by Ray Fleming

It is difficult to understand the tactics used by the Labour Party this week in joining with Conservative backbench eurosceptics to defeat the government ahead of critical EU budget negotiations later this month. Ed Miliband's decision led to 43 Labour MPs shamefacedly joining 53 of the most notorious Conservative anti-EU MPs to defeat a government motion supporting the prime minister's policy of limiting any EU budget increase for 2014--2020 to the rate of inflation. Instead the rebels called unrealistically for real-time cuts in the budget for this period.

David Cameron faces a difficult task in holding the new budget down to present levels plus inflation and must be prepared for returning from Brussels empty-handed. His position has certainly been weakened by this defeat in the Commons even though the motion itself was non-binding. But what has Labour gained? It had no need to enter this particular debate and to have done so without any substantial accompanying policy statement seems irresponsible; Nick Clegg correctly called it “dishonest and hypocritical” Labour has no need of an empty victory when it has a good lead in the opinion polls and is likely to win the impending Corby by-election quite easily. Mr Miliband should be using the time at his disposal to develop a strong and positive European policy for the future rather than indulging in pointless opportunism.