We need a Labour case for the EU, not a patriotic case for the EU – a response to Fighting for Britain’s future by Glenis Willmott
With David Cameron’s long-awaited EU speech taking place later this month likely to promise some sort of European Union referendum, Labour politicians are starting to ready themselves for the fights ahead. Throughout 2013 we are going to need many more initiatives like Claude Moraes today editing ProgressOnline.
Yet if Glenis Willmott’s piece earlier today anything to go by, Labour still has not moved on beyond what I would call classical pro-Europeanism, and it is imperative that the party does so.
The classic pro-European way of making a case for Britain’s place in the European Union assumes there is one, clear, national interest, and hence that all of the people of the British Isles have the same needs, and that these needs are best delivered by the UK being in the EU.
The problem with this is that it prevents Labour politicians explaining the benefits of the European Union to Labour-leaning voters. Policies like guaranteed maternity and paternity leave, paid holiday, and recycling standards and emissions reductions are the sorts of things that can directly appeal to Labour voters, while the Common Agricultural Policy or financial market rules are likely to be of less concern. Just being pro-European means you find yourself having to defend the whole package, even the parts of it that are at odds with Labour’s ethics.
To put this another way, the needs of a factory worker in Leeds and one in Le Havre, or a nurse in Manchester and one in Milan, are more likely to be similar than the needs of the Leeds worker and a stockbroker in the City of London are. By appealing to a sense of Britishness as a means of arguing for EU membership these sorts of connections cannot be made.
Rumblings within the Conservative party about wanting to renegotiate the UK’s relationship with the EU should also set alarm bells ringing inside Labour, for any talk of renegotiation or repatriation necessarily involves elimination of social policy legislation and reduction of workers’ rights. For Labour activists and politicians, Europe-wide protection for workers must be the social democratic counterbalance to the freedoms brought by the EU’s single market, yet such a view is seldom expressed in the UK.
So, in conclusion, we do not need a British case for the EU, or a patriotic case for the EU, or a national interest case for the EU. We need a Labour case for the EU, appealing to the sorts of people that support the party, and with a relentless focus on the policies that benefit them.
Jon Worth is a Labour party member, consultant and blogger, currently resident in Copenhagen. He tweets at @jonworth
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