David Cameron addresses the UK border force. Photo:Getty Images.
Show Hide image

The question that Labour's leadership hopefuls must answer: how to win the European referendum

My appeal today to the candidates at Westminster is to stop just telling us you want a referendum, and to start telling us how you're going to win it.

On a day when the media is dominated by so-called "demands" David Cameron is presenting to the European Summit, once again the British public is seeing the political agenda on Europe set by the Tories and UKIP, one whose narrative is firmly Eurosceptic.

Labour MEPs pursue European reform each and every day and Labour has our own clear set of proposals for reform which can and should be developed further in the new political context.

Indeed if David Cameron is telling the truth that his objective is Britain's national interest and not just that of his own party, he should take care to include Labour in the EU reform debate - in Westminster and in Brussels.

And whilst offering no blank cheques, Labour should be ready to play our own constructive part.

Yet the potential leadership and deputy leadership candidates have had very little to say so far about the Europe issue.

The one response which seems to have become de rigeur  for the contenders is that Labour must now support the holding of the EU referendum.

But with a Tory majority in Westminster, they have to show more ambition than opening or closing the stable door after that particular horse has already bolted.

There will be a referendum, that's now the settled will.

So if all the Labour candidates do is now to support the referendum as a process rather than taking on the argument about Europe as an issue, this risks becoming yet another "dog whistle" on the unspoken false assumption that Euroscepticism wins votes.

As research repeatedly demonstrates, not only are Labour members and voters firmly pro-European in a way which is not always acknowledged in Westminster, but there is scant evidence whilst Eurosceptics may have succeeded in setting the terms of public debate, that this has had any real impact on how people actually vote.

That is not to be complacent about the outcome of the EU referendum which may come as soon as next May, on which our party's new leadership will have to hit the ground running as soon as their own election is completed.

The historic damage to our country and its place in the world if the result goes the wrong way, means it is unthinkable for Labour to do anything else.

But my appeal today to the candidates at Westminster is to stop just telling us you want a referendum, and to start telling us how you're going to win it.

And that won't just be about technical amendments to European legislation and institutional processes, important as these are.

Labour Euro MPs will be ready to engage with you on these - it's our job to do so.

Instead, if winning the leadership for our whole party is about proving vision and mettle, being prepared to go to the 'dark places' where Labour needs to do more, then Europe should be an issue in your campaign now.

Show the membership and the country you can and will win the hearts and minds of the British people on Europe, firmly challenge the Eurosceptic agenda and set a different Labour narrative. 

The next Labour leader has to show how he or she will play a decisive role in winning the referendum because the country of which he or she aspires to be Prime Minister, is one you and we want to be confidently engaged as an active and influential European member state.

I could have written this article putting my own humble contribution to the debate on how this might be achieved, but instead I am asking the future leadership of our party to do so themselves.

We have to show that whilst David Cameron is content to whistling for a European dog which he sees as running wild in British politics, we are walking ahead, have it under control with the lead firmly in our hands. 

Richard Howitt MEP is Labour Member of the European Parliament for the East of England and Chairman of the European Parliamentary Labour Party. He tweets @richardhowitt.

Getty
Show Hide image

Commons Confidential: Dave's picnic with Dacre

Revenge is a dish best served cold from a wicker hamper.

Sulking David Cameron can’t forgive the Daily Mail editor, Paul Dacre, for his role in his downfall. The unrelenting hostility of the self-appointed voice of Middle England to the Remain cause felt pivotal to the defeat. So, what a glorious coincidence it was that they found themselves picnicking a couple of motors apart before England beat Scotland at Twickenham. My snout recalled Cameron studiously peering in the opposite direction. On Dacre’s face was the smile of an assassin. Revenge is a dish best served cold from a wicker hamper.

The good news is that since Jeremy Corbyn let Theresa May off the Budget hook at Prime Minister’s Questions, most of his MPs no longer hate him. The bad news is that many now openly express their pity. It is whispered that Corbyn’s office made it clear that he didn’t wish to sit next to Tony Blair at the unveiling of the Iraq and Afghanistan war memorial in London. His desire for distance was probably reciprocated, as Comrade Corbyn wanted Brigadier Blair to be charged with war crimes. Fighting old battles is easier than beating the Tories.

Brexit is a ticket to travel. The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority is lifting its three-trip cap on funded journeys to Europe for MPs. The idea of paying for as many cross-Channel visits as a politician can enjoy reminds me of Denis MacShane. Under the old limits, he ended up in the clink for fiddling accounts to fund his Continental missionary work. If the new rule was applied retrospectively, perhaps the former Labour minister should be entitled to get his seat back and compensation?

The word in Ukip is that Paul Nuttall, OBE VC KG – the ridiculed former Premier League professional footballer and England 1966 World Cup winner – has cold feet after his Stoke mauling about standing in a by-election in Leigh (assuming that Andy Burnham is elected mayor of Greater Manchester in May). The electorate already knows his Walter Mitty act too well.

A senior Labour MP, who demanded anonymity, revealed that she had received a letter after Leicester’s Keith Vaz paid men to entertain him. Vaz had posed as Jim the washing machine man. Why, asked the complainant, wasn’t this second job listed in the register of members’ interests? She’s avoiding writing a reply.

Years ago, this column unearthed and ridiculed the early journalism of George Osborne, who must be the least qualified newspaper editor in history. The cabinet lackey Ben “Selwyn” Gummer’s feeble intervention in the Osborne debate has put him on our radar. We are now watching him and will be reporting back. My snouts are already unearthing interesting information.

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 23 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump's permanent revolution