Europe is in the spotlight again – and for once it’s for all the right reasons. Following Ed Miliband’s speech (http://www.cbi.org.uk/media-centre/news-articles/2012/11/britain-in-danger-of-sleepwalk-to-eu-exit-warns-ed-miliband/) to the CBI outlining the party’s vision for a reformed EU, with Britain firmly and deliberately within it, talking up the merits of our membership has ceased being a minority pursuit.
And about time too. The time has come for us to speak up; for those who are passionate about the UK playing a leading, positive role in shaping the most significant multilateral partnership in history. The ineptitude and inability of the Tories to form even a coherent sentence on Europe, let alone a long term vision for the future of its 500 million citizens, presents us with an opportunity to highlight the absurdity of their position.
But as has been demonstrated by Ed and others (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/nov/19/miliband-isolation-europe-grave-error) it is no longer enough to point out the flaws in the confused and isolationist policies of the Government. We have first and foremost to win the argument within our own party. We must argue that any race to a eurosceptic common ground would be a race we would lose. Let the Conservatives and UKIP scrabble about for possession of that barren piece of earth, and insodoing resurrect the Tory divisions of old.
Instead we must begin to make the positive arguments for Europe that makes the firm case for reform. As Ed says – passion for the EU does not equate to passion for the way its institutions are structured. This is regrettably a more sophisticated argument. The visions of handbag wielding Prime Ministers sticking two fingers up to the rest of Europe – ludicrous as they are – are more sellable to a weary public whose trust in politics is at a low ebb.
So we are starting from behind. For too long the positive case for Europe – for the economy, for workers’ rights, for freedom of travel – has been undersold. But the opportunity to reverse that now exists. The positive case must be made by those with the vision and courage to make it. And it must be made now.
The real common ground is ours for the taking.
Seb Dance is co-convenor for Labour Friends of Germany