Douglas Alexander's speech on the EU: full text

The shadow foreign secretary makes the Labour case for a pro-EU reform agenda.

Can I say that it is good to be here at this Fabian conference.

And let me begin with an admission.

Despite the title of this particular conference, I don't actually believe that Britain's continued membership of the EU is just a Right/Left issue.

For me it's also a Right/Wrong issue.

I say this because I believe that those opposed to our membership of the EU are not just on the wrong side of the political divide, but on the wrong side of history.

Let me explain:

If in the last century the case for Europe was one of peace and prosperity, the 21st Century case is one of power and influence.

In the past, if you wanted to see the foundations on which the case for Europe was built, you needed only to look to the war graves and memorials that were strewn across the continent.

For my father's generation that was a matter of memory.

But for my son's generation it is a matter of history.

So today, in arguing the case for Europe, we need to acknowledge that we live in an era of billion-person countries and trillion dollar economies, and so need to find ways to amplify our voice and multiply our power.

In that sense, the case for Britain's continued membership of Europe is not a matter of outdated sentiment.

It is not even a matter of progressive ideology.

It is a matter of simple arithmetic.

Indeed, if mechanisms for cooperation at a European level did not exist today, I believe that theywould need to be invented.

Of course the deep ties between France and Germany, born from the conviction that they should never repeat the conflicts of the first half of the 20th Century means that the EU was, and remains,fundamental to the national purpose and psychology of both countries.

Britain also wants peace and security in Europe, but our experience of the last century was different, and so our approach to Europe is also different. It has always been more pragmatic than visionary. We want to be part of the EU because it works for us - both as a country, but also because it serves our interest as individuals.

That approach has been Labour's starting point on Europe for many years now, and will continue to be.

But let me pause here for a moment.

Because I suspect that this will seem a convincing, but familiar, argument to many of you.

Many have made this case, probably more eloquently than I, and others will continue to do so on stages just like this one.

So today I want to try and make a different speech.

I want to set out a different case.

Not because I don't believe that these are good arguments.

But because I think, like all of our politics, we have to start with where the public are and not just where we want them to be.

I believe the public mood has changed in recent years, and therefore so too must the case we make.

Let me explain why.

Few would deny that today's political context is fundamentally different to the one that existed when the EU project was first conceived.

Indeed it is this understanding that explains why the justification shifted from peace and prosperity topower and influence.

But I want to make the case that today we find ourselves at a juncture, where once again our caseneeds to change and adapt - or otherwise risks drifting into irrelevance.

The political context in which we make the case for Britain in Europe today is different to the one that existed only a few years ago when Labour politicians in government - myself included - were tasked with articulating the case for membership.

Despite the difficulties and the setbacks, the broad trends of the post war decades in Britain weredefined by growing prosperity and rising living standards.

Today sees falling wages, rising prices and stagnating growth.

Only this week the Resolution Foundation published a report that made the case that average wages are not expected to rise in real terms until late 2014 after a period of stagnation and decline. Many people continue to work fewer hours than they would like, putting downward pressure on household incomes.

People in Britain today simply can't take for granted the fact that their generation will inevitably do better than the last.

In the context of growing insecurity and increasing financial pressures, voters today have much less appetite for things that that may seem important to us as a nation, but ultimately feel remote from the concerns and fears they have as individuals.

So the case for Britain's membership of the EU as it has been articulated until now - focused on securing power and influence as a nation - can feel remote at best and at times almost irrelevant to many British voters today.

To make the case for Britain's continued membership in this changed and challenging political climate, we need to do so in a way that is rooted in the lived experience of people here in the UK.

For too long the focus has been on defending Britain's place in Europe instead of explaining the positive impact that Europe has on many aspects of our lives.

Of course that doesn't mean we relinquish the arguments about Europe being a mechanism for multiplying power and amplifying our influence.

Rather we have to recognise that these arguments will only get us so far.

They need to be supplemented with a new narrative which reflects the public's priorities andconcerns, while articulating how Europe can help them realise their goals.

