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Balls v Miliband: Round 12 (at least). This time, the fight's over an EU referendum - again

Screen shot 2013-02-12 at 11.31.29
By Paul Goodman
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  • If Ed Miliband commits to David Cameron's In-Out referendum, he could lose it if he becomes Prime Minister - and might well then have to quit.  (A Prime Minister Miliband recommending a Yes vote, with an Out-leaning Conservative Party urging No, is a very different animal from a Prime Minister Cameron recommending a Yes vote, with an In-supporting Labour Party urging Yes.)
  • If Miliband does not commit to Cameron's In-Out referendum, he will be (as I've said before) "painted by Cameron, Farage, some on the left and others as the elitist from Hampstead who is frightened of giving the people their say.  There is a danger for him that this perception will leak from the EU compartment, so to speak, and colour voters' view of him more widely".

The Sun reported this morning that:

"Ed Balls risked plunging Labour into civil war over Europe yesterday by declaring the party would be “stupid” to rule out an EU referendum.

The Shadow Chancellor insisted it was vital they did not let themselves “be caricatured as an anti-referendum party”.

Balls also said: “If we allow ourselves either to be the ‘status quo party’ on Europe, or the ‘anti-referendum party’, then we’ve got a problem. We would be pretty stupid to allow ourselves to get into either of those positions...“We’ve absolutely not ruled out a referendum.”

This is a less dramatic intervention that it might sound, because Labour's official position is not to rule out a referendum in the event of, say, a major reconfiguration of the EU into a) a Franco-German and b) everyone else.

But it is Balls's carefully-calibrated way of reminding voters of his Euro-sceptic credentials (in Labour terms, anyway), appealing to Labour MPs who think Miliband should match Cameron's referendum offer...and turning the temperature up under Miliband, his former leadership rival.

This one will run and run.