Richard North, 12/03/2014  
 

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In one fell swoop, Ed Miliband's speech today on the EU has changed the electoral calculus. If there is a new treaty in the next parliament, a vote for UKIP at the general election becomes a vote to keep the UK in the European Union. By contrast, a vote for the Conservatives – however unattractive – becomes essential.

Up to press, we have relied on the Kellner scenario, which has Labour in office after the coming general election. When subsequently we have a "yes-no" referendum on the new EU treaty, under the so-called "referendum lock", we would then have the advantage of Conservatives in opposition. In oppostion, and only then, might they fight the treaty, in an informal alliance with UKIP. And they would have the advantage of the status quo in our favour, while fighting against an unpopular, mid-term Labour government supporting an unpopular treaty.

But what Miliband has very cleverly done is turn the status quo effect to his advantage. The message he wanted to go out, he said, was that "Britain is open for business and is clear we want to remain an engaged and committed member of the EU". But he then adds the key words: "With a clear lock that guarantees that there will be no transfer of powers from Britain to the European Union without an in/out referendum".

Thus he is deploying the "nuclear option". Voters will no longer have the [relatively] risk-free choice of "yes-no", rejecting the treaty and staying in the EU. They will be given the "in-out" choice of accepting the treaty OR leaving the EU.

Furthermore, not only does this give Miliband the benefit of the status quo effect, it puts the Conservatives on the spot. While the Tories in opposition might unite against another treaty, at the very least, the prospect of an "out" vote would divide the party. More likely, they would opt to stay in the EU, thereby endorsing the treaty.

The same would go for the media. While some would risk a punt on opposing a treaty, most newspapers (and all the broadcast media) would back continued membership. However reluctantly, they would support the "in" camp.

Effectively, therefore, this negates any advantage to be gained from the Kellner scenario. Then, the risk of letting in Labour by voting UKIP was acceptable, as the best chance of rejecting a treaty was to have Labour in office. But, if Miliband plans to change the balance of advantage,  the best chance of defeating a new treaty now rests with having the Tories in office. And the best way to get Tories is to vote Tory.

All of this, of course, depends on there being a new treaty within the span of the next electoral cycle. My view is that this is very likely. Miliband suggests otherwise. Thus, the New Statesman believes that the Labour leader is effectively ruling out a referendum.

Interestingly, though, this magazine has sussed Miliband's game. "A vote on a specific treaty practically invites the public to express their distaste for the EU without confronting the risk of actually leaving the club", it says. "That", is adds, "makes a 'no' much more likely. Pretty much the only way to get a 'yes' in any European poll is to make it an all or nothing choice".

Since others also believe Miliband is effectively ruling out a referendum, though, and by so doing is showing his confidence that he will win the next election, the best option for a referendum – according to Cameron - is to elect the Tories.

Unfortunately, the likelihood of us having a 2017 referendum under the Tories is as remote as us having one under Labour. What matters is whether the "colleagues" go for a new treaty. If you think there will be a new treaty, then there may well be a referendum - although it won't be in 2017. And for that, we now need the Tories in office.

But, what is becoming crystal clear is that, without a new treaty, there will not be a referendum, no matter who is in office. Mr Cameron's 2017 referendum, based on the outcome of treaty renegotiations, is much a chimera now as it has ever been. And in that event, you might just as well vote UKIP, for all the difference it will make.






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