At a time of growing economic uncertainty and increasing personal financial strain, it should come as no surprise that I believe the economy must therefore be at the heart of our approach to Europe.

British jobs, exports and influence all benefit from Britain's continued membership of the EU.

To contemplate shrinking our home market from 500 million consumers to just 60 million doesn't make sense.

Only this week we heard President Obama putting a free trade agreement between the US and the EU at the top of his agenda.

And already the chorus of criticism from British business is growing following David Cameron's recent speech, with senior British business figures, including Sir Richard Branson and Sir Martin Sorrel warning the Prime Minister's approach risked creating "...damaging uncertainty for British business."

The economic case for our continued membership is robust and is being increasingly forcefully made by a growing coalition of voices.

But it is not just exit that risks undermining economic stability and the prospects for growth.

The uncertainty created by David Cameron committing now to an in/out referendum half way through this Parliament to be held half way through the next risks creating instability and undermining investment, precisely at the time that the priority surely should be stability, investment and growth.

The truth is, his approach raises more questions than answers.

He can't tell the public how he will vote.

He can't be clear on what it is people would be choosing between staying in or out of.

And he can't tell investors whether the UK will be part of the world's largest single market in 4 years time.

Uncertainty is the enemy of investment - and David Cameron's approach has created a lot more uncertainty.

And debate about the nature of our relationship with the EU in the future should not come at the expense of living standards today.

When it comes to our position on the recently agreed European Multi Annual Financial Framework -the EU Budget - our position was defined by the overriding need to not only work to ensure that the EU better reflects people's concern, but also that it be publically seen to do so.

Because at a time when national governments are making difficult cut backs to spending on vital public services, it would not have been right for the EU budget to have continued to rise year-on-year.

The EU budget still needs substantial reform to make it more focused on growth and jobs, but the reduction agreed this month was an important step because Europe must learn to do better with less.

That is why we voted for a real terms cut last year and support the fact that this month that is what the EU agreed.

But today I want to make the case for moving this debate on.

I want to make the case that we need not just Europe as a framework to achieve growth and jobs - but also as a guardian of rights and protections.

Because in reality, the impact of the EU on people's lived experience extends beyond simply the impact on creating jobs, but also into defining the type, quality and security of those jobs.

The single market has delivered more for Britain than simply the absence of tariffs and quotas at the border to trade.

It has delivered common regulatory standards covering consumer rights, environmental standards and health and safety rules without which the single market could not function.

The social market is a vehicle for protecting against exploitative working conditions, raising labour standards in a coordinated way and embedding worker's rights within the very structures that encourage cooperation at a cross border level.

It is not a free-for-all for multinational companies, but a rules-based economic system that protects the vulnerable from the effects of unrestrained market forces.

So if Labour is to make the case for Europe founded on the impact it has on people's lives, we have to make these protections for working people a key plank of our argument.

The task is now for us to show how, far from being abstract and remote pieces of European legislation, European social and employment laws are the basis for the much valued rights andprotections that help define the character of our society and the quality of life of our citizens.

It's about practical things like four weeks paid leave, minimum maternity and paternity entitlements, protection against undercutting and mistreatment at work.

We must not only seek to defend Britain's place in the EU using the language of structures, process or procedure.

Instead it is the language of paid holidays, equal pay and safety at work that will not only help us build the case, but will ultimately help us win the argument.

Let me be clear - this does not mean that Labour should defend every aspect of European social and employment law nor support its extension into new areas as a matter of principle.

It is true that Delors's speech to the TUC in 1988 prompted then TUC Chairman to declare that after 10 years of Thatcherism, the EU was "the only card game in town".

But after over a decade of a Labour government - that proved not to be the case.

After all it was a Labour government that introduced the national minimum wage; introduced the right to six weeks' paid holiday; introduced the right to trade union representation; whistleblower legislation; upped maternity leave from 14 weeks to nine months; introduced paternity leave for the first time ever and got rid of discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.

