The end of euro-apathy and euro-antipathy in the Labour Party? - 2012-10-05
For years now, Labour's MEPs have come to Conference expecting apathy or even antipathy towards the EU. Those days are now over.
Europe is now in the news all the time, and more and more Labour activists are very keen Europeans and interested in the EU. Our fringe meetings are packed.
You only have to look at UKIP and the Tory euro-sceptics to see part of the reason why. Many of them have dinosaur attitudes to smoking in public, women, climate change - you name it. Their Brussels allies are often also homophobic and xenophobic.
Labour's natural home is critical support for the EU. We work with our EU allies where it is in the British interest to achieve our goals through international co-operation. Unlike Tories, we do not let some form of misguided British nationalism cloud our judgement. On the other hand, we do not support waste, whether it means paying for an unnecessary parliament building in Strasbourg, or unnecessary agricultural subsidies.
The week began with the European victory at the Ryder cup. If golfers can see they are stronger working together as a single European golf team, why is it that euro-sceptics cannot see the sense of working together on the environment, trade negotiations and workers' rights at a European level?
When I was called to make a speech from the floor, Conference cheered when I said that Cameron's talk about ‘repatriation of powers from Brussels’ is actually about taking away the basic workers' rights that are guaranteed by EU legislation.
The fact that Labour delegates understand this may explain why all the EPLP (European Parliamentary Labour Party) meetings were packed this year. Over 900 people came to listen to Ed Miliband praise the EPLP's work on Europe. They cheered the Socialist Group Leader, Hannes Swoboda MEP, who came over from Brussels. The evening was rounded off by Eddie Izzard getting a good laugh with an unashamed pro-European rallying call. People there said we had created our own Obama-style rally for Europe.
Now is not the time to apologise for being pro-European. Labour delegates could see that many of our problems are international with international solutions, and it is best to ignore the endless carping from the sidelines in the popular media with its steady drip drip drip of 'euromyths.'
Businesses too held meetings about Europe. At the Business for New Europe fringe, attended by a mainly business audience, with both pro and anti EU speakers, an amazing 97% of people there voted to stay in the EU, while just 3% wanted the UK to pull out. Businesses know that leaving the EU would cost the UK dearly in both investments and jobs (and incidentally costs an estimated £3,500 per household). The Eurozone has been in the news a lot over the last year, but businesses understand that we need a strong Eurozone as they buy half our exports. In a separate vote, 74% of those present voted not to have an "in-out" referendum. Elsewhere, a “Peoples’ Pledge” campaign meeting calling for a referendum could muster only thirty attendees - and many of those were simply curious pro-Europeans.
Our campaign does not stop at Conference. This week, we called for unspent EU funds to go on job creation and training to counter-act the scandal of Europe-wide unemployed youth. We are now continuing this campaign with a Conference in Nottingham in two months' time where youth from all over Europe will work together to campaign together to reverse the pan-European austerity measures that are ruining the hopes of a generation across Europe.