Julie Ward says Labour must not abandon its tradition of being internationalist – remaining in the EU should be our platform to victory
The majority of Labour party members are like me: pro-Corbyn, anti-Brexit. We see the need for a radical left-wing anti-austerity agenda to ensure that we have an economy, health service and decent working conditions fit for the 21st Century, and that we are primed ready for the fourth industrial revolution.
If we fight on a positive and progressive pro-EU ‘Remain and Reform’ platform in the forthcoming European elections we have an opportunity to be the largest party within the Socialist and Democrat (S&D) grouping in the European Parliament. Indeed, we should be leading, not leaving. The EU is our biggest trading partner, our closest allies on peace and security and our nearest neighbours with whom we share a land border. Walking away will only make us weaker, poorer and less secure. If Labour doesn’t put its full weight behind a decent election campaign we will be in danger of burning bridges when we should be building them.
The British Labour party must participate wholeheartedly in the European elections fighting for our place and voice inside the EU. In the 2017 general election our manifesto was widely acclaimed by our PES sister parties and by those in the European Left. Our rejuvenated membership base is the envy of ailing socialist and democrat parties. But we must not squander all that we have achieved over the past few years. We need to be proud of our vision and build upon it in a European context, acknowledging the legacy of four decades of Labour MEPs who served with commitment and passion in the European Parliament, standing up for workers rights, consumer rights, and human rights, paving the way for recent legislation to tackle tax evasion, and bring forward the ‘work life balance’ directive.
We are in a unique position to help change the balance of power in Europe, enabling a larger and louder voice for socialism inside the European Parliament. Labour can and should win the European elections, especially given the Tory disarray in contrast to our powerful vision for the future. Doing well in the European elections would enable the formation of a large coalition of internationalist socialist comrades in the European Parliament. A Labour Party playing a leading role in the socialist group could reinvigorate and strengthen core EU values, challenge the failed neoliberalism which has made the EU so unpopular, while building upon social and environmental justice across borders. We could be the kingmakers, helping to install the socialist candidate, Frans Timmermans, as President of the Commission. The young people of Europe would thank us for safeguarding their future and the forgotten-about communities would not feel abandoned.
We are uniquely placed to forge a broad progressive alliance centred around a European Green New Deal, and a Labour presence in the next European Parliament which would help bring together MEPs from different progressive groups. Already there exists an anti-austerity Left Caucus comprising S&D, Greens and European Left. The stage is now set for a huge dynamic shift and we need Labour to steer this ship.
We are in a politically historical moment, one of great turbulence with increasing populism on the rise in all corners of Europe. Eurosceptics and pro-Europeans on the left must put aside their differences and work together to avoid the creation of a European Parliament dominated by the followers of Orban, Salvini, Wilders and Le Pen, who despite their nationalist rhetoric are already collaborating as an international force. Nigel Farage is funded by corporate interests in the United States and probably Russian oligarchs too. He is working with alt-right white nationalist Steve Bannon who has now set up an office in Brussels and is attempting to build a school for populism in Italy. It is therefore up to the left to tackle this scourge head on. Brexit enabled by the Labour Party would be a supreme act of abandonment of solidarity.
This issue is not simply about the European Union, as it stands. This is about a democratic Europe for the future. We are at a turning point that requires British initiative and engagement from the Left in order to take on the few whose now almost unlimited economic and political power is being exercised at the expense of the many – ultimately risking the survival of the planet. The world needs a united Europe, with an unashamed socialist and democratic leadership.
A strong, confident pro-European Labour campaign, electing more Labour MEPs, will help guide a new direction for Europe, stop the rise of populism and shape a better future for an entire continent. We inherit the past, but we must shape the future.