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What shock will finally break the cosy Westminster consensus?

ukipA friend on Facebook pointed me towards an article in GQ about the Wythenshawe & Sale East byelection. I’m not a regular GQ reader, but the headline – Running On Anger: on the campaign trail with UKIP – and the content of the piece are worth reading.

The tactics employed by UKIP are their normal ones at a byelection – work out where the discontent is to be found (in this case, with Labour), and then explain why their populist solutions are worth voting for, and if fear and bending of the facts help, then why not do that too? In essence in Wythenshawe and Sale East they hoover up the anti-politics vote, and they are effective at it.

The problem as I see it is that the British political system is uniquely badly placed to deal with a movement like UKIP. The party could get 15% or more at the 2015 General Election and still fail to gain any parliamentary representation, and 2nd-place finishes in byelections in Eastleigh, South Shields and Middlesbrough contribute to that impression – that the system is keeping UKIP out.

Now while I loathe more or less everything UKIP stands for, I am nevertheless, above all, a democrat – a party with that sort of base deserves parliamentary representation.

The reactions to UKIP’s rise are generally inadequate. Some complain that Farage in particular gains disproportionate media coverage for a party with no MPs, but for me this holds little weight as it’s the electoral system, rather than a lack of support, that keeps UKIP out. Other complain that UKIP has no answers to the political problems that the UK faces, and while I agree that this is the case, it is not as if the three main parties of the political mainstream in the UK have many ideas either.

It is this last part that merits further debate and analysis in the UK, and the analysis needs to go beyond the “they all look the same” or “none of them have experience outside the politics”.

Take, for example, Ed Miliband’s party conference announcement to cap energy prices. This was described as a “game changer” if you were on his side, or “the return of Red Ed” if you were not. Both responses are wrong. The policy would make a small change within the well established confines of the UK’s dysfunctional energy market, and that’s it. Putting it another way, Miliband was playing to the narrow audience composed of the Westminster political class – and that includes the vast majority of the journalists of the broadsheet press – but that class, and indeed the people that report on it, are increasingly missing the connection to the grassroots. This is the post-democracy that Colin Crouch has so compellingly and depressingly described. Representative democracy in the UK is becoming more and more hollowed out, a shell, but the system still protects the mainstream parties, for the moment at least.

So back then to UKIP, and Wythenshawe and Sale East. Part of me wonders what would happen if UKIP were to actually win there? How would the UK’s three main parties react? I fear the reaction would be turn up the critique of UKIP still further, rather than actually take a step back and better develop their own visions for the future of the UK.

Yet the Wythenshawe and Sale East case, this problem of pent-up anger in British politics, is not about to go away. Would a UKIP byelection victory be a big enough shock to the cosy Westminster consensus? Or would something larger – like Scottish independence, or leaving the EU – be needed to make a lasting change? Perhaps I am too pessimistic, but I fear something is going to have to break in UK politics before things start to get better.


Sorry, I actually don’t want a “digital firepower onslaught”. I’d prefer better politics.

Screen Shot 2014-01-31 at 18.04.35I have not been developing websites for politicians for a while now, preferring instead to do consultancy and training work for a variety of different political and governmental actors. The problem was essentially that you can bring a politician to the social web, but you cannot make them drink, and that is why website design for politicians ceased to be intellectually interesting. To put this another way, politicians see the potential of the web in classic political terms – as a means to reach more people – but largely forget the other side, that the social web gives everyone else a voice too.

And now we seem to be systematising this way of doing online politics.

That’s hence what worries me about Jim Pickard’s piece in the FT today entitled “UK voters face digital firepower onslaught in run-up to election“. Mark Pack’s blog drew my attention to the piece. I do not disagree with the way that Jim and Mark explain their views. I instead worry about the outcome.

As a citizen I do not want a digital arms race or a firepower onslaught, a means to extract every last little drop of information and activity out of me as a voter or a political activist. I want a better way of doing politics. I do not want a ‘thunderclap’ when Ed Miliband announces a new energy policy – I instead want a voice in shaping what that new energy policy should be. I do not want to be forever pestered every more cleverly to follow what the party HQ has decreed; I want a greater say in how politics works, and how it impacts my life. That, I fear, in the UK at least, is precisely the opposite of what is happening.


Why I’m leaving the Labour Party, and joining the Grüne in Germany

IMG_3772-smlI’m an intensely political person and it has been that way for a long time. I joined the Labour Party in the UK as a 16 year old, before I was even old enough to vote. This means I have spent more than half my life in the Labour Party, which is rather scary (background on why I joined can be found here).

But today is the last day, for now at least. I am leaving Labour, and joining the Grüne (Greens) in Germany. The Direct Debit to Labour has been cancelled, and the online form to join the Grüne has been sent off.

So why am I making this move?

