As a pro-European I welcome the formation of a ‘Labour Yes’ campaign group. However, I note that it is being:
“… jointly chaired by Pat Glass, Labour MP for North West Durham, and Phil Wilson, MP for Sedgefield. The group will co-ordinate Labour MPs to speak up in European debates in parliament, make the case in constituencies and reach out to businesses, trade unionists, universities and other organisations who have an interest in Britain’s future position in Europe (Source: The Guardian 14/6/2015) .”
Those limited words are sounding alarm bells in my head. They read like a top-down promotion and seem to imply that ordinary day-to-day members and activists within the Labour Party are going to be peripheral to its activities. They imply that business leaders matter more than party activists.
This is a worrying, because we all have an interest in Britain’s future position in Europe. The pro-EU argument needs to be taken into the communities. The Labour Party needs its activists to be speaking at the local church, in the local community centre. In discussions in the workplace, in the canteen, and in the trade unions. They need to debate on the internet, Twitter etc. Party activists need to go into sixth form classes. Labour need to take the debate to the people of the United Kingdom.
The Labour Party has an e-list of its own political activists and the ‘Labour Yes’ campaign should be communicating its message to those foot soldiers.
The ‘Labour Yes’ message will need to be distinctive from any ‘Conservative Yes’ campaign. They need to explain how Labour intend to work within the European Parliament to challenge the austerity message of the right. Indeed, ‘Labour Yes’ needs to look beyond the needs of today and talk about what is needed in Europe tomorrow. They do need to discuss the negative impact leaving the EU will have on the UK. However, they also need to promote some of the benefits that the EU has brought to workers in the UK. How the discrimination laws have helped make the UK a better place. How the Transfer of Undertaking regulations have helped save jobs.
‘Labour Yes’ also need to start looking forward to 2020 and the fact that the austerity policies of today will not be relevant in 2020 (the Tories say the deficit will be clear by 2018). Austerity is in the DNA of Conservatives – it is not in the DNA of socialists. ‘Labour Yes’ need to make a clear and pro-European message to people living and working in our communities. That should be a distinct and socialist post-austerity message over Europe.
Dr Peter Jepson is the editor of LawsBlog. He tweets as @Lawsblog