely to be met. The result is that the Tories are able to boast that the only way to guarantee an in/out vote on EU membership is to vote Conservative in 2015, an attack line that Farage recognises has the potential to do increasing damage to Ukip. Given the likelihood that Labour will be the largest party after the general election (not least thanks to the divided right), Farage needs Miliband to U-turn if he is to avoid losing EU withdrawalists to the Tories.
But as I’ve reported before, there is no prospect of him doing so. A senior Labour source told me: “The idea that Labour will change position is as unfeasible and ill-thought out as everything else Farage says.” He pointed out that both the shadow cabinet and the PLP (with the exception of mavericks such as Kate Hoey) were “united” behind Miliband’s stance and said a future Labour government would not allow itself to be “paralysed” by an arbitrary referendum. Instead, it would promote “the national interest” by only holding a vote in “the unlikely event of a further transfer of powers” and focusing on tackling the living standards crisis.
While Farage managed to force Cameron to promise a referendum against his wishes, there is no chance of him enjoying a similar success with Miliband. Unlike the PM, the Labour leader does not lurch, he does not U-turn. When a stance is adopted, typically in the form of a detailed speech, it is maintained. With Labour far more united than the Tories on Europe (a reversal of the situation in 1975), there is also no prospect of Miliband coming under comparable internal pressure to Cameron.
Finally, since Miliband rightly believes that he has a good chance of becoming prime minister, he is not prepared to allow the opening years of his premiership to be dominated by a referendum that he could struggle to win (an outcome that would likely force his resignation).
If Ukip do win tomorrow, the Labour leader will speak again about the need to restore trust in politics and to address the root causes of the party’s support. What he will not do is promise an EU referendum that is neither in his interests nor those of the country.