By David Schoibl
Chair LME London & Southeast 2007-2010
Chair LME National Executive 2010-2014
The LME London & South East
In 2006 a group of London-based Labour members with a strong belief in European cooperation founded a London & South East branch to the Labour Movement for Europe. I had the privilege to be the inaugural Chair of this grassroots-based group working alongside Henning Meyer (Editor of Social Europe), the late Labour historian and activist Nina Fishman, Noel Hatch, Jonathan Clarke and Jon Worth. Our London-based group held a series of events and publish a newsletter to a growing audience from 2007.
The LME London & South East events series titled Europa Soirees was our first effort to discuss pan-European policy issues and how the UK could more actively participate, shape and benefit from policy negotiated at EU level. Out of one of the events, a ground-breaking policy paper was born: ‘The polish voter’, co-edited by Henning Meyer and David Schoibl with expert input from electoral reform experts Lewis Baston and David Walker. The paper looked at the impact of non-British EU nationals resident in the UK on local, Scottish, Welsh and European elections. With more than 1 million EU citizens eligible to vote at the time in the UK, facing considerable problems of electoral registration, it asked what opportunities there were for political parties – and particularly the Labour Party – to engage with these EU-citizens and potential voters.
In 2010 Richard Corbett MEP moved on from his role as Chair of the Labour Movement for Europe on a national level. The organisation’s statutes changed. So for the first time grassroots members could get elected to the Executive. I was elected Chair of the UK-wide Labour Movement for Europe, building on the London & South East work. It was a great opportunity to lead the organisation into a time of renewal and develop a new strong campaigning ethos. Then as now Labour needed a platform to encourage a solid policy-focused debate on Europe, which would give party members and activists interested in EU cooperation the opportunity to engage, and to build bridges between different parts of the Party and its factions. The LME has always been about encounters, debate, engagement, real change, pan-European perspectives and bringing people together.
4 Key Themes for LME 2010-2014
The themes initially explored regionally formed the framework for our work ever since.
1. One of the LME’s key messages has been that ‘Europe’ is not just a foreign policy topic, but is part of all policy areas.
Rather than just impacting on UK regulation, EU policy is shaped by all EU member states together, but little awareness of the process often filters into the national media discourse. To balance this, the LME has co-organised a number of events over the years in cooperation with other organisations, creating a platform on which to discuss pan-European policy from a practical level. Since becoming a Socialist Society affiliated to the Labour Party in 2012, we were able to enhance our cooperation with other Societies and showcase their EU knowledge. Examples of great joint events was one with SERA on opportunities for pan-European environmental cooperation, and one with the Socialist Health Association about the NHS and TTIP. Another fantastic event was a cooperation with Fabian Women on the topic of Women, Europe and Austerity in 2013.
2. Another key area for the LME has been European cooperation with sister parties on the continent and with sister party branches in the UK.
Every Labour Party member is also automatically a member of the PES, the Party of European Socialists, the pan-European group the Labour Party is a member of. Parallel to the LME developing, the PES also developed its grassroots ‘PES activists’ network. LME has been consistently flying the flag for PES Activists, and has been proud to promote European activists joining us for campaign sessions and events in the UK, and UK activists joining election campaigns in Continental elections. We also built a solid network of sister party representations and activists in the UK, which supported a number of EU citizens running for office in the UK in the communities they live in. The last EU elections in 2014 saw a number of non-British EU citizens running as MEP candidates, and there is a fair number of local Councillors in different UK communities now, an important step to acknowledge the concept of EU citizenship and community integration.
3. Years before any political party started taking notice of the EU citizens living in the UK, our LME London & South East Polish Voter Policy Paper showed the opportunities and challenges to embrace EU citizens as voters and community members.
EU citizens can vote where they live in local and EU elections. During all relevant elections campaigns since 2007, the LME has been highly active in encouraging voter registration among non-British EU citizens living in the UK. We have held phone banks, pioneered voter ID-ing of EU citizens and engaging them as active voters and community members. Over the years, we were in touch with the Electoral Reform Society, the Electoral Commission and the European Movement to improve and encourage voter registration of all communities. The extensive reports of problems EU citizens faced when trying to participate in the European Elections 2014 was a strong disappointment, and the LME co-signed a statement of concern together with other EU-focused organisations in May 2014 about the democratic deficit issues this raises. It remains to be hoped that more will be done in future to encourage EU-citizens to vote and participate fully in all democratic structures.
4. The LME has encouraged active campaigning and has successfully involved Labour and PES grassroots in our activities wherever possible.
We wanted to avoid creating “just another” European talking shop where like-minded people met. Rather, while we encouraged debate and engagement, in equal measure we also brought Labour members and activists together to practically campaign together. Stands at regional Labour conferences, Labour Party Conferences, Compass Conferences, Fabians Conferences, Progress Conferences gave me fantastic opportunities to talk to thousands of Labour members over time, getting a feeling for concerns and views. The overall solid interest in European cooperation among the Labour Party community has always felt much stronger than media and opinion poll fears might have us think. All our encounters with citizens and activists alike helped shape the LME’s topics, highlighted issues and the narrative we developed.
LME Building a Strong Campaigning Community
Developing the LME as an active campaigning organisation, over the years we also organised, supported and co-promoted campaign sessions in London as well as in many regions, for local, national and EU elections and by-elections. We organised phone-banks, participation in major marches and social media campaigns – my thanks go to all who have participated, contributing their time and energy. See our picture gallery.
As I hand over the chairing of the organisation after our 31 January 2015 AGM, I know we have laid a solid foundation for EU-interested Labour members to keep engaging, campaigning and adding their voice to the increasingly euro-sceptic discourse this country has seen.
A number of studies have shown the positive opportunities arising from Britain’s membership of the EU, as well as the economic and other benefits the UK sees from EU migration. There is solid evidence to counter the anti-EU rhetoric which has swept the country over the last two years, and I am heartened by the pragmatic and positive attitude towards Europe which I have encountered over the years by many on the doorstep and among the Labour membership.
I regret that work commitments no longer allow me to continue my work with the Labour Movement for Europe for now in 2015, but my best wishes are with the next Executive and all LME members, supporters and volunteers as they continue the organisation’s work.
My personal thanks go to the Italian, French, Portuguese, German, Romanian sister-parties, and on a wider level those who cooperated with us from Labour Friends of Turkey, the Albanian Socialists, Chinese for Labour, the Socialist Societies, most notably among them SERA, the Socialist Health Association, the Fabians, Young Fabians, Fabian Women, Labour Lawyers and LGBT Labour.
Lea Renoux and Martin Philipps have been an immense help on an organisational level, and our freelance advisers Susanne Kendler and Jon Worth have created a strong new visual design for the organisation and optimised our social media use and community management. My thanks also go to the members of the Executive over the years, and to the MEPs, MPs and the many local Councillors who have supported the organisation and our work.