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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