An article jointly written by Neil Kinnock and me has been published today in LabourList.
The European Union is changing. This is nothing new. We Brits might not be very good at noticing, but the European Union (EU) has always been changing — sometimes gradually, sometimes rapidly. It changes in response to our needs as well as the needs of our neighbours, to the demands of the peoples of Europe as well as their leaders, and to imperatives thrust upon us by world events. At the most fundamental level, the EU is not so much an organisation as an ongoing process of change: it’s the way we handle our local interdependence in a global world.
The key challenge faced by the Labour movement is how to make sure this process continues to deliver the kind of changes we believe in.
This challenge is nothing new either — indeed, other political movements face exactly the same challenge. But we progressives have a unique advantage over rival philosophies. We are an instinctively outward-looking movement. The fundamental values of internationalism, cooperation and community principles are written deep into our DNA.
Now we are confronted by a fresh political test. David Cameron has declared that he wants to renegotiate the basis of our membership. He continues to be vague about exactly what changes he wants, but his hard-right backbenchers and their media echo chamber have been quite specific: they want to abandon Europe’s social dimension, dismantle hard-won workers’ rights and disregard the EU’s existing high standards of consumer and environmental protections. They are mobilising everything they have got: witness the Telegraph’s astonishing propaganda splurge this week to publicise the demands of a single eurosceptic pressure group.
In this context, it’s absolutely vital that the Labour Party itself has a strong, progressive, pro-European voice. We need not only to speak clearly to the nation in advance of the referendum, but also to engender a lively, intelligent and well-informed conversation within the party. We must enthuse and empower our own grassroots activists — many of whom are still smarting from their recent electoral defeat.
The Labour Movement for Europe is determined to lead the charge within and without. Our first rallying cry was a Westminster relaunch reception earlier this week: standing room only in a room packed with Labour MPs, peers, trade unionists, journalists, activists from our own party and members of sister parties from around Europe.
Our next priority is to make our voice heard in Labour’s leadership contest. We already know that the candidates take Europe seriously: on the same day as we were relaunching Labour Movement for Europe in Westminster, they were being grilled by MEPs and party members at a hustings in the European Parliament.
To build on this clear commitment, we have publicly invited each leader and deputy leader candidate to answer a small number of key questions about the European Union and Britain’s place in it, and we will be publishing their replies on our website as well as on LabourList as the leadership campaign continues.
Key questions for Labour leader candidates
- In the upcoming referendum on EU membership, what are the key steps Labour should take to secure an ‘in’ vote? How can we mobilise support both within and outside the party?
- What are your priorities for EU reform?
- What is your vision for Britain’s role in the EU, and how would you position the Labour party with regard to this?
- What are the key issues that the EU will have to address in the coming years?
Electing strong, outward-looking leadership for our party is crucial. But we can’t afford to wait until this has happened to start making the case more widely. We did not choose these renegotiations — but, now that the campaign challenge is here, there is no time to lose. We need to influence political developments, and we need to start now.
There is no realistically conceivable situation in which Britain would be better off outside the EU. But, as a movement and as a country, we must do all we can to avoid being blackmailed into choosing between a Tory Europe or ruinous withdrawal. We must make it clear right now to Cameron and his UKIP-lite backbenchers that we will not tolerate their fracturing of the Union that works to the advantage of our country,our continent and the peoples that we strive to serve.
We know that strong, progressive engagement in the EU can continue to be a force for good in our country — so let’s go on working for that.