In parliament, Labour voted with Tory europhobes last week to express the view that the next seven year budget for the EU should be less than the previous seven years budget. I think this is playing with fire. In voting with the Tory backwoodsmen, Labour gives credibility to their xenophobia and also to their austerity agenda. It is also committing to cuts for seven years. However it is a fact that the EU budget is about 1% of EU GDP and can thus not have much impact on the growth of the European economy, although the pump priming aspect of the expenditure programmes is one of the reasons that the majority of the EU member states want to see an increase in expenditure.
Nicholas Watt, in his blog article at Comment is Free explores the approach of Ed Balls who argued in 2007 for reform of the European budget. The Labour Government in the last round of negotiation, argued for a reduction in the Common Agricultural Policy in exchange for those countries with rebates reducing them. The idea being that the UK, and others including France would have a lower contributions overall and that the French could use their new rebate to subsidise their farmers. It would have a further advantage in the UK of reducing subsidy to rich landowners to do nothing with their land; this subsidy being one of the reasons that housing land and hence prices are so high. It’s a reflection of the risible name calling that passes for debate on Europe that this is not better understood and not explained in much of the print nor broadcast press.
Also, not well understood is the EU’s fallback budget making process if a budget can’t be agreed. The UK can veto a 7 year deal; in which case the EU will revert to annual budgets without national vetoes where the majority of beneficiary countries will vote through inflation plus budgets, but as the Financial Times explained last week, this may jeopardise the rebates for Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands and Austria, who will not thank Cameron.
It was revolting to see Clegg yet again express his chagrin that Ed Miliband and Labour wont play the role the Liberals’ script requires, that of acting as left wing ballast to permit them to sit in the centre of politics, winning in Parliament what they can’t win in the country. We are beginning to learn, that they can’t lie to everyone, act left in the north, right in the south, or both at the same time and sit in a balance of power, winning everything with no mandate, with no support for their agenda, and no trust for the party or its leadership. I think some of them might be learning this too. Osborne joined in with the charges of hypocrisy, a more damaging accuser; I’d like to say he’s an expert, but he’s not a hypocrite; he’s the ultimate class warrior.
While Labour may have given some credibility to the xenophobes it’s the job of opposition to oppose. It is the opposition and it can’t determine the government’s negotiating strategy, but Will Straw of Left Foot Forward, is quoted at Left Futures resurrecting the last Government’s “Grand Bargain” and as Michael White in the Guardian, in an otherwise unsympathetic article points out Labour has other options on Cameron’s return from Brussels. I know that if I were an MP, I’d have great difficulty in walking through the division lobbies with Cameron loyalists and Orange book liberals and this issue has the ability to bring down the government, it’s Ed Miliband’s and Labour’s duty to do so.