We need to recapture the passionate European voice

24th October, 2011 9:31 pm

It’s been a good piece of short-term political entertainment watching the Tory Party rip itself apart on Europe tonight in the House of Commons. It’s good for the country to be reminded that a substantial slice of Tory backbench opinion are obsessed by an issue which a recent poll found was 22nd in importance amongst the public. Where was this degree of passion or anger when the NHS was being dismantled, or as the economy has flatlined? Even though the public probably agree with the Tory Europhobes on the issue, the batty, indeed often comic, speeches by Blimpish backwoodsmen help remind voters how downright odd some Tories are.

It’s good to be reminded that far from Cameron creating a Tory mirror image of New Labour and seizing the centre ground, he presides over a deeply divided party where many MPs have never got over Margaret Thatcher’s defenestration as leader, and want to triangulate with UKIP rather than Labour. It’s good to have a demonstration that this is effectively a three-party Coalition of Lib Dems, Thatcherites and Cameroons, with a PM who is only wholeheartedly backed by a small minority in the Commons. The fact that it’s the Tory Hard Right who are obsessed with Europe gives the game away on the motives for their scepticism – it’s only partly about xenophobia and a Little England viewpoint, it’s as motivated by an extreme free market viewpoint that doesn’t want any of the social agenda, regional economic growth packages, workplace rights, human rights and health and safety regulations that come with EU membership. That free market extremists hate it is a good recommendation for the EU for me.

I’m glad Europe is no longer a deeply divisive issue in the Labour Party. We did our share of internecine warfare in the 1970s on this question, with our own rebels being the 69 pro-Europeans who voted with the Tories to join the Common Market on 28 October 1971.

But where’s the passion on the pro-European side either on the Government benches or the Labour ones? Most of the speeches I am watching from the Labour side of the House are from our tiny minority of Eurosceptics, not from MPs who represent mainstream Labour pro-European thinking.

We shouldn’t choose to fight on this issue given, as stated above, it ranks 22nd in public resonance. When Labour chooses what to debate, we should focus on the economy and defending public services. But when confronted with a debate about Europe we shouldn’t play it with a dead bat, offering merely technocratic responses.

If we carry on like that, if there ever was a referendum, we would get thrashed because we had never confronted the emotional nationalism of the Europhobic right with an emotional internationalism and Europeanism that says real patriotism is about working with other like-minded countries to build a more prosperous and peaceful continent.

The arguments for Europe are no-brainers. Playing games with our EU membership would ruin our economy, which is based on trade with our EU partners and inward investment which would switch off if we were out of Europe; it would reduce our punching power in global diplomacy, which is predicated on our being a player in multiple teams (EU, NATO, Commonwealth); it would allow free market fundamentalists to unpick all the progressive social measures that have been developed in Brussels.

Labour’s pro-Europeans need to be louder and prouder in debates like this, both in Parliament and outside it in our Party and in our Communities. We need to recapture the passionate European voice that people like John Smith and Roy Hattersley articulated courageously in the 1970s and ‘80s at considerable risk to their own standing in the Party.

A good start would be if all of who care about this:

–       Joined the Labour Movement for Europe so that the network of pro-Europeans in the Party is as strong as possible

–       Invite a pro-EU speaker to your CLP – your regional Labour MEP is usually a good starting point

–       Take part in a debate within your local Party with an anti-European so that local members engage with the issue

–       Write to the press and blog and tweet our views about this

We can’t allow the important debate about our country’s future relationship with our neighbours to be dominated by a loud caucus of mainly very rightwing nationalists.

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  • jaime taurosangastre candelas


    I’m probably “mildly” on the other side of the debate to you (renegotiate, but not opt out), but a couple of points to debate.

    “The arguments for Europe are no-brainers”:  possibly, but let’s look in more detail.  I don’t think they are being made well by pro-European politicians, or indeed with fidelity to reality.  40% of our trade is with Europe, but 60% is not.  As one of the largest contributors to Europe, I think we could negotiate terms with Europe that could keep us around that level.  No one on the pro-Europe side ever mentions the costs of CAP and CFP – currently about double our net contributions.  As for global diplomacy, I think you vastly over-estimate the power given to us by EU membership, and underestimate the power gained by NATO, Commonwealth and UN P5 membership.

    Nevertheless, I’m mildly on the other side of the debate, not viscerally.

    • guest

      Jaime, it’s all a matter of a Chinese syndrome? China has been waging an economic war for the last two decades and while we argue over who gets the best deal, China is investing half a trillion dollars a year into renewable energy, by 2015 China will have invested 2.5 trillion into renewable, while Americans will have spent 2.5 trillion on motor fuel.

      China is spending mass amounts on commodities such as gold and copper and silver, while our currency is heading down the fiat currency path, where the price of a coin is worth more in scrap than it’s value. Unless we come up trumphs with our currency, China will most probably start a gold backed currency within the next decade or so and since it’s much harder to produce gold than paper money our position will worsen deeper.

