The Tories have grown accustomed to the labour movement being down and like it that way. As if to underline their contempt for the people keeping them in bumper share dividends, nice cars, and plush London properties; Dave has been frank about his aims as he renegotiates Britain's relationship with the EU before the 2017 in/out referendum. Among them is a desire to un-sign the social chapter that guarantees certain minimum standards across Europe's workplaces. Readers may recall that John Major's Tories had opted out and, to his credit, Tony Blair signed Britain up shortly after taking office. Dave wants them gone because they're "too restrictive".
And yet Dave could find himself in a bind. He knows that many on the left are committed to the European idea. The relationship between the EU and socialism exists only in the fevered imaginings of Bolshevik-fearing 'kippers and fellow travellers in the Tory party, but nevertheless the idea of nations coming together and pooling sovereignty around shared interests is a compelling one for some. As Yvette Cooper kept reminding us during the leadership election, the EU (and Nato) are expressions of "Labour's internationalism". As such, for an 'in' vote to be delivered in around 18 months time, Dave is banking on tens of thousands of Labour and labour movement people forming the active backbone of the campaign and do the not-too glamorous job of canvassing and leafleting. Just how it was during those happy times in Scotland. He has calculated that our movement's dominant pro-EU tendency can be taken for granted. He can shaft us and we'll happily campaign for that shafting.
This is why Jeremy's is he/isn't he about the EU is unsettling Downing Street. We know Jez doesn't hold the EU in high regard. The way it forced Greece into an umpteenth self-defeating austerity deal was an eye-opener for some on the left as naked great power-bullying had a laugh at the EU's high and mighty ideals. But well before then, Jeremy's EU-scepticism was forged in the 1970s trade union opposition to the referendum on the Common Market. It's therefore a view that isn't the sole property of the right. By not offering Dave carte blanche, it is tricky as far as party management is concerned. Yet I think Jeremy is correct to be coy about Labour's wholehearted support for 'in'. He's seen a trap and, quite rightly, should be demanding things in return for Labour's backing - such as the dropping of the social chapter nonsense.
As we know, Dave is a weak leader and a tough stance from Jeremy on this could give the PM a major headache. Giving in to Labour causes huge problems with his backbenchers, but will hand him the referendum and another item in the legacy box. This is high risk and a lot of the PLP have already caught the jitters, but I would counsel patience. After all, would you campaign for a deal that worsens the lot of workers? Indeed, as Scotland showed in no uncertain terms, when Labour are perceived to connive with our opponents to worsen the lot of our people, we get a drubbing. I for one would not like to see that repeated across England and Wales, even if it means Britain stays in the EU.