EU-flag-fluttering-230x172By Giampi Alhadeff and Rachel Franklin

As the harsh reality of last week’s events begin to sink in a period of soul-searching begins. The temptation is to glance inwards and dwell on where we went wrong, the personalities that will shape the future course of the Labour party and how best to pick ourselves back up, and deal with the five more painful years of Tory government we have in store. These are all valid questions for the Labour movement to ask. But alongside deep and thoughtful introspection our minds also need to focus on one of the fundamental issues for the country over the next few years: our relationship with the European Union.

One of the defining features of the Conservatives’ manifesto is the forthcoming EU referendum. Referendums under David Cameron have the unfortunate habit of deepening rather than healing divides. Remember how the referendum on the Alternative Vote was supposed to quell calls to move on from First Past The Post for a generation? How about that time when 55 per cent of Scots voted to remain a member of the United Kingdom and we were assured that a constitutional crisis was averted?

It would be foolish to leave this, the third referendum under Cameron’s premiership, in the Tories’ hands. We need to champion EU membership as one of our central priorities now in order to ensure that everybody knows just how much is at stake over the next few years.

Ahead of the referendum Cameron’s long-awaited ‘renegotiation’ of our relationship with the EU will put our terms of membership under the microscope. We must stand up to suggestions that Cameron would scrap hard-won employment rights, such as the working time directive and the agency workers directive, and prevent what was once a platform for equal opportunity turning into a race to the bottom. Without placing ourselves in the centre of this conversation, we stand to lose a lot.

From EasyJet to the EEF, the manufacturing association, the business community is now lining up to weigh into the referendum debate. The economic case for staying in the EU needs to be made but, as Scotland sadly demonstrates, focusing on potential job losses may do just enough to survive the vote but it will not win us hearts and minds.

Just this week over 100 British conservation groups came together to warn against rolling back EU environmental regulation. Universities UK has pledged to ‘ramp up’ its campaign on EU membership and fight to maintain standards in our higher education sector. Meanwhile, over in Brussels, EU leaders continue to work towards a common solution for all 28 member states to take action to prevent the thousands of migrant lives being lost in European waters. It soon becomes all too clear that this is not merely a campaign about our jobs and growth but one at the very heart of our communities, opportunities and our very humanity.

Our attention must now turn to how we, the progressive left, can make our voice heard as loudly as possible to shape this debate in our own terms. This referendum is not just about your job or even your child’s job either. In fact, this referendum is only incidentally about the EU. At its core, this referendum is a question about the kind of country and society we want to be. It is about a choice between a country that cowers in isolationist retreat or one that engages with the world and leads the global agenda. This is a referendum at the heart of what the Labour movement is about. Amid all the uncertainty this much is clear: this is something we need to be shouting about.

Giampi and Rachel are two of our executive members. They tweet @giampialhadeff and @RachelAFranklin respectively.

This Article was originally published by Progress.