Labour and the EU: still dodging democracy
There’s something sinister in Labour’s about-face on a referendum.
Do you remember what the Labour Party was saying about holding a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU in the run-up to the General Election? Here’s a reminder: then Labour leader Ed Miliband said the very possibility of an EU referendum posed ‘a clear and present danger’ to jobs and business. Lest anyone was in any doubt, Labour’s ex-leader Tony Blair clarified matters. Putting an ‘[EU] exit on the agenda’, he said, would cause economic ‘chaos’.
That was Labour’s line. There would be no EU referendum on its watch. To stage one would do untold damage to the UK economy.
Sounds like a pretty firm line, right? Sounds like one of the few positions that Labour was committed to, yeah? Well, like just about everything else in the Labour policy cabinet, it seems Labour’s opposition to an EU referendum can be chucked out. Just like that. Now, as Labour’s acting leader Harriet Harman put it, she and her friends have ‘reflected on the conversations we had on doorsteps’, and decided that they would like a referendum after all. The economic Armageddon, the social apocalypse Labour has long prophesied should British citizens be allowed to vote on EU memberships, has been all but forgotten.
Not only that, Labour is now also saying it wants the referendum franchise to be extended to 16- and 17-year-olds. That’s just the way it rolls. One minute, it runs away from democracy as if it’s an approaching hailstorm, the next it wants to hold referenda and enlarge the franchise.
But this volte face is not evidence of Labour’s burgeoning democratic spirit; rather, it’s evidence of Labour’s dearth of democratic spirit. As its longstanding aversion to an EU referendum shows, it has never been keen on giving citizens a chance to determine the UK’s EU future.
More sinister still, the decision to support granting adolescents voting rights has nothing to do with a love of people power. Quite the opposite. Labour’s support for getting 16-year-olds in on the referendum is born from its belief that school-age kids are more likely to vote to keep Britain in the EU. After all, these are the same kids who have been shown the glories of the EU from their very first citizenship class onwards. This has nothing to do with empowerment, and everything to do with massaging the vote in the right direction.
Labour was never keen on letting the people have a chance to decide on EU membership, an entity its leaders have long been incredibly attached to. And, despite appearances to the contrary, Labour remains just as democracy-phobic now.
Tim Black is deputy editor at spiked.