By Matthew Barrett
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The present political situation has created a wonderful example of opportunistic politics: Labour's attempt at condemning David Cameron for his referendum stance.
Douglas Alexander, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, wrote for the Guardian today:
"Of course, there are also those within the Labour party who have speculated about the possibility of a referendum. But the luxury of speculation is different from the responsibility of decision. And Labour is clear that this is not a decision we could or should sensibly make now."
This is in stark contrast (not) to David Cameron, who wrote in the Sunday Telegraph:
"Yet the fact is the British people are not happy with what they have, and neither am I. That’s why I said on Friday that the problem with an in/out referendum is that it offers a single choice, whereas what I want — and what I believe the vast majority of the British people want — is to make changes to our relationship."
Cameron and Alexander – and their party leaderships – occupy the same, perfectly defensible position: we may have a referendum in future, should our relationship with Europe change, but we should wait and see if that change comes about before holding any such referendum. Despite not being able to get a cigarette paper between the two positions, Alexander launches attacks on Cameron's motives:
"When David Cameron is in trouble, he always throws his right flank a bone. But as prime minister, he can no longer afford to make deals with his backbenchers at the expense of making decisions in the national interest."
It is certainly true that part of the Conservative backbench is pro-referendum, but so is part of the Labour backbench. That is why neither the Tories nor Labour are taking a clear line on this. Alexander's desire to attack Cameron for the sake of it has led him to argue that it's too soon to say if we should have a referendum, but also that Cameron shouldn't be saying that it's too soon to say.