by Paul Goodman
Some of my anti-bailout Euro-sceptic contacts are setting great store in a working alliance with Labour over bailouts. When I reply that Labour has no credibility as an anti-Brussels party, and that the party is strategically pro-EU, they agree – but point out that Labour could echo John Smith's tactical manoevering in the Commons over Maastrict, and move to defeat the Government over future bailout proposals.
It's arguable that only poor planning by rebels prevented the Government from losing the recent Commons vote on the matter. A Euro-sceptic source told me that Labour was set to vote with them, and only changed its mind because it read Mark Reckless's motion as suggesting that Alistair Darling signed up to a bailout arrangement that he knew to be illegal.
I'm doubtful whether Labour would have voted with the motion in any event – and that, on this occasion at least, the numbers were there to defeat the Government. But there's clearly a struggle going on within the Opposition about what position to take. This morning's Daily Mail claims that Ed Balls is leading a charge within Labour to vote down the next bailout package.
It reports –
"Shadow Treasury minister Chris Leslie said the UK had pumped in ‘more than our fair share’.
Mr Leslie said the EU bailout fund was designed to meet only 12 per cent of the costs but had instead paid out almost a third of the total.
He said the party was ‘prepared to work with MPs from any party to make sure funds to protect Eurozone members are not drawn disproportionately from funds to which Britain contributes’."
The Mail adds that this apparent change of heart is being greeted with scepticism at Westminster – precisely because of Labour's behaviour on the recent bailout vote. David Lidington, the Europe Minister, is quoted as saying: "To say they have got a brass neck would be some understatement. There is not a scrap of principle. It is rank opportunism."
Watch this space.