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

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France is changing: an army stalks the streets and Boris Johnson wanders the Tuileries

Will Self on the militarisation of France, and Boris Johnson at the Foreign Office.

At the corner of the rue D’Hauteville and the rue de Paradis in the tenth arrondissement of Paris is a retro-video-games-themed bar, Le Fantôme, which is frequented by some not-so-jeunes gens – the kind of thirtysomethings nostalgic for an era when you had to go to an actual place if you wanted to enter virtual space. They sit placidly behind the plate-glass windows zapping Pac-Men and Space Invaders, while outside another – and rather more lethal – sort of phantom stalks the sunlit streets.

I often go to Paris for work, and so have been able to register the incremental militarisation of its streets since President Hollande first declared a state of emergency after last November’s terrorist attacks. In general the French seem more comfortable about this prêt-à-porter khaki than we’d probably be; the army-nation concept is, after all, encrypted deep in their collective psyche. The army was constituted as a revolutionary instrument. France was the first modern nation to introduce universal male conscription – and it continued in one form or another right up until the mid-1990s.

Even so, it was surprising to witness the sang-froid with which Parisians regarded the camouflaged phantoms wandering among them: a patrol numbering eight ­infantrymen and women moved up the roadway, scoping out doorways, nosing into passages – but when one peered into Le Fantôme, his assault rifle levelled, none of the boozing gamers paid the least attention. I witnessed this scene the Saturday after Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel ran amok on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice – it was a little preview of the new state of emergency.

On Monday 18 July the French premier, Manuel Valls, was booed at a memorial service for the victims of the Nice attacks – while Marine Le Pen has been making all the populist running, whipping up anxieties about the enemy within. For many French, the events of the past week – including the failed Turkish coup – are steps along the way limned by Michel Houellebecq in his bestselling novel Submission; a via dolorosa that ends with La Marianne wearing the hijab and France itself annexed by a new caliphate.

Into this febrile drama comes a new player: Boris Johnson, the British Foreign Secretary. What can we expect from this freshly minted statesman when it comes to our relations with our closest neighbour? There is no doubt that Johnson is a Francophile – I’ve run into him and his family at the Tuileries, and he made much of his own francophone status during the referendum campaign. In Paris last winter to launch the French edition of his Churchill biography, Johnson wowed a publication dinner by speaking French for the entire evening. He was sufficiently fluent to bumble, waffle and generally avoid saying anything serious at all.

Last Sunday I attended the Lambeth Country Show, an oxymoronic event for which the diverse inhabitants of my home borough gather in Brockwell Park, south London, for jerked and halal chicken, funfair rides, Quidditch-watching, and “country-style” activities, such as looking at farm animals and buying their products. Wandering among ancient Rastafarians with huge shocks of dreadlocks, British Muslims wearing immaculate white kurtas blazoned with “ASK ME ABOUT ISLAM” and crusty old Brixton punks, I found it quite impossible to rid my mind of the Nice carnage – or stop wondering how they would react if armed soldiers were patrolling, instead of tit-helmeted, emphatically unarmed police.

I stepped into the Royal Horticultural Society marquee, and there they were: the entire cast of our end-of-the-pier-show politics, in vegetable-sculpture form and arrayed for judging. There was Jeremy Corbyn (or “Cornbin”) made out of corncobs – and Boris Johnson in the form of a beetroot, being stabbed in the back by a beetroot Michael Gove. And over there was Johnson again, this time rendered in cabbage. The veggie politicians were the big draw, Brixtonians standing six-deep around them, iPhones aloft.

The animal (as opposed to the vegetable) Johnson has begun his diplomatic rounds this week, his first démarches as tasteless and anodyne as cucumber. No British abandonment of friends after Brexit . . . Coordinated response to terror threat . . . Call for Erdogan to be restrained in response to failed coup . . . Blah-blah, whiff-whaff-waffle . . . Even someone as gaffe-prone as he can manage these simple lines, but I very much doubt he will be able to produce rhetorical flourishes as powerful as his hero’s. In The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History, Johnson writes of Winnie overcoming “his stammer and his depression and his ­appalling father to become the greatest living Englishman”. Well, I’ve no idea if Bojo suffers from depression now but he soon will if he cleaves to this role model. His Churchill-worship (like so many others’) hinges on his belief that, without Churchill as war leader, Britain would have been ground beneath the Nazi jackboot. It may well be that, with his contribution to the Brexit campaign, Johnson now feels he, too, has wrested our national destiny from the slavering jaws of contingency.

Of course the differences between the two politicians are far more significant: Johnson’s genius – such as it is – lies in his intuitive understanding that politics, in our intensely mediatised and entirely commoditised era, is best conceived of as a series of spectacles or stunts: nowadays you can fool most of the people, most of the time. This is not a view you can imagine associating with Churchill, who, when his Gallipoli stratagem went disastrously wrong, exiled himself, rifle in hand, to the trenches. No, the French people Johnson both resembles and has an affinity for are the ones caught up in the virtual reality of Le Fantôme – rather than those patrolling the real and increasingly mean streets without. 

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 21 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The English Revolt