Photo credit: Rock Cohen
The election of Jeremy Corbyn as the new leader of the Labour Party led to some initial ambiguity as regards the Party's position on the forthcoming referendum on our membership of the European Union. However Labour Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) were pleased to see matters clarified fairly quickly, with the shadow cabinet announcing last week that it will lead the way in fighting to stay in the EU, and that under Jeremy Corbyn the Labour Party will continue to work with its European sister parties to ensure that Europe delivers for its citizens.
Because, as Labour MEPs have been saying for many months now, when it comes to the EU, we're better off in than out.
The EU is a long way from being perfect, and Labour has never been shy of criticising decisions made and actions taken by the European Commission that we disagree with. But the only way for these criticisms to truly hold weight or to have the power to change things for the better is by working with our European allies to campaign, persuade, and build consensus on common principles.
This is no more important than with respect to our social and employment rights. While the Labour Party has worked hard to close loopholes in European rules which allow employment agencies to routinely pay agency workers far less than permanent staff doing the same job, it is rumoured that David Cameron will seek to withdraw permanently from these rules altogether. This would mean British workers no longer having four weeks' guaranteed paid holiday per year, no regulation requiring employment agencies to provide the same pay and conditions to temporary and permanent workers and no guaranteed equal treatment of men and women in the workplace.
As the prime minister increasingly panders to his party's right during renegotiation talks, by seeking to opt out of major social gains made in Europe since the Second World War, the left must not give up on the European project as a force for good for UK citizens as some have suggested they would do. A future Labour government would ensure that the worst of Cameron's reforms are reversed and would further focus its energies on ensuring that the UK is a respected and listened-to player in EU decision-making. Leaving the EU would leave Britain isolated from Europe and the world, under the governance of a majority Conservative government that targets trade unions, cuts tax credits and governs over a period of wildly escalating homelessness. A much scarier prospect, I'm sure you will agree.
Under the leadership of Alan Johnson, Labour MP for West Hull and Hessle, I believe that the fight to stay in the EU is one that can be won. But this will not be done by top-down campaigning; nor, as Scotland has shown, do we have the liberty to be complacent. Building a popular movement of activists across the whole of the UK will require businesses, the voluntary sector as well as church and religious leaders to join up with politicians and campaign groups in open support of the EU, to shout loudly about the merits of our membership for UK citizens and, moreover, the risks to our economy and rights if we were to leave.
As Alan says, "The EU is neither the neo-liberal plot to do down the workers as portrayed by the hard left nor the socialist conspiracy imagined by their allies on the right. It is simply the forum through which we handle our interdependence." With the referendum to come as soon as May 2016, we have no time left to lose: I hope you will join us in this most important of campaigns.
Paul Brannen is Labour MEP for the North East of England