When the European elections happen this May, we don’t know whether we will be electing MEPs for five months or five years. That question will, in the end, have to be settled by Westminster. But these unexpected elections are a chance for Labour to show the public that the choice is not between a hard-right Brexit and the status quo. There is another way. The UK wants change. People are sick of Brexit starving our politics of air. There are absolutely crucial issues for the future of our country that should be on the agenda, which for too long have gone ignored. We get to change that now, and this is how.
On May 23rd, we fight for a Europe for everyone. We want a Europe that won’t tolerate poverty or crap work. We want a Europe that won’t tolerate global business playing fast and loose with the individual’s power and privacy. We want a Europe where democracy, learning and ambition are the watchwords of the century to come, not populism and corruption – or power held only by elites. Here’s five steps to make that campaign a reality.
1. Fight for the policies we know the vast majority in Britain want.
This means taking on the bullshit that Tory Britain allows, that Europe can stop. In Britain, we have spent the past decade as a nation failing to ban zero-hour contracts and bogus self-employment, even though this shoddy treatment makes the average British worker mad. The British left should own the manifesto of the party of European Socialists, which seeks to ban both, and more. We have let agencies rip up our labour market. But European legislation to outlaw bad practices at work – stopping global multinationals in their tracks – involves a massive shift in power from the wealthy to workers. We should make a big bold offer to those who are angry with their treatment at work, and elect MEPs to fight this cause.
2. Focus relentlessly on the future.
In 2016, the past was on the Brexit ballot paper. But it’s obvious: there is no future in nostalgia. Time to ask the next generation of British people what they want. Although nobody should ignore older people, there are a lot of frustrated young British people out there wondering when they will get the chance to have a say. We should tell them that time is now.
3. Use this campaign to act on climate change.
The rising protests in London should be a red flag to us all. The Tories hugged huskies to get elected, but have done next to nothing green in power, and the public know it. Europe has genuine power over the rules that can change the prospects for our environment. Clean air, clean water, clean energy and quality food are popular goals. Our campaign can spell out what we plan to do.
4. Immigration: just at the point when it is going off the agenda in British politics, we should bring it back.
More than anything else, this means dignity. Dignity for refugees at the border, and dignity from exploitative employers who use free movement to treat Europeans in the UK like the lowest of the low. Better rules on immigration across Europe can sort both of these problems, and help us make the most of a continent that, at its best, offers chance and opportunity wherever you come from.
5. Last, and in every way least, the issue of a public vote on the Brexit deal.
Spending all the time on the question of a public vote, when our MEPs have little direct control over that question, is a mistake. It is a matter only Westminster can decide. But use these elections instead to focus on the future, not the past, and we might win the argument for a final say on leaving the EU at all. Better still, we will win the right to stay in the EU when the time comes.
These European elections are very simple. The more Labour votes, the more votes for change. Vote for anyone else and either you get the pro-Brexit conservatism of the hard right, or the pro-status quo conservatism of the centre-right. Just think about how much better off we will be if we get to send Labour voices back to Brussels to fight Farage. He claims to be fighting for Britain. Let’s show the world that his brand of populist dog-whistle is sound and fury that signifies nothing at all. The real fighters are those who are prepared to take on the conservatives of all stripes and make a case for power and opportunity in Europe being spread as widely as possible. And that, after all, is us.