Don’t burn your bridges” my mother said to me by e-mail when I told her, but that is most definitely not my intention. My decision is as a result of a combination of personal and political circumstances that I hope to be able to explain, and my decision was taken in the best of faith.

Firstly the personal level. I moved to live in Berlin three weeks ago. I do not know what the future will hold, and how long I will stay in Berlin. But I cannot see anything that is going to entice me back to live in the UK any time soon. Berlin is home for now, and home means being politically active where one lives. Unlike my time in Brussels where the expat / EU environment prevented engaging locally, and Copenhagen, where language did, in Berlin I can actually do local politics.

When it comes to the politics of it, I feel I have been steadily moving away from Labour for some time. It is not that I necessarily think the party is doing the wrong things strategically, but more that its direction and mine have parted. When it comes to EU matters, civil liberties and the surveillance state, the environment, and tax and spending, I feel my own positions are further away from Labour’s than they have ever been. “So fight to change it from within!” has always – rightly – been the refrain from friends in the party in the past. But from Berlin I cannot do that effectively, or even hope to do so.

To put it another way, the party now brings me less than it has ever done, and I conversely bring less to it than I have ever done either.

At an organisational level I have concerns about Labour too – not least in the way it selected its MEPs, and seeing a ghost of European Parliaments past at the very top of one list makes me deeply sad. The party talks the talk of being open and modern, but it is a long way from walking the walk.

I hope the dozens of friends I have in the Labour Party understand my decision. I am the same person, I have the same ethics which I hope are the reason these people are friends of mine, not that we just happen to have been in the same clan.

So why then am I joining the Grüne in Germany?

It is in part motivated by the circumstances outlined above – that I want to be able to be politically active in Berlin, my current home. Of course this would be possible without any sort of party political affiliation (and I suppose I could have stayed in Labour passively – paying my money but doing nothing like so many party members). But for me that is not an option. I want to nail my ideological colours to the mast, and also my remaining belief in the value of representative democracy necessitates a belief in vibrant and functional parties.

So which party should I join? Unfortunately I find the SPD, Labour’s sister party in Germany, to be retro and uninspiring. The SPD has not been able to adequately define itself for a decade, and rightly suffered at the recent Bundestagswahl. Its approach to negotiations to form a Grand Coalition with the CDU, with the same old faces back once again, does not motivate me at all. The party is also not at the cutting edge when it comes to transparency, openness, and online engagement.

The Grüne, by contrast, are better both politically and when it comes to how a party should work internally. They have more of the answers to vital environmental questions than any other party does, and for me that is a strong point in their favour. Hell, I am obsessive about trying to travel in a green way, so I am actually practising what they preach on that crucial issue anyway. The Grüne’s more open and transparent processes – most recently the #GreenPrimary at EU level – are better than the procedures in other parties. I also know some super people in the Grüne – from old friends like Jan Seifert to more recent acquaintances like Malte Spitz and Franziska Brantner. These are people I can work with.

I have no idea where my membership of the Grüne will take me – I have no specific aim, no plan. It feels like the right thing to do, here and now, and I am going to learn plenty of fascinating things if nothing else!


Labour’s EU vision in 5 points

roseI was at an event in Brussels this week where there was much discussion about Labour trying to find 5 points it could put on a pledge card during the 2014 European Parliament election campaign.

So, looking at what top politicians in the Labour Party have been saying about the EU over the last 12 months, what are the five clearest statements they could make?

  1. We don’t want an in-out referendum in the UK
  2. We don’t want any repatriation of powers
  3. We don’t want the Euro
  4. We don’t want a common foreign policy or an EU army
  5. We don’t want to increase the EU budget

Inspiring, eh? Who says Labour doesn’t have a vision for the EU?

[NOTE: this is not what Labour should say. It’s more of a critique of how little vision the party has right now.]


Online networking: we can shine the light on their malevolence, but we cannot be them

Screen Shot 2013-04-14 at 19.10.15It has been an interesting week. My posts about Labour’s MEP selections, and the panel member in the East Midlands, Nicki Brooks, who seems to have selected herself, have prompted all sorts of debate, comments, and e-mails sent to me. My blog even already ranks 6th in Google UK if you search for ‘Nicki Brooks‘, and people like Mark Pack, Patrick Wintour and Charlie Beckett have mentioned my digging on other blogs or on Twitter. Hence at one level it has been a super week for this blog.

But then what?

I still do not know exactly what happened in East Midlands. I have made a clear case – that Nicki Brooks selected herself – and I know there are plenty of people in the Labour Party who know about this claim. But I have been unable so far to get any sort of response, any sort of statement, about what actually happened, and since my blog entry was written, East Midlands Labour has even formally announced its candidates on its website.