Delors's speech to the 1988 TUC conference, placing a new social dimension at the heart of the argument for Europe, was the defining moment in reconnecting the Labour Party with the continent's mainstream left.

Today the EU is one vehicle - but not the only route - to guaranteeing social protections and rights for British workers.

So we should be prepared to point out legislation that we judge does not meet our goals - like on the Working Time Directive when a Labour government negotiated and secured the British opt-out.

Nor does it mean that we will argue for the centralisation of social competences at an EU level.

We do not believe that all rights and protections need to be guaranteed or set by the EU.

In a diverse union of 27, the principle of subsidiary - including in social protections - is crucial.

But it does mean that where European social protections help working people here in the UK, we should be robust in our defence of these protections.

Because we believe that a collective guarantee of the minimum standards that should be expected of life at work, agreed at a European level though collective decision making, has been a necessary component of the single market.

Indeed this approach is a necessary response to the wrenching social impacts of dramatic economic change that flow from increased economic openness and competition at an EU and global level.

For the countries of the EU to overcome the challenge to its legitimacy that confronts us, responding to the unavoidable social consequences of these economic trends is vital.

And let's be clear, the Tories approach to social and employment rights in Europe is not simply driven by their narrow and outdated view of Britain's national interest and 'sovereignty' - but also theirunreconstructed approach to markets and their impacts - and in turn to the kind of Britain they want to see.

David Cameron has long cited social and employment law as one of the areas where he wants to see the EU do less, and the UK potentially opt out.

But he has been characteristically coy about what the implications of this would be for British jobs, British employees and British companies.

He won't say - should this opt out be achieved - that equivalent domestic legislation will be introduced immediately to ensure that standards don't change.

Indeed even after David Cameron's recent speech, the Conservative's remain purposefully vague.

The words 'employment law' didn't feature once.

The word 'repatriation' wasn't even mentioned.

And he didn't even utter the term 'opt-out'.

The truth is, that despite David Cameron's obscurity, for many within the Tory party, what motivates them when it comes to Europe is to bring powers home in order to take protections away.

For them, vital protections are seen simply as an unnecessary burden on business that should be scrapped in pursuit of victory in the global race.

You don't need to peer into a crystal ball to know what they are trying to do.

You only need to read the book - or in this case, the Beecroft Report:

Reducing the rights of staff in small companies;

Abolishing unfair dismissal;

And finding ways of making it easier to fire people.

This is what Beecroft calls a 'price worth paying'. And for many Conservatives, this is the reality behind the rhetoric of repatriation.

So my case today is this:

The Tories approach to Europe today doesn't just risk jeopardising our place in the world, our voice on the international stage and the prospects for growth in our economy.

It also risks unravelling the fabric of rights and protections that are such a crucial part of what defines the standards and quality of life that so many of our constituents today depend on.

The irony is that those who say they want the EU to "go back" to a free trade zone, seem to ignore the fact that the Single Market they yearn for is only sustained by the supranational institutions that they detest.

That is a point exposed only this week in relation to the Horse meat scandal. Irony left the buildingwhen Owen Patterson was forced to scurry back to Brussels in order to demand tighter EU regulation - in an acknowledgement that, in an open and free market, effective EU legislation is precisely the vehicle for protecting British consumers.

The lesson of the last decades is that without public legitimacy, the future of the EU will always feel precarious.

And to ensure solid foundations for Britain's place in Europe, we must seek to make the case through reflecting the public's priorities and concerns; decent jobs and rising prosperity.

For Labour, unlike some Conservatives, being pro-reform is not a proxy for being anti-Europe.

Indeed, for Labour, the reform of Europe should not be seen a question mark over our commitment to Britain's future within Europe.

Instead it is not just the safest ground, but also the most solid foundation, on which a positive case about Britain's membership of the EU can be made - and the concerns of the public addressed.

That is why Labour will continue to make the case for Britain's place in Europe - but also for reform within Europe.

