Labour Leave: an uphill struggle

The recently relaunched ‘Labour Leave’ pressure group faces an uphill struggle.

Its fundamental problem is that its name is a misnomer. This group no more represents Labour on Europe than the handful of MPs who rebelled over same-sex marriage in 2012 represented Labour on equality.

In fact, the Labour party is squarely and unambiguously pro-European. 213 Labour MPs, including the entire shadow cabinet, signed a declaration of support only a couple of weeks ago.

And it’s not just parliamentarians: ordinary members are overwhelmingly in agreement too. When Europe was debated on the floor of party conference in September, the result was unequivocal. Below is the full text of the resolution agreed by conference — and, remarkably, the resolution passed unanimously, with not a single delegate from any section of the party speaking against it.

Conference notes that earlier this month David Cameron gave agreement to appear before the European Parliament to promote his Government’s agenda for EU reform.

Conference expresses concern about the House of Lords EU Committee report which said that David Cameron has cooked up “recipe for confusion” with his EU renegotiation plans.

Conference expresses further alarm that David Cameron is putting his party before his country in Europe by sleepwalking towards exit from the EU, risking jobs and growth at home and British influence abroad.

Conference supports the membership of the EU as a strategic as well as an economic asset to Britain and the Labour Party approves of UK membership of the EU.

Conference recognises that in an era of billion-person countries, the EU gives us influence that we do not have when we act alone.

On so many issues that matter “security in central Europe and the Middle East” the EU is a voice amplifier for all its members including the UK.

Furthermore Conference recognises that our membership of the EU means companies can sell to a market of 500 million people, employees are provided additional rights and protections in the workplace and everyone across the UK has the freedom to travel, live, work, study and retire anywhere in the EU.

Conference deplores the actions of the Prime Minister and his attempts to rob workers in the UK of the vital social and employment rights gained from membership of the European Union. Conference recognises that the erosion of social rights and the TTIP proposals will bring conflict to the heart of the referendum debate.

Conference understands the importance of returning to a vision of a Social Europe without which membership of the European Union fails to deliver good jobs and services for all.

Conference opposes working with any campaign or faction in the forthcoming Referendum which supports or advocates cutting employment or social rights for people working in the United Kingdom.

Conference recognises that Europe needs change, but notes that the path to reform is working with our allies across Europe rather than providing an ultimatum in the way that David Cameron has been.

Conference calls on the Government to present Parliament with a detailed account of their negotiating demands in advance of addressing the European Parliament.

Conference proposes that 16-17 year olds should be eligible to vote in the forthcoming European referendum.

Conference calls for us to work together towards a Europe that works better for Britain with reforms helping to deliver a Europe focused on jobs and growth, not more austerity.

As a result, Labour is now running its own pro-European campaign, Labour In For Britain, which launched a couple of weeks ago and is independent of the cross-party Stronger In campaign (read more about why we decided to do it that way). And importantly, Labour’s support for UK membership of the European Union is not dependent on what Cameron does or doesn’t achieve in his “renegotiations”. (Incidentally, this unanimous decision also put paid to the suggestion of holding a further special conference to discuss Cameron’s proposals — our policy is independent of them.)

In this context, the tiny minority of Labour MPs who harbour anti-European sentiment really ought to be little more than a footnote. But of course, any fringe group can make a loud noise if it has access to money, and if it’s prepared to be ruthless.

On the financial side, the money behind Labour Leave is John Mills. He’s also the treasurer of anti-EU pressure group Vote Leave, chaired by the founder of the right-wing Taxpayers’ Alliance, and whose other sources of funding are former Tory treasurer and banker Peter Cruddas, and spread-betting tycoon Stuart Wheeler (formerly a major Tory donor, now treasurer of UKIP). Not exactly the company you’d expect — but when you’re desperate to advance your agenda and respectable sources of funding aren’t available, perhaps you can’t afford to be too picky about who your friends are.

As for being ruthless, any hopes that Labour Leave might intend to base its communications on facts rather than scaremongering were dashed with its very first email. Here was its claim, made yesterday in a mass email to Labour councillors:

Today is National Postal Workers Day — the day we celebrate the hard work of all the Postal staff in the UK. We express our solidarity with the Communication Workers Union and commit to defend the principle of a publicly owned Royal Mail. However, the European Union does not share the Labour approach to our postal service. Successive Directives from the European Union have led to our Postal Service being privatized as part of the Single Market.

The problem with this claim is that it’s demonstrably untrue. Aside from the ease which which anyone can obtain chapter and verse on exactly what EU countries have agreed on postal services (the agreement doesn’t even mention the question of service ownership and certainly doesn’t require privatisation), the easiest way to see that this is a myth is simply to notice the obvious fact that most EU countries have postal services that are publicly owned, and staying that way. Britain is an exception here, and Labour Leave seem to think that they can pull the wool over everyone’s eyes simply by failing to mention that fact. Here is chapter and verse: read it for yourself.

Blaming the EU for our government’s failings is a common tactic of right-wing eurosceptics, but really ill befits those on the left who ought to have no vested interest in deflecting responsibility from the Tories. It’s hardly an auspicious opening to a supposedly left-wing “campaign”.

Labour Leave may be tiny, but equipped with both money and ruthlessness it still needs to be taken seriously. It has already tried to call itself the ‘official Labour Leave campaign‘, but that impudence rebounded. I have no doubt that the leavers’ next tactic will be to try and argue that they deserve equal representation with Labour proper on any platform discussing Europe, as if they represented a genuine split in political opinion within the party.

We will need to watch them very closely in the coming months.

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