One question that might spring to mind is why Labour even needs a campaign of its own. After all, there’s already a vibrant and fast-growing cross-party campaign, Stronger In, which is doing a great job.
There are three reasons why we’ve decided to have our own distinctive campaign.
The first is that we, as a party, have our own distinctive message on Europe. We are not necessarily signing up to David Cameron’s so-called “reforms”, however they turn out, as if they were the only possible way forward for the European Union.
After all, the referendum, when it comes, will not be on Cameron’s reforms, be they good, bad or irrelevant (they will probably be a mix of all three). It will be on the much broader question of our very existence as a country at the heart of the EU. Bad reforms which reduce social protections, or threaten Britain’s prosperity or security, could be reversed by a future Labour government. But to quit the EU altogether would be nearly impossible to reverse. We need to be able to stand apart from the Tory agenda on Europe and make our own independent case.
The second reason we want to run our own campaign is because we know there is a very distinctive left-wing justification for our membership of the European Union. Yes, being at the heart of the world’s largest market is vital for British prosperity, as the cross-party campaign rightly argues. But it’s also vital that that common market has common rules to protect workers, consumers and the environment, and avoid a race to the bottom. Our agreements at European level tackle discrimination and give us paid holiday, maternity and paternity rights. European consumers are protected when they buy goods and services, and foods must be properly labelled. And Europe is leading the charge against climate change, not least at this week’s COP21 conference in Paris.
These rights and benefits have not come about by chance — and I shudder to think what would happen to them if they were at the mercy of a post-Brexit Tory government, unconstrained by agreements made at European level.
That’s not to say that EU rules are perfect, or that we should be totally happy with them. On the contrary – improving those rules, making them more fit for purpose, strengthening social protections while avoiding red tape, is the daily work of Labour MEPs in the European Parliament, working with our allies from socialist and democratic parties across Europe. The European Parliament is a political battleground, just like Westminster and town halls across the country. We make a difference, putting our progressive values into practice, because we have a place at the table there and our voice is heard.
That’s why our party conference in September decided unanimously that Labour should campaign to stay in the EU. And that’s why some 213 Labour MPs, including the leader and the entire shadow cabinet, have already signed up personally to that campaign.
Of course, the motivation to keep Britain in the EU unites people of many political persuasions (Greens, Lib Dems, SNP, Plaid Cymru, many Conservatives and even some from UKIP!). We all want to secure Britain’s place at the heart of an effective European Union. So we will continue to work with the cross-party Stronger In campaign, and with the many other organisations that are springing up independently: Universities for Europe, Scientists for Europe, and so on. I even hear talk of a Musicians for Europe group in the works!
But at the same time, there is a third reason why Labour strongly supports European-level cooperation, and it is a reason that our pro-European colleagues in other parties don’t share.
We are democratic socialists. Our party’s constitution spells out our fundamental belief that “by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone”. Labour has always been an outward-looking, internationally minded party. Turning our back on the cooperative structures we’ve built with our neighbours and allies would not only be a backward step for our economy, it would violate one of our most deeply held common beliefs.
That’s why today’s Labour campaign launch is so important — and why Labour must redouble its efforts to make the case for Europe in the following weeks and months.