This cannot be an argument made simply on the pages of national newspaper editorials.

It is an argument intertwined with the daily concerns of the British public.

It is an argument that can and must be won.

And now is the time for Labour to make that case anew.
 

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Love a good box set? Then you should watch the Snooker World Championships

The game relies on a steady arm, which relies on a steady nerve. The result is a slow creeping tension needs time and space to be properly enjoyed and endured. 

People are lazy and people are impatient. This has always been so – just ask Moses or his rock – but as illustrated by kindly old Yahweh, in those days they could not simply answer those impulses and stroll on.

Nowadays, that is no longer so. Twitter, YouTube and listicles reflect a desire for complex and involved issues, expansive and nuanced sports – what we might term quality – to be condensed into easily digestible morsels for effort-free enjoyment.

There is, though, one notable exception to this trend: the box set. Pursuing a novelistic, literary sensibility, it credits its audience with the power of sentience and tells riveting stories slowly, unfolding things in whichever manner that it is best for them to unfold.

In the first episode of the first series of The Sopranos, we hear Tony demean his wife Carmela's irritation with him via the phrase “always with the drama”; in the seventh episode of the first series we see his mother do likewise to his father; and in the 21st and final episode of the sixth and final series, his son uses it on Carmela. It is precisely this richness and this care that makes The Sopranos not only the finest TV show ever made, but the finest artefact that contemporary society has to offer. It forces us to think, try and feel.

We have two principal methods of consuming art of this ilk - weekly episode, or week-long binge. The former allows for anticipation and contemplation, worthy pursuits both, but of an entirely different order to the immersion and obsession offered by the latter. Who, when watching the Wire, didn’t find themselves agreeing that trudat, it's time to reup the dishwasher salt, but we’ve run out, ain’t no thing. Losing yourself in another world is rare, likewise excitement at where your mind is going next.

In a sporting context, this can only be achieved via World Championship snooker. Because snooker is a simple, repetitive game, it is absorbing very quickly, its run of play faithfully reflected by the score.

But the Worlds are special. The first round is played over ten frames – as many as the final in the next most prestigious competition – and rather than the usual week, it lasts for 17 magical days, from morning until night. This bestows upon us the opportunity to, figuratively at least, put away our lives and concentrate. Of course, work and family still exist, but only in the context of the snooker and without anything like the same intensity. There is no joy on earth like watching the BBC’s shot of the championship compilation to discover that not only did you see most of them live, but that you have successfully predicted the shortlist.

It is true that people competing at anything provides compelling drama, emotion, pathos and bathos - the Olympics proves this every four years. But there is something uniquely nourishing about longform snooker, which is why it has sustained for decades without significant alteration.

The game relies on a steady arm, which relies on a steady nerve. The result is a slow creeping tension needs time and space to be properly enjoyed and endured. Most frequently, snooker is grouped with darts as a non-athletic sport, instead testing fine motor skills and the ability to calculate angles, velocity and forthcoming shots. However, its tempo and depth is more similar to Test cricket – except snooker trusts so much in its magnificence that it refuses to compromise the values which underpin it.

Alfred Hitchcock once explained that if two people are talking and a bomb explodes without warning, it constitutes surprise; but if two people are talking and all the while a ticking bomb is visible under the table, it constitutes suspense. “In these conditions,” he said, “The same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: ‘You shouldn't be talking about such trivial matters. There is a bomb beneath you and it is about to explode!’”

Such is snooker. In more or less every break, there will at some point be at least one difficult shot, loss of position or bad contact – and there will always be pressure. Add to that the broken flow of things – time spent waiting for the balls to stop, time spent prowling around the table, time spent sizing up the table, time spent cleaning the white, time spent waiting for a turn – and the ability for things to go wrong is constantly in contemplation.

