By Paul Goodman
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The only referendum on Europe that's ever taken place in Britain has been held under a Labour Government. But Harold Wilson held it not from high motives, such as believing that voters should have a day, but from a lower one: his party was split on the Common Market, and only by yielding a referendum and acknowledging the divisions could he cope with the problem.
The best part of 40 years later, it is the Conservatives who are divided on the EU (a substantial section of the Parliamentary Party, when push comes to shove, would opt for Britain to stay in) and Labour which is united. And for all Ed Balls and Douglas Alexander's tactical Commons games, it is overwhelmingly a pro-EU party.
As the Financial Times and other papers confirm today, Ed Miliband, speaking to the CBI conference today, will warn that "Britain risks
“sleepwalking” towards the exit and that Labour sees EU membership as
vital for business and building a high-skill economy". Peter Hoskin wrote about the Labour leader's view yesterday on this site.
The paper also reports that Mr Miliband has ruled a referendum “for now”, and goes on to give a perfectly good reason, from his own point of view, why he shouldn't concede one at all if a Labour Government is formed after the next election – namely, that he might lose it. I would expect that Conservative leadership to become outrightedly Outist in these circumstances.
The evidence we have suggests that UKIP is taking votes disproportionately from the Conservatives. As his party continously pushes David Cameron nearer the EU referendum he doesn't want, we have an irony. UKIP may deprive the Tories of a majority next time round, thereby simulaneously depriving itself of the referendum it wants.