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In that sense, the case for Britain's continued membership of Europe is not a matter of outdated sentiment.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

Source: Getty

Douglas Alexander is the shadow foreign secretary and Labour MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire South.

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The industrial strategy acknowledges a fundamental truth about growth

It's time for the government to recognise that private businesses need help to thrive. 

When Theresa May created a new Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy after taking office last summer, plenty of eyebrows were raised. Industrial strategy, it was widely remarked, was something attempted by the Labour governments of the 1960s and 70s – and it had dismally failed. British Leyland, Concorde and Delorean were the dead proof that governments were useless at "picking winners" and shouldn’t attempt to. What was the new Prime Minister thinking? 

A few commentators did observe that the concept of industrial strategy had in fact been revived at the end of the Labour government and in the early years of the Coalition. Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson had successfully revived the motor industry in 2009-10 and initiated a new offshore wind manufacturing sector; Vince Cable and David Willetts had identified key manufacturing growth sectors and established new support systems for innovation. But they also pointed out that this had been largely abandoned by the next Business Minister, Sajid Javid, and was never embraced by David Cameron or George Osborne. 

So what did May mean? We are about to find out, when the government publishes its green paper on industrial strategy today. 

Among economic and business commentators, it has been widely assumed that this will again largely be about government support to manufacturing industry, particularly in the field of research and development. This is after all where the orthodox theory of "market failure" acknowledges that government intervention may be warranted. 

But this expectation is wrong. Under Business secretary Greg Clark, the government is taking a much wider approach. In fact the green paper will start from two far-reaching observations about the British economy.

First, take the UK’s low rate of productivity. This is not primarily a problem of the major firms in our remaining manufacturing industries. It is instead rooted in the small and medium-sized businesses in the service sectors, which employ 84 per cent of the British workforce. These are characterised by systematic under-investment in new technologies. 

Second, this is compounded by the huge disparity in productivity across the UK’s nations and regions. While London has the highest output per head of any region in Western Europe, more than a quarter of the UK’s regions rank among the lowest. Only if productivity is raised everywhere can it be raised in the UK as a whole. And only if productivity is raised, can wages be increased. So this is crucial to any attempt to help those "left behind" or "just about managing". 

The green paper will therefore make it clear, as IPPR has argued, that industrial strategy is not just about galvanising R&D and brand new innovation – though this is certainly important. It is about stimulating the much more widespread adoption of new technologies in all businesses - the service sector too. And it is not just about high-tech companies in the UK’s golden triangle between London, Cambridge and Oxford. It must happen in every region and nation of the country

In other words, the government looks likely to accept a vital truth - that industrial strategy is not a single strand of policy, but an approach to economic policy in general. It involves a fundamental recognition that firms and markets left to their own devices do not necessarily generate the optimum results for society as a whole.

Firms under-invest; they do not always adopt the most efficient technologies; they cannot on their own achieve the benefits of clustering together in regional centres; their investors’ horizons may be too short termist; they need infrastructure, skills, planning and other public policies to be aligned; they need to be encouraged to locate outside the existing growth centres. 

In other words, industrial strategy acknowledges that wealth is co-produced by the private and public sectors working together, and successful economies need both.

The chief theoretician of this understanding in recent years has been the economist Mariana Mazzucato, who has argued that the best way of driving investment in innovation is for government to set "missions" to address major social challenges. Just as the US moonshot programme generated innovation in a wide range of sectors, so modern missions such as decarbonisation, meeting the health and social care needs of an ageing population and the housing shortage can galvanise a new wave today. The government can use both "demand-side" policies (such as energy policy and procurement) and "supply-side" policies (such as in infrastructure and skills) to promote private sector investment.

In Britain industrial strategy has always been thought to be a left of centre economic idea, because it requires an active role for government. The Telegraph and Mail will no doubt tell Mrs May this week that it is all very misguided. But this is not how the rest of the world sees it. The most successful economies – Germany, Japan, South Korea, the Scandinavians – all work on the basis of public-private partnership to maximise productivity and achieve better distributed growth. All of them have higher productivity, and lower regional disparities, than the UK.

Yet there remain real question marks hanging over the government’s approach. Will the Chancellor cough up? A strategy with no money will be stillborn at birth. In particular, will sufficient resources and powers be given to regional institutions to support long-term economic growth outside London? Shifting the geographic pattern of investment will ultimately be the key test of the strategy’s success. 

The Business secretary is known to favour "deals" with industry to deliver the strategy, in the manner of the "devolution deals" with local government he developed in his previous Cabinet role. But will these be properly transparent, as the agreement which kept Nissan in Britain in the autumn was not? Will they simply favour the best business lobbyists, or can they represent a real compact of mutual obligations between public and private sectors?

The government has already acknowledged that it needs to recruit overseas negotiators to do new trade deals. It could usefully employ some outside experts to help with industrial strategy too. A good test of its commitment to strengthening public sector capacity is whether the government continue with its crazy sell-off of the Green Investment Bank

Ultimately, the key question may be whether the strategy will outlast Clark, who is probably the only Heseltinian member of the Cabinet beyond Mrs May who really believes in it. Labour’s Shadow Minister Clive Lewis, who has been talking intelligently about industrial strategy and has recently launched his own consultation, is no doubt already sharpening his critique. 

For the Prime Minister, the rationale for industrial strategy is clear. As it goes through the trauma of Brexit, the British economy will need to be seriously strengthened. We are about to see whether she can deliver it. 

Michael Jacobs is the Director of the IPPR Commission on Economic Justice and co-editor of Rethinking Capitalism: Economics and Policy for Sustainable and Inclusive Growth (Wiley Blackwell 2016).