This week the Unite Union has offered some good advice to the Labour party. They said ” A policy which combines uncritical support for the present working of the EU while denying any opportunity for a referendum on Britain’s membership is thus likely to be an electoral millstone for Labour at the General Election”.
How wise those words are. The UK both needs a new relationship, and needs a vote on that deal if government thinks there is merit in staying within some parts of the current treaties. Official Labour policy offers neither the opportunity to renegotiate what we have, nor the chance to get out of what we are in.
Meanwhile Mr Balls made an important and thoughtful speech on 30 th June. He implies that Labour would need to renegotiate. ” We know that we need reform of the EU to deliver value or money for taxpayers and to make Europe work in our national interest”. Mr Balls fondly imagines that the UK can pull off the trick of improving the EU for all in the ways he wants, which is extremely unlikely. The Euro has its own centralising logic, pushing the EU in the opposite direction to the UK’s needs. Any successful negotiation is going to be primarily about opting the UK out of a lot more of the common government the others want or put up with.
Perhaps the most telling phrase in the whole speech relates to the explosive subject of immigration. Labour fears the splits, wanting to keep its migrant vote whilst worrying how to stop the loss of more traditional voters to UKIP and in Mr Balls’s seat as he points out to the BNP. He said ” On immigration too we need greater international co-operation so that we can keep the benefits of skilled migration, while controlling and managing it fairly. …..While still in Europe we need longer transitional controls…restrictions on benefits. Because we face such an acute challenge to make work pay for unskilled people, we should not be subsidising unskilled migration from the rest of the EU”.
So Mr Balls only seems to accept the doctrine of free movement for skilled people within the EU. He wants new controls on benefit seekers and on low wage unskilled labour. To do this, something Labour never attempted in government, he will need to make his party more Eurosceptic. The logic of Mr Balls’ position is a renegotiation for the UK, because the other states do not share his agenda. The logic of Unite that we also need a referendum serves to remind Labour of the popularity of that policy.