Remainers, you have nothing to fear from backing Labour in the EU elections | Zoe Williams

With the European elections now all but an inevitability, Nigel Farage has made his position pretty clear: he’d like five weeks of unbridled rage, festooned with unwarranted respectability by the increasingly wild decisions of the BBC. There being little space to the right of Farage, those who would vie for it (Boris Johnson) have threatened a boycott instead.

For mainstream Conservatives, meanwhile, their offer for the MEP vote is impossible to conceive: “Vote pointlessly for us, that we might represent you in institutions you rightly despise, for a matter of weeks, in an expensive, meaningless election that only our incompetence has necessitated.” Those are hustings I would pay to see.

The embarrassment has been waved away with the wishful thinking that Labour is in just as awkward a position: also campaigning on the foundation that they will “respect the referendum”, also knocking on doors to inspire people to vote for candidates with the political lifespan of butterflies, for no better reason than a technicality. But this is not the case. Labour will enter the EU elections from a completely different angle, with a programme that is actually about Europe rather than the same ventriloquised and imperfect debate about domestic politics, in which Europe stands, broadly, for the question: do you want things to be different, or to stay the same?

The Party of European Socialists (PES) has the manifesto on which these elections will be fought, which Corbyn and Labour’s MEPs, as members, signed up to at the congress in Lisbon in December last year. It’s a radical and hopeful vision of the possibilities for Europe such as have never, to my knowledge, surfaced in the Brexit debate. It takes in the criticisms that have justifiably been levelled at the EU – the first line reads, “The European Union must better serve its people” – but instead of using them as a reason to abandon this vast and ambitious project, this is the foundation for a much bolder question: how could these institutions be transformed so they served their original purpose? So they existed to serve the interests of peace and reconciliation, so they fostered equality, so solidarity across borders might have meaningful expression? How could the precise and unignorable challenges of the future be met by the principles laid down in the past?

The ideas laid out describe the vast possibilities for a continent that is set on better serving its people: a carbon-neutral continent by 2050; strong welfare states, social safety nets and quality public services; standards driven up by collective transnational action; a ban on zero-hours contracts and fake self-employment. “In-work poverty,” it states, “is morally and economically unjustifiable,” a statement as trenchant and unarguable as the fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work that defined the trades union movement and changed the course of the societies of the last century. It demands a European labour authority so that low wages cannot be blamed on migration, and freedom of movement can represent genuine liberty for citizens. It calls for dignity, justice and order to be brought to refugees.

On everything from fake news to fascism, corporate tax competition to climate change, it spells out, concretely and in the abstract, where the solutions lie, and more to the point, how no party of the left, however visionary, however prepared, can tackle these problems alone.

In priorities, values, worldview and ambition, it chimes exactly with the Labour party – so it’s no wonder Labour has signed up. We can fixate on the persistence of a pro-Brexit faction within Labour – unarguably, it exists – but it is tedious to continue to locate and analyse it when it cannot have a decisive voice on Labour’s position in the European elections. Logically, the small group of pro-Brexit leftwingers doesn’t have any influence here: even if we were to leave aside the staunch and growing remain instincts of most Labour members and voters – though why should we? – the party has an overriding imperative. It must, in solidarity with its European socialist allies, spread its hopeful vision for the bloc; not (only) because it has already pledged to, but because its values are Labour’s values, and it would need an unimaginably good reason not to. (Labour supporters who want to signal what that support means vis a vis Europe can sign this petition.)

The remain supporters of the confirmatory referendum, which looks more and more likely, will fight for it in three ways: one part, building a positive vision of what the EU could do. One part, fix Britain instead – what would real answers to the problems unearthed by the Brexit vote look like? And one part, let’s end this nightmare and never return to this god-awful debate again. The first two of those have a muster point, a pre-election in which to build its arguments and gather its foot soldiers. It may be too late to attach a “fix Britain instead” message to the local elections, which have so far unfolded as a dark insight into the regard in which politicians of all stamps are currently held. But in the European elections, Labour can and will build a case for the kind of Europe that remainers want to be part of.

Zoe Williams is a Guardian columnist


Leave a Reply

This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.