Peter Kenyon reviews the ins and outs of the British Labour Party’s EU policy making
The hokey-cokey doesn’t feature in Strictly Come Dancing – named by The Guinness Book of Records as the world’s most successful reality TV format. That’s a pity for Jeremy Corbyn, who has yet to appear. But by the time you read this you can rate his performance from 1 to 10 regarding the European Parliamentary elections yourself.
In the preparations for the elections, due in the UK on Thursday 23 May, Corbyn along with the other leaders of the Party of European Socialists has already endorsed a common manifesto. At the time of going to press, drafting of the British Labour Party version was being decided by its National Executive Committee (NEC). A lively discussion is expected with a majority of voters in the four countries that currently make up the United Kingdom supporting ‘Remain’, along with a majority of party members and current Labour members of the European Parliament. They are decidedly IN. But in the LOTO (Leader Of The Opposition) office, the Parliamentary Labour Party and fringes of the party membership are those who are decidedly OUT. Astonishing, but true.
Word from the LOTO is no new policies are to be included and committing to a confirmatory referendum on a Brexit deal is to be avoided. That is extremely problematic for the majority.
Strictly (no pun intended) there shouldn’t be any European Parliamentary elections on 23 May. British Prime Minister Theresa May promised that the UK would leave the EU at 2300 on 29 March. But here we are still members of the EU, at least until 30 October 2019, unless Parliament accepts her so-called deal, rejected three times so far albeit with declining majorities in the House of Commons against.
Framing a manifesto in those circumstances ought to be simple. The Conservatives’ Brexit project has failed. Three years’ negotiation and manoeuvering have demonstrated beyond doubt that the EU referendum should never have been called. The UK’s place is in the European Union. Labour in the immediate aftermath of electoral defeat in 2015, under acting Leader Harriet Harman, fell into the Tory trap and waved the legislation through without due consideration. Corbyn compounded the error by treating the result on 24 June 2016 as a legitimate democratic outcome.
Labour’s challenge now is framing a manifesto to win over as many voters as possible. Unlike the UK’s parliamentary first-past-the-post electoral system, every vote in a European Parliamentary election counts.
Having extended an opportunity to the public to decide (a delicious nail-biting feature of Strictly), the constitutionally strict cannot see any other way out of the current UK Parliamentary impasse than by offering the public another opportunity to decide.
That is Labour Party policy as decided at its 2018 Conference. If the aim is to maximise votes on 23 May, then a commitment to a public vote ought to be a no-brainer. If it isn’t in the routine by the time you read this, you can be certain Labour will stumble when the ballots are counted.
Assuming sense prevailed when the NEC met to decide on 30 April, what else would feature? A key lesson from successive EU deliberations, since Margaret Thatcher was UK Prime Minister (1979-1990), is that the EU went soft on global finance and incorporation to the detriment of the many. That is the focus of the PES manifesto and freelance versions for the British electorate. An edited version of one, which I declare having a hand in shaping as clerk to the nascent Socialist Europe Policy Commission (SEPC), is set out below.
This document was endorsed not just by the SEPC, but all Labour MEPs offering themselves for re-election and leading figures across the Socialists and Democrats group in the European Parliament, then submitted to the LOTO’s office, which acknowledged receipt promptly – a remarkable event in itself.
This is a baseline requirement. Members of the SEPC know that the PES manifesto is not radical enough to tackle the underlying problems facing the majority of EU citizens. SEPC chair Ann Pettifor is calling for changes to tackle the persistent problem of German balance of payments’ surpluses. Paul Mason in his latest piece in the New Statesman said: “[Labour] should publish a short, clear statement of what it would do – over and above what the PES manifesto says – to radically transform the EU from the inside. It should pledge to fight to revise the Lisbon Treaty, insist on the removal of competition laws, state aid rules and labour market rules that favour big business at the expense of the poor, and which limit the ability of governments to take sovereign decisions about economic policy.”
Those are some of the benchmarks with which to judge Labour’s EP election manifesto. What everyone should know about the hokey-cokey is that it is best performed in a line with dancers linked shoulder to shoulder – otherwise there is a risk of falling over.
Remain, Reform, Rebel
The Mission for Socialist Members of the European Parliament
What would the EU look like, had it unfolded according to the vision of its founders? What would it take to foster reconciliation and promote peace today? What would solidarity mean in a modern society and how could it reach across borders? What would a freedom of movement look like that represented genuine liberty? How do institutions build equality and represent the social good against the profit motive? What challenges can people meet who share these values? What challenges must we meet to honour these values? What role can the EU play in countering the dangers brought about by globalisation, including climate change, transnational organised crime, war and conflict, or extreme deprivation?
A Green New Deal for Europe
Climate change is the major and most pressing threat to peace, stability and security; it is a daunting foe, yet it ignites the best in us, unites us in a human family in defence of our planet, to which borders are not relevant and cooperation is everything.
We can make Europe the first carbon free continent in the world……The role of the EU in seeking and maintaining a just and rule-based international order cannot be understated, now more than ever: European support for keeping both the INF Treaty and the Iran nuclear deal, in the face of Donald Trump’s attempt to destroy both, has been decisive. Our common trade policy should ensure shared prosperity through enforceable, binding rights for workers and to protect the environment, while ensuring effective rules for multinational investors – making fair trade and sustainability the foundation for our economic relations with the rest of the world not entrenching rights for multinationals.
A Free, Democratic, Humanitarian Europe
From the resurgence of far-right parties in Austria, Germany and Switzerland, to the authoritarian strong man politics of Hungary, Russia and the USA; from the doomed nativism of Brexit to the alt-right internet wormholes of an ever more connected world, Fascism is on the rise, both inside Europe and outside it. The mainstream right shows no appetite to resist it; traditional social democratic ideas are unequal to the questions the far-right sets out to answer.
The erosion of living standards will not end when freedom of movement ends; attempts to blame it on migration only strengthen the bad faith actors who seek to undermine confidence in progressive possibility. It has to be met by a vigorous trans-continental union movement…… In indulging right-wing extremism, European institutions have lost their humanitarian vocabulary and purpose, nowhere more visible than in the refugee crisis; without a duty to provide sanctuary and a pride in offering it, this continent has no moral purpose; and without that, well might its members wonder what kind of journey they’re embarked on. Our responsibilities do not end at the borders of Europe. The EU has to remain the standard bearer for human rights, promoting social and economic development and the rule of law world-wide……
A Europe for the Many not the Few
If anything has swerved the direction of the institutions of the EU, it has been the attempts of the past thirty years to replace its shared values with a shared economic policy, to serve the interests of globalised finance. Austerity has eroded social security and, with it, a broader sense of duty towards each citizen, that the young deserve employment, that the old deserve care and dignity, that all those working deserve fair and sufficient wages, and all those not working are still infinitely valuable, since the wealth of any place is in its people…..The collaborative fight for tax justice will bring to an end the evasion, avoidance and corporate competition that have thwarted the ambitions of public spending and sullied the sense of shared social responsibility…… As the solutions to tax justice can no longer be found in national isolationism, nor can those of a modern and generous state: rights and safety nets have to be won collectively across borders, and defended in solidarity: if for no other reason than that we will pay for disparities with our freedom of movement. The interests of the market can no longer take precedence over those of the citizens.