Yesterday, Ed Miliband gave a speech on immigration in Great Yarmouth. It’s a seaside town, one of those seats in which the Tories, Labour and UKIP are basically neck in neck in the polls. So I slightly shuddered beforehand, particularly given a great deal of what Labour has said on this topic during the last five years I’ve found rather unsettling. But in the end it was fine; middling you could even have described it as.
As for the bit about the EU, well here it is in full:
“We won’t make false promises and we won’t offer you false solutions either. Like leaving the European Union. I just don’t think that’s the right thing to do. Great Yarmouth has always relied on trade. I’ve got to tell you, I believe leaving the EU would be a disaster for jobs, business and families here.”
This isn’t enough for a leader who only a few years ago was pressured by people within his own party for a pledge to hold an In/Out referendum, who then subsequently resisted that pressure and told the nation he wouldn’t hold one if prime minister. It’s going to be a disaster, Ed? How? Nigel Farage’s opposite vision, one that involves having the referendum and then Britain leaving the EU, is something he talks about in detail constantly, in what sounds like a fully formed vision. It’s all bollocks, of course, but it is delivered confidently and unashamedly. Meanwhile, all Ed ever gives us on why staying in the EU is important is platitudinous remarks which sound to many like the ramblings of the so called “liberal Marxist elite” of UKIP’s imagination.
But David Cameron deserves even more opprobrium because he’s the one who’s pledged to hold an In/Out referendum should he remain prime minister. It’s clear he thinks Britain should remain in, and for conservative reasons he should be able to articulate. Just once this parliament, I would have liked to have heard Cameron say something like this:
“I know many in my own party as well as many outside of it think that Europe is a busted flush; that we should withdraw our membership of the EU and look elsewhere for trading partners. To those who feel this way, I say this: more than half of our trade comes from within the single market, which I should like to remind everyone, is the largest market in the world.
“I think Britain should remain part of the EU because, as a passionate conservative, I believe our best interests are served within it. To leave may benefit us, that I’ll admit is obviously a possibility – but it is just as likely to weaken us. As a conservative, that isn’t a risk with the country I’m willing to take. Gambling away the entire future of the country strikes me as an extremely unconservative thing to do.”
Instead, we have had a talented polemicist in Nigel Farage shouting the alternative, unchallenged by the prime minister. The irony is, Cameron’s one reason for not being more explicit in voicing his desire to stay in the EU was probably electoral considerations. What happened in the wake of his pledge to hold a referendum was that he gave UKIP a huge space within which to articulate their vision, the result of which has not only been bad for Britain’s prospects of staying in the EU, but also bad for the Conservative Party’s chances of remaining the largest party in the Commons after May 7th, making Cameron’s stance even more inexplicable.
Clegg debated Farage, setting the stage for others to take him on; it’s still telling that neither Miliband nor Cameron were willing to do so. The nation is, as a result, poorer for the lack of leadership shown by both the prime minister and the leader of the opposition on this issue.