Europe Is a Force for Good - We Should Be United in Support of It

27/04/2016 17:18

So far the referendum campaigns seem to have focused a lot on intra-Conservative divisions, as Cameron and Osborne line up against Gove and Johnson. Veterans of Tory European fights of the last quarter century have re-emerged pitted against each other for one last EU battle. Rather less has been seen or heard of Labour. Until today. The intervention of Frank Field, one of just a handful of anti-EU Labour MPs, highlights some problems at the heart of Labour.

Traditionally the more sceptical of the two main parties, Labour underwent a damascene conversion in the late 1980s, after the 1983 'longest suicide note in history' manifesto in which the party pledged to leave the EU. The EU changed and so did the attitudes of most of the Labour Party - but not Mr Field's.

From a predominantly market-focused entity the EU began to focus on things that matter to the Left. The introduction of European social policy, enhancing the rights enjoyed by UK citizens at a time when the Labour Party could achieve nothing in Westminster, ensured newfound Labour support for the EU.

Most of the newer intakes of Labour politicians were won over and Labour moved towards pro-Europeanism. A position the Liberal Democrats have long held as the most united party on the EU, often standing up for the EU when others step back. We know that as part of the EU, the UK is able to trade freely, benefiting from the single market, which allows workers, holidaymakers and pensions to travel freely. And this is the position that Jeremy Corbyn has now acknowledged: the UK is better in the EU where it has influence than on the outside.

Leaving the EU would be bad for workers in so many ways. The economic uncertainly that followed a Leave vote means there would undoubtedly be job losses and lower wages. This would not help traditional Labour voters or anyone else.

But, Field argues, at least leaving offers a way we can manage migration. Perhaps - up to a point. But remind us who works in our NHS? Many, many EU nationals help ensure the smooth running of it. And if we impose visas restrictions on EU nationals, do we really think our erstwhile partners would not respond in kind?

Frank Field would do well to take a leaf out of Jeremy Corbyn's book. He should look at the EU of the 21st Century not the 1970s. Corbyn has changed his position, he has come around to the ideas that the Liberal Democrats have long been extolling. The current EU is good for the UK; not only that it's good for traditional Labour voters - something Corbyn has come to realise.

The Liberal Democrats will continue to loudly and clearly tell voters that the UK is safer, stronger and more secure inside the EU. We make our case alongside parties distracted by infighting. We will find success with a strong united voice, leadership not followership is what is needed now.