All the more so in Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre. This venue, in its 40th year of hosting the competition, is elemental to its success. Place is crucial to storytelling, and even the word “Crucible” – whether “a ceramic or metal container in which metals or other substances may be melted or subjected to very high temperatures,” “a situation of severe trial”, or Arthur Miller’s searing play – conjures images of destruction, injustice and nakedness. And the actual Crucible is perhaps the most atmospheric arena in sport - intimate, quiet, and home to a legendarily knowledgeable audience, able to calculate when a player has secured a frame simply by listening to commentary through an earpiece and applauding as soon as the information is communicated to them.

To temper the stress, snooker is also something incredibly comforting. This is partly rooted in its scheduling. Working day and late-night sport is illicit and conspiratorial, while its presence in revision season has entire cohorts committing to “just one more quick frame”, and “just one more quick spliff”. But most powerfully of all, world championship snooker triggers memory and nostalgia, a rare example of something that hasn’t changed, as captivating now as it was in childhood.

This wistfulness is complemented by sensory pleasure of the lushest order. The colours of both baize and balls are the brightest, most engaging iterations imaginable, while the click of cue on ball, the clunk of ball on ball and the clack of ball on pocket is deep and musical; omnipresent and predictable, they combine for a soundtrack that one might play to a baby in the womb, instead of whale music or Megadeth.

Repeating rhythms are also set by the commentators, former players of many years standing. As is natural with extended coverage of repetitive-action games, there are numerous phrases that recur:

“We all love these tactical frames, but the players are so good nowadays that one mistake and your opponent’s in, so here he is, looking to win the frame at one visit ... and it’s there, right in the heart of the pocket for frame and match! But where’s the cue ball going! it really is amazing what can happen in the game of snooker, especially when we’re down to this one-table situation.”

But as omniscient narrators, the same men also provide actual insight, alerting us to options and eventualities of which we would otherwise be ignorant. Snooker is a simple game but geometry and physics are complicated, so an expert eye is required to explain them intelligibly; it is done with a winning combination of levity and sincerity.

The only essential way in which snooker is different is the standard of play. The first round of this year’s draw featured eight past winners, only two of whom have made it to the last four, and there were three second-round games that were plausible finals.

And just as literary fiction is as much about character as plot, so too is snooker. Nothing makes you feel you know someone like studying them over years at moments of elation and desolation, pressure and release, punctuated by TV confessions of guilty pleasures, such as foot massages, and bucket list contents, such as naked bungee jumping.

It is probably true that there are not as many “characters” in the game as once there were, but there are just as many characters, all of whom are part of that tradition. And because players play throughout their adult life, able to establish their personalities, in unforgiving close-up, over a number of years, they need not be bombastic to tell compelling stories, growing and undergoing change in the same way as Dorothea Brooke or Paulie Gualtieri.

Of no one is this more evident that Ding Junhui, runner-up last year and current semi-finalist this; though he is only 30, we have been watching him almost half his life. In 2007, he reached the final of the Masters tournament, in which he faced Ronnie O’Sullivan, the most naturally talented player ever to pick up a cue – TMNTPETPUAC for short. The crowd were, to be charitable, being boisterous, and to be honest, being pricks, and at the same time, O’Sullivan was playing monumentally well. So at the mid-session interval, Ding left the arena in tears and O’Sullivan took his arm in consolation; then when Ding beat O’Sullivan in this year’s quarter-final, he rested his head on O’Sullivan’s shoulder and exchanged words of encouragement for words of respect. It was beautiful, it was particular, and it was snooker.

Currently, Ding trails Mark Selby, the “Jester from Leicester” – a lucky escape, considering other rhyming nouns - in their best of 33 encounter. Given a champion poised to move from defending to dominant, the likelihood is that Ding will remain the best player never to win the game’s biggest prize for another year.

Meanwhile, the other semi-final pits Barry Hawkins, a finalist in 2013, against John Higgins, an undisputed great and three-time champion. Higgins looks likely to progress, and though whoever wins through will be an outsider, both are eminently capable of taking the title. Which is to say that, this weekend, Planet Earth has no entertainment more thrilling, challenging and enriching than events at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield.

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