Andy Burnham wants there to be a separate EU Labour Yes campaign, one very much walled off from any possible connection with the Tories. The reason for this is simple. Better Together was seen as a disaster for Labour, particularly given what happened several months later (the whole losing every seat in Scotland bar one, you may recall). They don’t want to repeat the same mistake by being seen to be colluding with the Conservative Party on something again.
The thing is, separate campaign or no separate campaign, Labour will ultimately be arguing on the same side as the Tories on this issue, and on top of that having to support Cameron’s changes to be ratified given it’s either that or we’re out. Taking on board Burnham’s clear desire to get those who deserted Labour for UKIP on May 7th back in the fold, how does the “Labour says Yes to Europe” campaign fit into that equation? And having a separate Labour Yes campaign on Europe begs the question: does that not open up the very real possibility of a Labour No campaign as well? What if, like we saw during the AV referendum, the Labour No campaign is ultimately bigger, more vocal and more grassrootsy than the Yes campaign? How will the trade unions play all this? There are so many questions for Labour in regards to the In/Out game.
On the other hand, what about the Tories? When a few days after the general election, people like Bill Cash were talking up Cameron’s ability to renegotiate in Europe, I figured he might just pull the whole thing off, keeping Britain in Europe while keeping the Conservative Party in one piece at the same time. Now, I’m less sure. Redwood’s reared his head and we’ve had Hammond going on about how futile he thinks Cameron’s current European plan is. When the prime minister announces his package and the plan to campaign for a Yes vote on it, how many of the Eurosceptics are going to seriously kick off? And what exactly will that mean? Post-Mark Reckless defection resulting in career extirpation, would any of them still seriously contemplate UKIP?
If I had to make a prediction on this, I’d say the Tories will hold themselves together somehow. They always do, it’s just one of those things. Labour, on the other hand, could be in trouble. A vocal Labour No campaign could really alienate London voters, while the Labour Yes campaign simultaneously annoys the rest of Labour’s core vote. It could be Scotland squared. But hey, Labour will have a brilliant leader to guide them through this minefield at the very least, won’t they?