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23 May 2016

As the Tories bicker, Labour must get on with making its own case for the EU

The EU is not without faults, but it is in solidarity with the values and instincts of the Labour movement.

By james Frith

Door knocking in the recent elections, we’d ask about Labour’s chances of getting their support. We’d make the Labour case, listen to the issues facing them, and offer insight into the Labour team in their area, before asking them: ‘and on Europe?’ In all honesty I felt like we were doing David Cameron’s dirty work with that question. More alarming though were the responses. Too many people seem readier to give the EU a good kicking as a proxy for their persistent frustration at the way politics doesn’t matter to their lives. So it falls to the Labour Party, as it did in Scotland, to deliver our voters to secure Britain’s place in the EU.

We agree: this referendum has come about entirely because of the Prime Minister’s weakness. The EU referendum promise came from a party petrified by the threat UKIP posed to them. No queen and country, no British lives and standards of living, or safety and security in Cameron’s considerations for a referendum. Pure and simple, it was red meat for his backbenchers who he hoped to be able to keep from defecting to UKIP.

But we have to start where we are, not where we’d like to be. We’ve learned the lessons from sharing platforms with the Tories in the Scottish Referendum. And we are making the Labour case for Britain to remain: LabourIN. 

So whilst the Tories bicker, and let’s not understate the extent of the bitterness, personal feuds and political ambition involved in the Tories’ fight over the EU referendum, it falls to us to make that Labour case for solidarity in Europe. And whilst the Tories look inwards Labour must look out.

We have a proud internationalist tradition. A movement when at our best, looks across continents and borders in solidarity with our fellow working man and woman. Demanding and delivering progressive, social improvements to people’s lives. Politics that matters. And the evidence is clear as to the record we can stand on.

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Visiting Quarry Bank Mill in south Manchester last weekend my family and I were taken back through time, reminded of how far man’s ingenuity and evolution has travelled. We saw the first cotton spinners, the spinning Jenny, records of child apprentices; all witnesses to the industrial scaling up of production. The mass operation solving some of the problems of man’s own limitations – the length of an arm span – or the speed of production to match growing demand. An industry and history presented back to us in its best light. We know it wasn’t without serious problems. Slavery sustained it, working conditions were appalling, child labour was rife, universally desperate low or no wages. It wasn’t until the co-operative movement, mutuals, trade unions and our very own Labour Party came in to existence that this began to change.

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Literally! The noise of these industrial machines became the calling for our movement. For organised Labour and the rights of those working in these emerging industries not to endure the endless whirr, the right to be heard and still hear themselves once shift was over. 

The next industrial revolution is hard to spot. But there will be one. And then another and another. We face a fracturing of traditional work places, good and bad practice, all too easy transfer of capital remains the hugest threat to low skilled workers. Britain’s future has to be in the continuous development of high-skilled, empathetic and innovative jobs, services and careers. And every business should have the chance to consider growing in to Europe, tariff and barrier free. And these opportunities hand in hand with the protections are increased with Britain as part of the EU.

Leading it not leaving it. Whether digital, scientific, medical or other; the largest unified mass of people and the single biggest voluntary, democratic trade bloc will play key if not leading roles in the genesis of these new opportunities for British working people and a future built on a sustainable balanced economy.

History has judged the EU as not without fault, sure, but it is one of successful, peaceful and prosperous union. And in keeping with Labour values. In solidarity with our instincts as movement. Just look at some of the record; workers rights, holiday entitlements, protections for agency workers, health and safety at work, equal pay, maternity and paternity leave, reduced mobile phone tariffs whilst abroad, affordable air fares, ease of travel, access to free health care in Europe, protection of human right, huge investment in jobs and skills and free trade and new opportunities for the next generation – our children and young people for whom leaving Europe would be a disaster for their prospects.

And yes, as Labour, we profess too the great benefits of immigration and free movement of people. In Bury, where I was a parliamentary candidate, we can celebrate our very own story of the positive affect immigration makes to our lives. Our new Labour Council Leader, Rishi Shori, whose dad was born in Uganda, his mum an Indian, both coming to the UK in the early 1970’s. Rishi, a Bury lad, the son of immigrants, now on ability and effort is the new leader of this town. And the same is true in Bristol and London with Labour’s new Mayors both brilliant results of immigration and now chosen leaders. But also, let us speak of the entrepreneurs, social care nurses, skilled and unskilled workers each contributing to sustain towns like ours across Britain.

Britain has better prospects with immigration not worse.

Yes we must address the issue and the pressure that any mass of people can have on finite resources or public services but it is a Labour conclusion to reach for equality of opportunity, education, support and services which understand personal circumstances. And not the division of nationalism, racism and fear of foreign people or different culture. A marked distinction between our principles and those of our opposition and the wicked sentiment stirred up by the ugly alliance of Leavers who peddle nudge and a wink racism and make-believe economics of go it alone.

The go-it-aloners believe in the politics of you’re on your own. But we’re different. We’re Labour. We believe we achieve more together.

Yes, there are faults. What human relationship or organisation that has true value isn’t without its flaws? And here’s the distinction between the Labour and Tory case for Europe.

Without the European Union a Britain faces a Tory future cutting all ties with the protections I’ve mentioned. And giving way to a let-rip free market. Replacing the prospect greater prosperity through our european ties with Tory little Britain in even greater grip to austerity.  And with it; the fundamental need to address, together, the issues of profound importance climate change, fighting terrorism and the ongoing refugee crisis’ this year and all future years.

Jeremy Corbyn reiterated the importance to remain and reform the EU. He said: “We will be campaigning across the country to explain why we are convinced that staying in the European Union offers us the best hope of meeting the challenges facing our people and our continent in the 21st century. That goes hand in hand with an agenda for progressive reform in Europe: to increase democratic accountability, tackle tax avoidance and climate change, and strengthen workers’ rights across the European Union”.

Our experience on the doorstep is mixed for Labour in Bury. We all felt it in the general and local elections; people losing faith in the power of politics. A politics that had lost its ability to change people’s lives for the better. That it didn’t matter. The decision facing Britain in these coming weeks is once in a generation. So let us double our efforts and speak loudly and proudly of the case to remain and the possibilities of european politics to improve people’s lives. Offering Labour history, values, our record and our principles and their symmetry with the needs for Britain to remain in the EU. LabourIN for the EU. Britain IN for the EU.

We’ve just over a month to go. Let’s get to it.