It is good to be here at Progress.
Good to be among an audience that takes pride in Labour’s achievements in government and wants to get back there again.
Good to be with friends who see building a winning coalition and governing the country not as the desertion of Labour’s principles but as the means for the realisation of our principles.
Good to know that there are many Labour members who will never be content to see Labour volunteer for relegation to becoming a protest movement rather than the great vehicle for social change we can be at our best.
The NHS. The minimum wage. Most equality and liberalisation legislation this country has ever seen. All because we won, and we governed.
And as we mark the 100th anniversary of Harold Wilson’s birth, perhaps it’s worth reflecting on what Labour’s great winners – Attlee, Wilson and Blair – had in common.
They were fired by a desire to change the country and right the wrongs that afflicted it but there was more to them than that.
They were all equipped with the curiosity that is an essential quality of leadership. When they saw the challenges of their day they looked to new solutions, to the future, whether it was a post war state fit for the heroes who won the war, the technological revolution of the 1960s or the New Britain that New Labour sought to build.
They did more than collect grievance. They painted a hopeful appealing picture of the future that people could relate to and buy into. They created a sense of renewal, not of rewind. Every time we have won it has been because we are seen as agents of national renewal, of the future not the past.
And they were consciously broad in their appeal. North and south, working and middle classes all united to elect their governments.
Curiosity, optimism, breadth of appeal – these are qualities that Labour’s winners have shared. And the three of them were thus feared by the Conservative opponents whom they beat time after time in general elections.
So what does all this tell us about how to apply ourselves to the fight for Britain’s future which is under way?
For be in no doubt about the importance of this fight. It will tell us and the world who we are and what we stand for in the 21st century.
In the opening weeks of this story it has seemed it is all about the Conservative party.
The clash of campaigns has been a series of ‘blue on blue’ engagements, the only extra one being blue on blue blood.
Labour is largely united on this question. The vast majority of our MPs and members want to stay in.
Yet we know we have not been heard enough so far in the Europe debate.
Alan Johnson is arguing the case with passion, conviction and skill but we are not yet as much a part of this story as we can be. It is up to all of us to get behind Alan and do what we can for this campaign. As he rightly tells us, don’t wait for permission from him. The starting gun has been fired.
Labour’s struggle should always be for victory, not relevance. We should not allow ourselves to be bit players while the future of the country is fought out between Conservative politicians more interested in their own next job than in the jobs, futures and living standards of millions of people in our country.
This is a question of leadership and we have both a duty and an opportunity to show leadership on this issue, when the governing party is so divided.
We should support remaining in for some very clear reasons.
We are economically stronger as part of the EU. The Brexiteers may dismiss the economic damage of leaving as transitory but what good is that to someone who loses their job or finds the firm they work for no longer has a voice at the top table?
I represent a West Midlands constituency and in the West Midlands we pride ourselves on making things. Almost half of what we export goes to the EU, tariff-free and according to a set of rules we have a say in deciding.
When Britain markets itself abroad we do so as members of the EU, and that strategy has been hugely successful in making us an attractive location for inward investment. The results of this are salaries paid, mortgages paid, families provided for. I am not prepared to sacrifice that on the alter of the obsessions within the Conservative party.
Our membership is not an arena for failure. It has been an arena for success.
And beyond the economic field we forget at our peril that membership is a matter of values not just of interests. Europe used to resolve our differences through bloody and regular wars. They are now resolved through nation after nation sitting round a table, with democratically elected governments, mutual respect for borders, guarantees for peaceful resolution of whatever issue is on the table.
Of course this is about the geopolitics too, about working with others to exercise soft power in a manner that inspires those who want freedom and democracy round the world.
Then of courses there is the integrity of the UK itself. As the Brexiteers echo the arguments of the separatists in Scotland which were defeated two years ago they display a recklessness about the future of the UK that we stand against.
The SNP have made it clear they will bring the issue of independence back in the wake of Brexit. Never mind the tanking oil price which has blow their economic calculations apart. Never mind the new GERS figures which show Scotland running a deficit far greater than the rest of the UK. Do not let reality get in the way of nationalism. If the UK leaves the EU we will very likely be in this kind of battle again.
Earlier this week I debated this issue with John Redwood. He dismissed the prospect of Scottish independence in the wake of Brexit as ‘three years of GDP growth’. Never let it be said that Thatcherites know the price of everything and the value of nothing. I believe keeping the UK together is a lot more important than that.
But underneath it all it’s not just about economics, or the EU’s record in keeping peace, or the potential consequences for nationalism. It’s about us and what kind of country we are.
Do we believe the international world is an arena for British defeat or a place we should play a leading role?
Do we look at the challenges posed for example by the refugee crisis and ask ‘how can we get away from this’ or do we ask ‘how can we help resolve this?’
It is the easiest thing in the world to look at what is happening and say we should pull up the drawbridge. It’s all too difficult. We will go our own way. And if you have questions about that you are a fear-monger.
That’s one option but it isn’t leadership.
So if you ask me what Labour should do in this campaign it is to show the leadership the Conservatives are incapable of showing. Even this far from power we can do that if we resolve to do it.
The future of our country is at stake. We can’t afford to sit it out.
Pat McFadden MP is former shadow minister for Europe. He tweets @PatMcFaddenMP
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