In this article, Edward Parker Humphreys tells us how Labour can make a positive case for Britain’s membership of the EU. Edward is a Young Labour activist based in Lewisham East CLP. Having been a party member since the age of 14, Edward is now in his final year of secondary school and hopes that London will be turning red this May, both for his beloved Arsenal Football Club and, of course, Sadiq Khan. Being born in July, Edward will miss out on a chance to vote in the EU referendum by just 19 days, but is still determined to have his say in the campaign and the role Labour has to play, as he sets out in this article.
When you look back over the last few decades of British politics, it is often apparent that, along with death and taxes, Tory infighting over Europe has long been one of life’s few certainties. Indeed, the merry-go-round of senior Conservative politicians trading insults over the last few weeks seems to have only reinforced this stereotype, with Cameron, Boris, Hammond and Gove all taking chunks out of each other as campaigning has intensified.
Although this of course makes for a rather entertaining spectacle, the divisions within the Conservative Party over the EU referendum provide Labour with more than just an excuse to grab the popcorn and watch the Tories implode. Instead, we have a huge opportunity to take centre stage in the debate over the future of the United Kingdom in the European Union and run a positive, dynamic and engaging campaign. Aside from a rather tepid statement of support for the EU and its protection of workers’ rights and the environment from Corbyn, Labour have failed to attract much attention in the news coverage of the referendum campaign so far.
Given the enormity of the decision facing the UK on June 23rd, one would hope that Labour would be slightly more vocal when it comes to promoting the EU as a force for prosperity, peace and social justice, in order to avoid the damage a Brexit would cause for the country and also show that the Labour Party is once again ready to engage with the big issues facing our country in a unified, coherent and convincing manner.
First of all, we should not be afraid of making the economic case for remaining in the EU. Having spent the last eight years tainted in the eyes of public, albeit unfairly, by the problems the 2008 financial crisis caused for the UK economy, here is a chance for Labour to help restore their economic credibility, as well as helping to ensure that the jobs, trade and consumer benefits which the EU provides us with are not lost for good. Whether it be in agriculture, where thousands of UK jobs depend so heavily on EU subsidies, our manufacturing industry, which would be further crippled by increased trade barriers outside the EU, or the developing technology sector within the UK, where EU grants for research and development are crucial in allowing us to build up a comparative advantage in this field, the UK economy would face a huge amount of risk and uncertainty if we were to leave the European Union. Labour’s vision of rebalancing the economy, creating more middle-income jobs and reducing the level of income inequality can only be realised if the three industries mentioned above are properly supported and a vote to leave would be a hammer-blow to jobs, businesses and investment within the agricultural, manufacturing and technology sectors. Not only does EU membership provide us with the better-quality jobs this country so desperately needs, but the trade it facilitates is crucial to closing the unsustainable trade deficit which has been consistently ignored by Osborne since 2010, whilst its environmental regulations helps create a sustainable economy which is able to prosper without causing further damage to our planet. On top of this, EU competition law has, on the whole, been a positive thing for consumers, ensuring lower prices and protecting against anti-competitive practices which seek to exploit customers, although there is a certainly an argument to be made about how these rules should be reformed to make state-ownership of industries such as the railways more achievable. If we want to see an economy which is both fairer and more prosperous, then remaining part of the European Union is an absolute must, and we as a party should be doing much more to highlight that fact.
In addition to this, the EU is crucial to the security of the UK and the wider international community. The debate over Trident will continue to rage within the party, but a much cheaper and more effective deterrent to war and conflict exists in the form of the European Union. Europe has been a relatively peaceful place since the formation of the European Coal and Steel Community after World War Two, the pre-cursor to the current European Union. Indeed, the success of the EU as a force for preventing war was perhaps best demonstrated in 2012 when the union was actually awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. When it comes to tackling terrorism, arguably the single biggest threat to UK security in the 21st Century, the international cooperation which the EU facilitates is essential in foiling plots which seek to harm innocent civilians and undermine our democracy. Having been skewered as a ‘threat to national security’ by the Tories, the Labour Party can dispel this myth by campaigning to remain within the EU and highlighting how crucial our membership is to avoiding conflict and protecting UK citizens from terrorism.
Finally, membership of the European Union is key to defending and improving the social justice which we, as a party, have fought for since the days of Keir Hardie. Central to this is, of course, the employment rights enshrined in EU law, as Corbyn has rightly emphasised in recent weeks. Maternity leave, trade union membership, paid holidays – all of these, and many more, are protected by being members of the EU. The European Union also provides fantastic opportunities to address issues such as multinational tax avoidance, the flaws within our financial systems and the ongoing refugee crisis. All of these complex, international problems affect the UK, and they can only be solved by working together as a European community. If Labour is serious about building social justice within Britain, it has to ensure it is willing to remain part of, and contribute to, the development of a Social Europe.
The debate over Europe is a perfect opportunity for Labour to demonstrate that it is the only party with the country’s best interests at heart. The European Union allows for an economy which is both fair and prosperous, a country which is safe at home and advocates peace abroad, and a society where social justice is at the forefront of our politics. Over the next few months, we should be making this argument as a united Labour Party, in order to prevent a Brexit and to show that Britain’s future can be better and brighter with a Labour government at the helm.