OPINION: Brown digs in against Euro media pressure

I wish I had a pound (not a Euro) for every time I heard how ‘Gordon Brown is under pressure to call a referendum on Europe'. So who is he supposed to be under pressure from exactly?

Whelan: ‘Making a stand against the Murdoch empire may be a high risk, but not as risky as losing a referendum’
Whelan: ‘Making a stand against the Murdoch empire may be a high risk, but not as risky as losing a referendum’

Mostly the media in fact, or to be more precise the Murdoch-owned press, along with the Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph. Not an insubstantial pressure group I would admit, but the Prime Minister in not about to cave in.

So obsessed are these titles with Europe they are even prepared to tell porkies about the issue. ‘Threat to Brown as 120 MPs demand EU poll’ roared the Telegraph on Monday. The evidence? Well, backbench Labour MP Ian Davidson had clearly told them this. As a result Foreign Secretary David Miliband was hauled before the media early this week.

One of the main reasons for New Labour’s succ­ess is the complete marginalisation of a tiny band of Euro-sceptics led by Mr Davidson. Something the Tories still grapple with on their side.

Just before the summer recess, in a desperate att­empt to win back his dwindling support, David Cameron made the mistake of using PM questions to call for a Euro referendum. This brought howls of derision from the Labour benches and inevit­able cheers from behind him.

The polls may show that ‘80 per cent of the population want a referendum’ when asked, but how many people will consider this an issue when they cast their vote at a general election?

Cameron must take heed and learn from the mistakes of one of his predecessors, William Hague – himself vocal on the issue this week, but now as shadow foreign secretary – whose position on Europe led to a Labour landslide in the 2001 election.

The former Tory leader may have subsequently admitted this campaign was a mistake but his views on Europe do not seem to have changed.

For Brown, making a stand against the Murdoch empire may be a high risk, but not as risky as losing a referendum. But the issue does give him the chance to put the case for Parliament
to have a more important role in government, following years of contempt for the institution
under ‘the previous PM’ (how Brown now refers to his former friend Blair).

On the downside, however, the PM’s promise ‘to be different and listen more to the people’ does not sit too easily with rejecting a referendum. That is at least one chink of light in a dark summer for Mr Cameron.
charlie.whelan@haymarket.com

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