By Mark Wallace
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The media is intent on a "Tory splits" narrative. Given the obsessive focus on any hint of disagreement on the blue side of the House, it is surprising that there has been so little reporting of Labour's splits.
They do have them – three in the last four days, in fact. Here they are:
Yesterday, various figures from the left and right of the Labour Party launched Labour for a Referendum - only days after Ed Miliband publicly rejected the idea of giving the people a say on Britain's EU membership. The rebels aren't just eurosceptic "usual suspects" like Kate Hoey, they include Brussels fans like former Europe Minister Keith Vaz.
Shadow Cabinet tension is growing over the issue, too. Dan Hodges reports that Ed's team are increasingly concerned at the lack of a clear policy position, and have thrown down the gauntlet to their leader to clarify his views. Jon Cruddas, the Labour policy chief, is widely thought to view euroscepticism as part of his Blue Labour agenda and even figures like Chuka Umunna have expressed support for an In/Out referendum to settle the issue (I should know – he knocked on my door at election time and told me so).
As the New Statesman's George Eaton reminds us, Labour used to be the party most deeply split on the European question. The issue is on the rise again, and it isn't going away for Ed Miliband.
Spending…and Ed Balls
Watching Ed Balls on Sky on Sunday it was remarkable quite how much of a knot he got himself over his spending plans. For the man reputed to have his brain stuffed with ideas, facts, figures and policy, he had remarkably few answers. Was he going to borrow more? Well, err, the thing is…and answer came there none. Which cuts did he support? RIght, ah, what we're proposing is…and so on, ad infinitum.
Back in February he told John Humphrys he would borrow more "right now" – but only after being asked the question seven times.
His party and parliamentary colleagues are annoyed by this vagueness – and some scent blood in the water.
At the weekend, Lord Sainsbury, who has given Labour £12 million, gave an interview in the Times in which he announced an end to his donations, and denounced Miliband as an "average" leader. Notably, he also said that “in retrospect the Labour government should have used the opportunity of a strongly growing economy to reduce the deficit”.
Rubbing salt into the wound, yesterday's Sun reported that "senior figures" are urging Ed M to sack Ed B as Shadow Chancellor. Apparently as a result of the co-ordinated briefing, the paper's Political Editor Tom Newton-Dunn was told that no less than Miliband's philosopher-guru Maurice Glasman and Jon Cruddas want Balls unseated. That the candidate touted to replace him is…err…Jon Cruddas is unlikely to elicit a printable response from Balls.
Trade Union power grabs
Perhaps the biggest and most bitter fight within Labour is set to be that over the question of Trade Union influence. Apparently not content with making up over 80% of the party's donations, the unions are intent on seizing direct control through selecting its own placemen (and placewomen, if that's a word), even to the point of signing up hundreds of new party members to pack out votes.
Numerous articles in the Labour blogosphere – particularly Labourlist – have channeled grassroots outrage over the rejection of popular candidates and their replacement with hard core leftists. At the weekend, Peter Mandelson upped the ante at the Progress conference, calling the trend "absolutely disgraceful":
'" think what we have in London incidentally, with what I believe is a sort of 50\50 between the constituency parties and unions college is absolutely disgraceful… I don't know how you can reconcile the ideas associated with the new politics in this country with too many selections of Parliament, The European Parliament, not all of them but too many of them being put into the hands of one union at worst, a couple of unions at best, orchestrated by a cabal of NEC members, this is not the new politics by any stretch of the imagination."
All in all, not a picture of domestic bliss. Throw in the simmering rows over immigration, growing concern over the leadership's failure to consistently extend their poll lead into double figures and the party's financial problems, and you have an internal war waiting to happen. The only questions seem to be when it will start, and which of these issues will be the one to spark it.