The world doesn’t revolve around Wigan, Wansbeck or wherever

Peter Kenyon marvels at the policy-thinking that our sisters and brothers in Europe are engaged in

No man is an Island, entire of itself every man is a pieceof the Continent, a part of the main if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less

–John Donne (1572-1631)

We Britons are slow learners. While our politicians, campaigners and experts have been obsessing about a referendum in June 2016 that should never have happened, politicians, campaigners and experts elsewhere in Europe have been thinking about the future.

Reading, listening to and watching British Labour politicians in recent weeks has been bizarre. The idea that Britain can stand up to global corporate forces to legislate for the climate emergency, rein in tax evasion, reshape business conduct on its own – for the many, not the few – is ludicrous. I’m fed up of hearing keynote speeches from the so-called leadership of the British Labour Party about how austerity is going to be overcome, without a mention of whether the UK is either inside or outside the European Union. It’s not credible and voters in increasing numbers don’t think so either.

The very means of tackling the underlying issues in Wigan (represented in the Westminister parliament by Lisa Nandy MP), or Wansbeck (represented by Labour Party chair Ian Lavery MP) or wherever hang on Labour’s anti-austerity measures, especially the regional investment bank structures. No one has come up with any credible plan to replace EU structural funds or access to European Invesment Bank capital. Those Labour MPs who wrote to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn MP last week with dire warnings of the adverse electoral consequences for Labour of backing another referendum have to be challenged. “Will your constituents be better served by a Labour government with anti-austerity policies aimed at increasing job and investment prospects in your area, inside the EU or outside?”

Over the past six months, I have been liaising with ‘friends’ of Jeremy Corbyn in academia, the media, elected positions and pro-Remain campaigning groups – people who want him to become prime minister. So far it’s been a thankless task. The nascent Socialist Europe Policy Group’s mission for Socialist members of the European Parliament – Remain, Reform and Rebel – was published in the last issue of Chartist. As reported elsewhere in this issue and on the Chartist website, Labour’s European election campaign strategist(s) had their eyes firmly fixed on their own feet and not the future. Fortunately, other socialists have got a sense of the future and it’s shared.

The diminished band of British Labour Party members of the European Parliament are members of the Socialist and Democrats (S&D) group across the sea in Brussels/Strasbourg. During the campaign leading up to the Euro elections a modest event was held at the London School of Economics to launch the S&D group’s report on Sustainable Equality 2019 to 2024. The report prepared by an Independent Commission runs to 192 pages and includes 110 policy actions aimed at enabling ‘Well-being for Everyone in a Sustainable Europe’. Its main headings cover Enabling Change, Power to the People, Social Ecological Progress, Reshaping Capitalism and Social Justice for All. It represents a baseline from which socialists can work over the coming period. Whether the UK is in or out, the sisters and brothers across the Channel will be getting on with making the EU a better place to live and work for people, rather than the profiteers.

Negotiations have already started following the Euro elections between the Parliament and the European Council about who will be the next President of the European Commission to replace the centre-right’s Jean-Claude Juncker on 1st November of this year. One ambition on the left in Europe is that the S&D’s spitzenkandidat, Dutch socialist Frans Timmermans, will be the person to takeover, opening up an opportunity to continue to build up Social Europe. It is a long shot as the S&D group, with 153 seats, still has fewer than the centre-right EPP with 182. Both lost ground compared with 2015. But what counts are the alliances that can be built within the hemisphere. While the top job haggling goes on, there is work going on in Brussels tackling climate change, tax avoidance, drafting legislation to shape responsible business and reshaping the global textile industry – now dominated by click, collect, covet and cast-off – completely unsustainable.

At the time of writing, the idea of a left-leaning Commission cannot be ruled out. A better performance by the British Labour Party might have made those negotiations a sight easier. But as reported above our strategist(s) were looking at the floor.