Labour understandably want to make hay from a diplomatic disaster that has split the coalition. This is harder than it looks when the disaster is very popular and you don't have an easy answer to the "what would you have done" question. In a fit of vainglory, I presume to advise my leader.
When Ed Miliband stands up in the House of Commons, with roars of approval from the Tory Benches for their Prime Minister turning swiftly to jeers of derision for the opposition leader, he has a very tricky job.
He will know that the result of the Brussels summit has been a disaster for our relationships with key international partners. He will know it has split the coalition. He will have a ready source of lines to mock Nick Clegg, withering quotes from European leaders about the conduct of the Prime Minister's negotiating strategy. An open goal?
No. A political and rhetorical trap.
There are two issues for Miliband. First, the initial polling suggests that the up-yours delors school of EU negotiating is overwhelmingly popular. It might not deliver what the country needs in economic terms, but when lofty politico's talk about what the country needs, we should remember the voters might prefer the good five cent cigar of being able to tell johnny foreigner where to get off and then departing with a little more swagger in our step..
Second, as John Rentoul points out, the Leader of the opposition cannot argue he would have signed up the draft. He wouldn't. Partly this is political expediency. No politician like to get on the wrong side of a 60-14 split, unless he consciously seeks to be a Tiresias, rather than a King of Thebes.* But there's an issue of policy here too, Labour wants a rebalanced economy, but rebalancing is one thing, hobbling our financial services sector quite another.
So every rhetorical sally the opposition leader might make will be greeted with the taunt – so what would you have do? To put it in terms former Prime Minister's have used, the PM will use his No, No, No, to portray Ed Miliband as Weak, Weak ,Weak.
So how should Miliband approach this?
The key is to realise what the political objective is. It is not to change minds about the treaty. It is to change minds about Cameron. we aren't trying to tell people they're wrong to dislike this treaty, we're trying to get them to blame Cameron for screwing up so badly he had to reject an awful treaty.
Ed Miliband's challenge is to destroy Cameron's triumph, to remind him at his moment of Tory adulation that he is mortal. So he should be patient, and methodical and clinical. He should avoid windy rhetoric, leaving that for the other side. He should be cool, clinical and factual. He should, most of all, avoid his own regular soundbites. No "Out of touch". No "up and down the country".
This isn't knockabout. this is deadly serious. The PM has in his overconfidence, put our national future at hazard in a great gamble. Miliband should portray Cameron, not as a conquering hero, but as a man whose arrogance and overconfidence has led him to bet the nation on a risky, dangerous proposition.
First. Miliband should focus on the real failure. It wasn't the rejection of the treaty, but the fact the rejection was ever needed. No British PM has had to reject a deal this bad, because every other British PM was smart enough and worked hard enough to get a better one. So it is that paths no taken , the offers rejected, the past overtures brushed aside that should raised.
Update: Miliband should be clear that whe wouldn't have signed, and nor would anyone else. There will be Tory jeers at that point, but Miliband should go with them.
"I wish to Congratulate the Prime Minister. He has managed to unite the house. Every member of this house, from Bermondsey to Wokingham, from Berwick to Twickenham, would have rejected that treaty. (Tory cheers)
I know the members opposite are delighted with this outcome. I hope they enjoy their exuberant moment.
But if they thought for a moment, they would realise that if everyone would reject this deal, the question isn't why we refused a bad deal, it's why a bad deal was the only one we could get.
The unity of the house in rejecting this treaty isn't a sign of the Prime Minister's success, it's the very stamp of his failure. The Prime Minister gambled that the rest of the EU wouldn't go ahead without him. His gamble puts jobs, and businesses and growth at risk. Members opposite may cheer and pop champagne corks today, but it is the country who will be saddled with their hangover. We rejected a bad treaty, but a wise Prime Minister would not celebrate rejecting the bad, and instead regreat the lack of something better"
Second, Miliband should use Clegg smartly. Not to endorse his view on the treaty, but on the process before it. To build a picture of a government asleep at the wheel, too busy congratulating itself on their willingness to say No to work out they'd been tricked into a stupid, damaging choice because of their No-aphillia.
This means Miliband should resist the urge to make Clegg a human pinata this time, but he shouldn't endorse his analysis of the treaty. Miliband should be saying that it is the incompetence of the whole government that has led us here, to the PM phoning his deputy at 4am to tell him his life's political project was finished, and the leader of the Liberal Democrats rolling over and going back to his usual indifferent slumber.
Third, Miliband should focus on the costs and risks of the PM's decision. Emphasise the fact that this choice has not been greeted by joy in the city, and that the summit has not solved the core issue, but has left Britain on the outside when the next round of decisions are taken.
The mood on the Tory benches will be elation and self-confidence. Miliband should puncture that skeptical delusion with a poniard of steely reality. A "triumph"? Well, says who, exactly?
Finally, Miliband should use the jubilation of the Tories against them. All the wrong people are cheering. Contrast the excitement from the Cash's and the Hannan's and the Reckless's with the fears of the banks and the businesses and exporters.
So when the Tories yell and shout with joy, When Cameron strikes a pose of strange machismo, Miliband should emphasise it, play with it, turn it. Name those who are most delighted and contrast their delirium with the fears of those who have jobs and businesses at stake. Undermine the posture of the politician with the nagging doubt of the real wealth creators.
David Cameron has chosen to become a reckless gambler with our countries future, backed by a hystrerical enthusiam of the wild eyed and the reckless.
Miliband should say this is no time for a gambler.
*Which is no bad choice, when you consider what happened to most Kings of Thebes.