* Britain's main opposition Labour Party supports rivals in
* Labour scores victory over Cameron, but accused of
* Britain's role in Europe dominates UK political debate
By Peter Griffiths
LONDON, Nov 1 Giving Prime Minister David
Cameron a bloody nose over Europe may have given Britain's
opposition Labour Party a short-term glow, but their lurch
towards the anti-Brussels camp risks leaving them divided,
isolated and lacking credibility.
After years of broadly pro-European policies, the
centre-left party joined a rebellion organised by members of
Cameron's Conservatives demanding he pushes for a real-terms cut
in the European Union budget at talks this month.
Cameron, who supports a rise in line with inflation, lost
the non-binding but politically embarrassing vote in parliament
late on Wednesday.
Only two days before, former Labour prime minister Tony
Blair issued a warning that playing "short-term politics" on
Europe could leave Britain out in the cold when it should be
playing a bigger role in shaping EU reforms.
Labour's prize was a barrage of Halloween-inspired headlines
talking of Europe coming back to haunt Cameron in a "Nightmare
on Downing Street", a reference to his official residence.
That piled pressure on Cameron, chasing Labour in the polls
before a 2015 election and trying to regroup after a bruising
period that saw a senior minister quit and repeated accusations
of elitism and incompetence.
"The short-term advantage is that they have embarrassed the
government," said John Curtice, politics professor at
Strathclyde University in Scotland. "The long-run question is
whether Labour are playing with fire."
The euro zone crisis has driven British politicians on all
sides to demand big EU reforms. Debate over a referendum on
Britain reworking its role in the 27-member bloc or even leaving
after nearly 40 years has climbed to the top of the agenda.
Talking down Europe plays well with the big chunk of the
British electorate that wants to leave the European Union, an
institution often portrayed in the UK media as a wasteful,
interfering and powerful bureaucracy.
A YouGov survey in October found 49 percent of those polled
would vote to leave the European Union if they were given a say
in a referendum, against 28 percent who would vote to remain in.
However, Labour's shift could widen divisions between the
party's pro-Europeans and those who are less keen. It also left
Labour open to charges of making a tactical misstep for backing
a vote that is doomed to failure and which could send the wrong
signal to allies in Europe.
"I'm not sure who's the bigger loser," political commentator
Michael White wrote in the left-leaning Guardian newspaper. "My
hunch is that the short-term satisfaction the Labour leader gets
from helping to humiliate the prime minister will be outweighed
in the long-term by the charge of shabby opportunism which fails
to impress voters."
Cameron accused Labour leader Ed Miliband of "rank
opportunism", while one Labour politician, Margaret Hodge, was
reportedly overheard in parliament calling the vote "hateful".
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal
Democrats, the junior coalition partner, said Labour's "change
of heart is dishonest...hypocritical".
Conservatives pointed out that Labour wants real-terms cuts
in EU spending while criticising the British coalition for
reducing public spending. The government also highlighted
Labour's support for EU budget rises and a cut to Britain's
annual budget rebate when it was in power.
The centre-right Conservatives are known for historic
divisions on Europe that helped bring down Margaret Thatcher and
undermined John Major, both former prime ministers.
But Labour also has its share of tribalism on the topic, one
of the most intractable in British politics. Senior figures on
the party's left campaigned against Britain's membership of the
EU's forerunner in the early 1970s and debate over its role in
Europe raged into the Blair and Gordon Brown years of 1997 to
Labour foreign affairs spokesman Douglas Alexander played
down talk of a U-turn on Europe, saying they had been calling
for EU budget cuts since July.
"It is a losing argument for pro-Europeans to somehow
suggest that Europe should be exempted from the economic
challenges that many countries are facing," he said.