LME National Executive Member Kevin Peel shares his thoughts on an upcoming EU membership referendum:
We’ve suffered a crushing defeat. I expected many of the amazing candidates I campaigned for to be heading to Westminster this week as new MPs and I’m gutted that won’t be the case. However, cleverer and more important people than I have already written on that subject and no doubt there’ll be much more to come as we come to terms with what happened and what we need to do to make sure it never happens again.
Of particular concern to me is the question of our future in Europe. Cameron made clear in his victory speech that he’ll deliver the referendum he promised on our membership of the EU by the end of 2017. Far from fearing this campaign I say bring it on.
We have several reasons to be cheerful about the prospect of a referendum.
The first is that it will tear the Tories apart as their MPs, activists and supporters in the press split in half to campaign for the in and out campaigns. Tory strife is always amusing to watch.
The second is that we’ll be on the side of business, which, after hundreds of business leaders queued up to trash us before the General Election, is no bad thing.
The third and most important is that I firmly believe we can win. And the polls (if you can believe them anymore) have showed consistently over recent months that the public agree, despite the rise of UKIP and an overwhelmingly Eurosceptic media.
However it won’t be an easy ride and there are a number of key things we need to consider very quickly.
1. I don’t believe Cameron will wait until late 2017 to hold the referendum. For a start it’s hard to imagine the ‘bastards’ on his backbenches will let him and he’s beholden to them to get anything through Parliament for the next five years. We need to be ready for it whenever it comes and we need to start now.
2. We need to learn the lesson from Scotland about being seen to ‘get in bed’ with the Tories. Cross party campaigns like British Influence will have an important role to play but we must have a separate, strong and well funded Labour-led campaign for Europe which should be set up and staffed immediately (I’m ready to clear my diary if anyone wants to pay me).
3. We must lay out our own terms for renegotiation of our membership. Both Labour and the Tories talked about reform before the election but the detail was scarce to say the least. We can’t let the Tories define the narrative and we should be ready very quickly with our own reforms to make the EU work for Britain and the British people. Reforms like addressing the democratic deficit, strengthening not weakening workers rights, focusing EU spending on investment in research and innovation to stimulate growth, and supporting unemployed young people whether from Glasgow or Gdansk with employment and training opportunities across Europe.
4. We should be ready to quickly and firmly debunk the myths and outright lies reported as gospel by UKIP and the right-wing press. They are in plentiful supply. Some of our MEPs already do excellent work in dispelling these myths and have produced resources for their local parties to use. We need to make sure every activist in the country has these at their disposal for use on the doorstep.
5. We can run a positive and hopeful campaign about Britain’s place in the EU, but we must also be clear on the risks a ‘Brexit’ poses to our economy, to trade, to inward investment and to jobs. This will require a co-ordinated campaign with trade unions and businesses across the country to reach into workplaces and engage with those whose livelihoods might be at risk if we close the door to Europe.
Jacques Delors’ vision of a Social Europe and the legislation he delivered during his term as President of the European Commission led to a newfound support for the European project from a previously sceptical left. The resurgence of social democracy in the 90s rode this wave through to the end of the 20th century and the early years of the noughties. Since then the rise of the right across the EU and right wing dominance of the Commission, the Parliament and the Council has led to a growing disconnect between Europe and its citizens and the resulting rise in Euroscepticism from the left and right. We’ve seen the same here at home during the course of the last few years, with the rise of Scottish and English nationalism and the crowing of UKIP.
If we play this right we can use the referendum campaign to once again unite people across the whole United Kingdom in support of Europe and it’s founding values and principles. We can rebuild our movement and champion a fairer and more equal country in a fairer and more equal European Union.
Kevin Peel is a city councillor in Manchester. He represents local government in the UK on the EU Committee of the Regions and is a member of the Labour Movement for Europe National Executive.
This article was originally published on LabourList.