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.