How will Labour’s EU budget cut vote affect relations with the Lib Dems?

Gareth Epps, co-chair of the Social Liberal Forum, writes about the consequences of Labour's opportunism on Europe in last night's budget vote.


Gareth Epps is co-chair of the Social Liberal Forum

In opposition, the temptation to take positions for reasons of expediency rather than principle can sometimes be all too great. The opportunistic gesture politics of Labour’s vote with Tory rebels on the EU budget last night is a case in point.

Looking beyond 2015, many Liberal Democrats, not exclusively Social Liberal Forum members, will want to be able to try and work with colleagues in the Labour Party. Indeed, the hands of both parties may be forced by the electorate, just as both current coalition parties found in 2010.

It is one of many thankless tasks for Liberal Democrats at present to remind Conservatives they did not win the election, and have an agreement to implement as a result: as John Hayes has just found out.

That task faces several challenges. One is the at times sulphurous state of relations between the two parties on the ground – the problem of tribalist nonsense anecdotally has got worse since 2010. Whatever some of us may think about cross-party working nationally, we may not wish to work with organisations that, in some localities, fail to act properly.

The second was highlighted by last night’s vote. Ultimately meaningless, it may ironically benefit the Conservatives by handing them a Euro-bashing cloak at a time when they are worried about losing core support in mid-term to UKIP.

Michael White warns that while headlines can be formed instantaneously, character is formed over time. Being seen to be doing the right thing – a character trait a pragmatic pro-European would sympathise – was curiously absent last night. Making a pragmatic and achievable case for European reform, from a position of negotiating strength, would have been a far more astute and challenging position to take.

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10 Responses to “How will Labour’s EU budget cut vote affect relations with the Lib Dems?”

  1. LB

    Put it to the electorate.

    Why are you so scared of democracy where the electorate decide on issues?

  2. Come on, really?

    For all your sanctimonious bleeting about the apparent ‘expediency’ of the Labour position last night, could you explain why the Lib Dems wanted a referendum on EU membership in their 2010 manifesto but opposed it in government?

  3. Joe Jordan

    I’ve had to dispel this myth before on this blog in the comments section:

    “could you explain why the Lib Dems wanted a referendum on EU membership in their 2010 manifesto but opposed it in government?”

    We said any new treaty would come with an in-out referendum, not that we would definitely hold one regardless. Referendums cost money, it makes sense to do them when there’s a reason, not when some tory Eurosceptics get cross (which is, what, every other day?)

    For once, I agree with Gareth – Labour look like opportunistic morons here. The eurosceptic vote is split between the tories and UKIP, Labour aren’t going to get a piece of it at the next election without some serious changes in policy (and loud shouting about those changes).

  4. Linda Jack

    Well said Gareth, for those of us who would rather do business with Labour than the Tories this may be regarded as “unhelpful”. And to LB – er…….democracy……that’s when you elect representatives to represent your views? Frankly there are a zillion issues I would like to have a vote on before membership of the EU, but the idea of becoming a mini Switzerland (the reason why my pal worked in Switzerland but chose to live in France) fills me with dread. Oh…..and what Joe said!

  5. Alex Wasyliw

    Possibly because a dominant right wing press and politicians looking to get quick votes by blaming Europe for everything from health and safety to human rights to spending to what you can but kids for Christmas have wilfully and maliciously misled the public on every aspect of our involvement with the EU.

    For goodness sake people don’t even realise that we are a part of it, that we help elect it, they keep bleating about being told what to do by unelected Europeans… we vote for the EU politicians.

    The EU is no less democratic than our own parliament… although that still leaves considerable room for improvement.

    People think that UKIP make good MEP’s, yet have no clue as to how they vote and conduct themselves inside the EU (basically doing their best to embarrass our country).

  6. Newsbot9


    Democracy is voting for your party in parliamentary elections. Your referendums are, as Atlee said and Thatcher concurred, the tools of tyrants and demagogues. No surprise there, given your views, politician.

  7. Newsbot9

    I disagree – the EU Parliament at least votes to approve it’s cabinet, whereas ours is appointed…

  8. Gareth Epps

    Agree especially the last paragraph. I’m relaxed about the prospect of any referendum, though just as with the AV vote it will force people to come down on one side or the other, and given the total invisibility of supposedly pro-AV Labour people in the YES campaign and the antediluvian approach of the NO campaign, it could make for interesting politics were the circumstances to arise. At that point, though, Joe will probably start to disagree!

  9. Newsbot9

    That’s right, it’ll come down to media lies just like the last one, rather than facts. “Interesting” bought and sold politics, something the LibDems know about quite well now, yes.

  10. thomas

    The complaint about tribalism is more than a little bizarre coming from Mr Epps given his reputation. You may recall that he deliberately provoked a physical confrontation with political opponents at the election count in his local area. Cooperative? I don’t think so.

    It would almost be ungracious not to be amused by his usage in this post of the line: “the temptation to take positions for reasons of expediency rather than principle can sometimes be all too great.”

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