Nothing better encapsulates what the Labour party stands for than the phrase on every membership card – ‘by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more together than we do alone’. It is an abiding principle that sums up our core values of solidarity, equality, collectivism and internationalism. Whoever wins the long Labour leadership contest this Saturday, we must remain true to these values.
The referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union will be the defining political event of this parliament. The outcome will determine the future of our country and place in the world. So this is not an issue that the Labour party or its new leadership can duck or fudge. As internationalists who believe in solidarity and collectivism, we should campaign unequivocally to remain a member.
The EU is far from perfect. It needs far-reaching reform but, as Alan Johnson says: reform is a process not an event. Our next leader should set out a progressive vision for Europe. But this vision will only be delivered by a Labour government, not by a Tory prime minister or chancellor.
The Labour movement can garner the support of a much broader range of people than any political party could ever contemplate. We must make both the hard-headed economic case for jobs and investment, as well as the more emotional case about our historic role of standing tall in the world.
Europe is a force for good in meeting the global challenges we face – climate change, cross-border crime and terrorism, energy insecurity and dealing with an increasingly aggressive Russia and a precarious situation in Iran – to name but a few. In addition, leaving the EU would threaten our permanent seat on the United Nations security council. There is no doubt that our membership helps us to amplify our voice in the world and in trade negotiations with global economic giants.
The Labour party has led the response in recent days to the worst refugee crisis since the second world war. Yvette Cooper has pushed the government to accept more refugees and continues to pressure them to go further. For the first time since the general election, the government has been reacting to the opposition. The EU has the potential to deliver a shared solution to what is clearly a problem which affects the whole continent.
But our internationalism must reach beyond the borders of the EU. The last Labour government made mistakes in foreign policy but we should never forget our enduring achievements. We negotiated an international agreement and commitment to a 0.7 per cent GDP target for spending on aid, signed the Kyoto accord that introduced the first binding carbon emissions and secured a write down of debt for developing countries.
We also intervened in Kosovo and Sierra Leone to prevent the genocide of innocent people. I profoundly disagree with the assertion that we should not have intervened to prevent Slobodan Milosevic slaughtering ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. Whereas, we failed, alongside our international partners, to act in Rwanda and Bosnia and were rightly criticised for not intervening.
Decisions about military intervention are never easy but we cannot start from a position of never intervening. Nor should every intervention be seen through the prism of the Iraq war. If an intervention can stop genocide or crimes against humanity being committed, it should be considered. As an internationalist party which believes in solidarity, we cannot shy away from these decisions.
Neither should we shy away from supporting the United Kingdom’s continuing membership of Nato. After all, Clement Attlee’s postwar government was instrumental in establishing this defensive alliance of peaceful democratic nations. Our membership is even more crucial given that Russia has demonstrated contempt for international law and national borders. Furthermore, it is simply wrong to blame Nato in an attempt to justify Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea.
The UK’s membership of the EU and Nato should remain at the heart of a Labour foreign policy. We cannot afford to duck the fundamental question about the UK’s EU membership. Any decision about intervention should be carefully considered, not dismissed out of hand.
The abiding Labour principle – of achieving more together than we do alone – must be applied abroad just as it is at home. We must never let our country walk away and resign from the world.
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