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Has Labour really become a Eurosceptic party?

By Jonathan Isaby

EU and BRITAIN Peter Oborne has written a piece for today's Daily Telegraph asserting that that there has been a seismic shift in Labour's attitudes towards the European Union in recent weeks, leading it to take "a new and potent position".

He points in particular to two recent interventions:

  • Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls' demand that Britain should limit its exposure to the Portuguese bail-out, which Oborne interprets as "repudiation" and "contemptuous humiliation" of ex-Chancellor Alistair Darling who made the decision relating to the issue in his final hours in the post last May.
  • Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander's attack on the “ill-judged and unwise” proposal from the European Commission’s proposal to increase its annual budget by 4.9%, which Oborne points out was exactly the "kind of profligacy" cheerfully sanctioned by Labour during its 13 years in power.

He concludes:

"It would be wrong – or at least premature – to brand Ed Miliband’s Labour as anti-European. He has not yet challenged, to give one example, the mass of job-destroying regulation which emanates every year from Brussels. Indeed, it is doubtful that his trade union backers would allow him to do so. Nevertheless, there is interesting movement. It is becoming increasingly common to hear criticism among backbenchers of one of the core European Union doctrines, the free movement of workers. Labour MPs are painfully aware that their own people are losing jobs as a result. Meanwhile John Healey, the party’s health spokesman, has become a thoughtful critic of European competition policy."

"Now, thanks to Ed Miliband, both the big parties are Eurosceptic. Indeed, Balls and Alexander are egging on Osborne and William Hague towards open confrontation. The Chancellor knows that if he mounts a challenge to the Portuguese bail-out and the European Commission’s greed, Labour – as well as the Conservative backbenches – will be cheering him on. Only the Lib Dems retain their European ideals."

Has there really been a Damascene conversion on Labour's part? Or are these machinations merely to try and drive a wedge between the two Coalition parties on the European issue?

Either way, recalling how recently Miliband, Balls, Alexander et al forced the European ConstitutionLisbon Treaty on the British people without the referendum they had promised, I find it difficult to subscribe to the idea that they and their Labour colleagues are suddenly all now committed eurosceptics.