Ed Balls has warned Labour not to be “stupid” and allow itself to be cast as the “anti-referendum” party on Europe in the wake of David Cameron’s pledge to hold an in/out poll after the next election.
Speaking to the Yorkshire Post just hours before the Prime Minister’s successful EU budget negotiations in Brussels, Mr Balls said Labour must take care not to become “caricatured” as the “pro-status quo, anti-referendum” party in voters’ minds.
Mr Cameron returned from Brussels triumphant last night after forcing through the first ever real-terms cut in the EU’s spending budget.
The deal followed the Prime Minister’s landmark speech on Europe last month, when he promised to hold an in/out referendum if the Conservatives win the next election.
Labour has so far failed to commit itself either way on the issue of an EU referendum – but Mr Balls insisted it will not cause the party a problem at the polls in 2015.
“As long as we don’t allow ourselves to be caricatured as an anti-referendum party, which we’re not – we’ve absolutely not ruled out a referendum – I personally think that for now this is quite a comfortable position for us,” the Shadow Chancellor said.
“If we allow ourselves either to be the ‘status quo party’ on Europe, or the ‘anti-referendum party’ on Europe, then we’ve got a problem.
“But I think we would be pretty stupid to allow ourselves to get into either of those positions.”
In a wide-ranging interview, Mr Balls said he finds it “incredibly helpful” that the Conservatives have picked his seat in West Yorkshire as one of their targets for the 2015 election.
“Nothing is more galvanising for the Labour Party voters and supporters in Morley and Outwood than to read about these Tory targets,” he said.
And while stressing that his party is naturally targeting an outright majority in 2015, Mr Balls made clear he would be happy to work in coalition with the Liberal Democrats in the event of another hung Parliament.
“If the right thing to do, given the numbers and the national interest, is to be part of a coalition, then I would willingly be part of that; enthusiastically be part of that,” he said.
Balls relishing battle in own backyard: Page 4; Cameron ‘proud’ of EU budget deal: Page 5; Comment: Page 16.