      What we need is a western currency, say the dollar adopted by America, Britain and Europe, we have to rapidly concentrate on producing as much gold as possible, along with other materials to help bring down the price and threat of a gold backed currency, while massively investing in new materials sources and of course the food chain.

      I see this as the only option for our western values to survive and yes! it could well explode but that’s where we’re at, we either unite with a single western currency and invest massively in science areas of new energies and foods or burn a slow death by separation, war, famine and extreme poverty. 

      • Anonymous

        Gold and Gordon Brown?

  • jaime taurosangastre candelas


    why is my full name coming out?  I don’t remember asking for that?  It’s not really a secret, but not what I signed up for.

    • Anonymous

      Hi Jaime,

      I’m not sure why that might be happening, but you can log into Disqus in the comments panel and change your settings, which should sort your peoblem. Let me know how you get on.

      • jaime taurosangastre candelas

        I may be being stupid.  I logged in with gmail, as I have a gmail address but not any of the other options.  When I press “settings”, I only get two options of being sent email or not when a new reply appears. No option to change my screen name back to Jaime T.  I don’t particularly want to choose “Guest” for my posts, as I think others have a right to know whom is commenting.

        • Spen Finn

          Its probably picking up the name from GMail. You’ve probably got Gmail to display names as “Jaime Taurosangastre Candelas”

  • ian

    strange thing Luke is that Thatcher is the one who signed the Single European Act of which the logical conclusion was further integration. In fact the reality is that thatcher did far more to involve us in europe than any other PM, did she not campaign for the entry in 75 ?

  • Spen Finn

    10 minutes to Torygeddon

    • ian

      looks about 100 

      • ian


        • ian

          25 labour ‘rebels’ but that hardly matters

          • Anonymous

            25 Labour MPs that interesting, but it has been a total waste of time .

          • 19. And largely the usual suspects

  • Franwhi

    IMO you are both right and wrong in equal measure.  There are many with a pro – European outlook across most of the major political parties although only the Lib Dems as a party can be described as wholly advocates. The range of other attitudes is quite nuanced and multi-levelled across political groups, communities, classes and even national borders – for example, I would say Scots are generally more pro-European than the English as a nation. The  tragedy is that the populist popular press in this country have persistently misprepresented and defamed any benefits of EU membership over decades to such an extent that many people just react with reptile brain at the very mention of Europe and it is a topic that seems to bring out the worst type of British xenophobia and dare I say as a Scot – Little Englander mentality. Unfortunately some politicians have been very adept at garnering political mileage out of this tosh. Therefore the first thing needed for an informed debate on European membership is an education campaign for the British public and I’m not sure who’s going to lead on that. The other thing is I think you’re being a bit Pollyannish
    relying on a recent survey showing general British disinterest on this topic – if interest is waning it may not be because hostility to the EU is correspondingly diminishing but rather because other seemingly domestic issues like unemployment and the cost of living have become so pressing.  I fear you may only need to scratch the surface to discover that anti-Euro feeling is still alive and well in large swathes of the country. I would argue that, outside political circles,  the  positive case for Europe has never been fully constructed or cemented in this country even after decades of membership – much building work remains to be done.          

  • Deekbarker

    Has the damage been done? every Prime Minister from Thatcher to Brown were only to keen to talk up our opt outs but if we were to examine our opt outs? most of them related to our weakness and fear to create a more equal society Tax, employment law and benefits .

    Jeez! you have Cameron and Osborne going to these EU meetings trying to set the economic agenda with a home front flatlining base of their own and a semi in part EU agenda. I guess the rest are just laughing at Cameron.

    What a time to lose our friends in Europe. and can you believe that parliament spent over 8 hours discussing this issue, while our economy burns.

  • Daniel Oxley

    The EU may well be issue number 22 but the online petition which forced the debate was the second most popular.

    • Anonymous

      It wasn’t an online petition that triggered the debate, it was an organised campaign by the Express, and a paper petition. The online petition only got 26,000 signatures if I remember correctly.

  • David MacDonald

    “We can’t allow the important debate about our country’s future relationship with our neighbours to be dominated by a loud caucus of mainly very rightwing nationalists.”
    It isn’t because some 20 Labour MPs voted in favour of the motion and many many Labour voters would agree with them. Furthermore, of UKIPs increasing support now comes from former Labour voters.

    Nor is a particularly “right wing” to favour government by electedt representatives rather than by an unaccountable self selecting oligarchy or to be in favour of Habeas Corpus, now seriously undermined by the EU arrest warrant.

    • Spen Finn


      You are right in your analysis. To deny the country is arrogance, to paint the issue as belonging to you political enemy is low.

      • The issue belongs to everyone – but Labour is a pro-European party.

        Look at those who rebelled. Largely the ‘usual suspects’ (Hoey, Godsiff, Mitchell, Field) who have always been anti-EU, the Campaign Group anti-Europeans, and two or three others, who have either had junior ministerial office and are unlikely to return , or backbenchers unlikely to get preferment.
        Of those rebels many are likely to leave the Commons before too long

        And not one single MP from the 2010 intake – which should make the future position of Labour clear enough

        • Anonymous

          Another way to look at it, those about to leave give their view, those coming in have to much to lose and stick with the Party line….. but being a pro EU because of what we get out of it in Wales . But I do understand the worries about where the EU is going, about the fraud in Brussels.

  • Damien Mckee

    As Kelvin Hopkins pointed out in the debate last night at least 53% of Labour voters want a refurendum compared to 33% against! You are in danger of being out of touch with ordinary Labour supporters in the street as you sound more and more like a hand wringing Liberal than a Labour man!

    • I think this is a really important point: the Labour party may not be divided quite like the Tories are, but the country definitely is!

      Perhaps the deeper point, then, is the relative weighting of loyalty that MPs display towards their constituents as opposed to towards their party: I would argue that if an MP is not faithfully representing their constituents’ views, then the primary benefit of FPTP (as opposed to any proportional-based system) has been lost.

      • Ianrobo

        then you might as well not have manifesto’s. the tory and LD one was clear on Europe, it put their position and they acted upon it.

        If the anti’s wanted a vote then they ashould have defected to the UKIP if it was THAT important instead of starting a civil war in their own party.

        • Unless they specifically stand on an issue, then hypothetically, if 50% of their Labour voters want something, and 100% of their non-Labour voters want the same thing: does that MP not have a duty to represent that view, even where it differs from their own (or, even more importantly, where they agree but it differs with the “party line”)?

    • Ianrobo

      Damien, do you not understand your obsession over Europe is shared by very few. In other words it is NOT IMPORTANT to the majority of us living our lives and as once again  the Tories fight over it, the public must shake their heads and ask WHY ?

      Yes ask a poll question and you will get maj anti EU (but not as big as the anti’s like t think) but when polls ask how important that is the important question.

  • Strongly agree with this view. I think its about time Labour started selling the positive case for Europe . We are a pro-European party and shouldn’t be scared to say so

    • Anonymous

      “We are a pro-European party and shouldn’t be scared to say so”
      What you mean is the parliamentary Labour Party is a pro-european party and the leadership is.

      But are Labour voters and members?

      • Anonymous

        I think people right now have to much to worry about feeding and clothing the family, to be worried about the EU, it comes well down my list of priorities.

        •  Don’t be silly, the press are saying…
          …oh, right.


          It’s really not as bad for the Cameroon as it’s been made out

          • Anonymous

            And you think we bother about the press. hahahahah

  • Lets have a look at those 19 votes

    Ronnie Campbell – Campaign Group, likely to retire at next election
    Rosie Cooper – backbencher, unlikely to gain preferment
    Jeremy Corbyn – Campaign Group
    Jon Cruddas – maverick, out of favour
    John Cryer – Campaign Group
    Ian Davidson – longstanding anti-EU
    Natascha Engel – overlooked backbencher
    Frank Field – longstanding anti-EU, maverick
    Roger Godsiff – longstanding anti-EU
    Kate Hoey – longstanding anti-EU, maverick
    Kelvin Hopkins – Campaign Group
    Steve McCabe – ex-whip, backbencher, unlikely to gain preferment
    John McDonnell – Campaign Group
    Austin Mitchell – longstanding anti-EU, maverick
    Dennis Skinner – Campaign Group, likely to retire at next election
    Andrew Smith – ex-minister, unlikely to gain preferment
    Graham Stringer – overlooked backbencher
    Gisela Stuart – longstanding anti-EU, maverick
    Mike Wood – Campaign Group
    How more unrepresentative a group could there be? Not one from the 2010 intake other than a retread

  • Pingback: EU referendum Commons vote – live coverage | Indiacitys.com()

  • Anonymous

    I’m in complete agreement with this article; thanks Luke for expressing so well.

    I’d be curious to know what those 22 top “public interest” issues are, in order of preference?

    What amazes me is how so much heat can be expressed over anti European sentiment  by a minority, and yet the issue of trebling of tuition fees and relatively dismantling of public services and the NHS can sail through?

    I think it shows how out of touch some of these people are, and how little they are aware of what is of real concern to the majority of ordinary people;(not all follow the Daily M or E’press.)

    Thanks, Jo.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Mark,

    I’ve just added a comment and it seems to have disappeared already; would be grateful if you could check.

    Thanks, Jo.

  • “we would get thrashed ”

    Yes. Interests both within and without Europe would pay money for it. As the AV “No” campaign shows, truth has no place in cash-erendum campaigns.


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