In short, I seem to be able to shine the light on the malevolence of a politician, and make sure that thousands of people know about it (the Brooks and MEP selection blogs have received more than 3000 individual visitors combined, and that does not count the Twitter exposure), but I cannot actually find a way within the Labour Party to force some change in this case. It was suggested in the comments of my Progress piece on this issue that I should push for a rule change in the party. OK, but that does not deal with the fact that the rules this time, even as the rules are, do not seem to have been respected.

As the commenter ‘East Mids Observer’ remarks, that East Midlands has a questionable selection process is not anything new, only this time five years on more people know about the malevolence than did previously. The online networkers can hence seem to shine the light on the malevolence of individuals, but we cannot actually yet use online networking to foster new, fairer, more transparent relationships between party members and the senior people in the Labour Party.

The problem is essentially is that this whole episode further confirms the prevailing impression that politicians in traditional parties is a grubby business. In the meantime Nigel Farage tours the country, filling halls and styling himself as the honest man of British politics. Labour might manage for things to not blow up this time, might manage to ensure the whole thing blows over. But unless the mainstream parties manage to find ways to inspire their own people, motivate their own members, and respect their own rules, then the seepage of legitimacy to the populists will only continue. And we will all be worse off as that continues to happen.


Labour’s MEP lists. I’m angry and disappointed.

Screen Shot 2013-04-08 at 23.25.20So, as reported on LabourList earlier, Labour’s MEP lists are now out, and I am angry and disappointed by the outcome. The full list of names, together with one line bios, website links, and Twitter usernames can be found at the end of this post, and there is a Twitter list as well here. Any errors and omissions are mine – please do comment or contact me if you want the table updated – updates will be added to the blog post, and the time of update indicated. The next stages in the selection process are explained in the LabourList piece.

But anyway, to the matter in hand: the people who have made it onto the lists.

First of all I am absolutely astounded to see the names of two former MEPs on the lists – Neena Gill for the West Midlands, and Glyn Ford for the South West. Neena’s record as a MEP in two terms (1999-2009) was not good – I worked as her Assistant for a period, and I can vouch for her incompetence. Why should she return? Glyn was a bit more effective, but he was a MEP from 1984 until 2009 – is 25 years serving in the European Parliament not enough? I am more optimistic about the return of Richard Corbett – no-one knows more about the functioning of the European Parliament than Richard does. He’s a committed European through and through, and while it would be good to see new people in the EP as well, Labour needs people like Richard.

Secondly there are a few startling omissions from the lists. I’ve already blogged about Anne Fairweather’s surprising omission, but I am surprised to not see Kevin Peel‘s name listed anywhere. I am also told that Carole Tongue sought a return to the EP but was not listed either. It also seems that in the South West there’s brewing anger that Razvan Constantinescu was not listed. I’m also surprised to not see Rupa Huq or Sally Prentice listed in London, having assumed (without knowing for sure) that they would be candidates. It strikes me that some names were deliberately eliminated in order to give some candidates a more or less free run, and the number of candidates with very heavy trade union links is notable, while the number with considerable EU experience is rather fewer. [UPDATE 9.4.13, 1100]: Kevin Peel and Rupa Huq are listed as reserves, in North West and London respectively.

Thirdly, there are some welcome new names on the lists. I’m very happy to see Hadleigh Roberts listed in the South West. I’ve never met him, but his thoughtful discussion of EU matters on blogs and Twitter gives a very good impression. I’ve also met Kevin Doran a number of times over the years in Brussels – he has the knowledge and skills to make an excellent MEP. Rory Palmer and Judith Kirton-Darling give good impressions in their presence online, while Del Singh and John Howarth seem slightly atypical political characters and their presence seems welcome. I know Anneliese Dodds from student politics, and I know both her ethics and abilities are good. People I trust think highly of Clare Moody. Andrea Biondi, an EU law professor and former candidate for the Italian Partito Democratico could turn out to be genius or problematic.

Fourthly, compiling the list below proved to be more complicated than I had expected. Very few candidates have websites, and while more are on Twitter, a number are simply not Googleable. OK, I know it is about activity on the ground, but when it comes to party members choosing the order of candidates on lists then many will be doing exactly what I did – trying to work out what these people are about. Often it is very hard to know.

In the end all of this leaves a very sour taste for me. It might seem fine to do some sort of stitch up, to deny party members the very best candidates by eliminating strong people at the shortlisting stage. But, as David Hallam comments here, this means the process is not seen to be legitimate by party members, and they will be less inclined to campaign. Further if Labour ends up with weaker MEPs as a result that only plays into the hands of the EU-sceptics and the intergovernmentalists. It is not as if the European Parliament has a lot of friends in the UK as it is. A stitch up now leaves us all worse off later.

Name Web Twitter

— East Midlands —

Glenis Wilmott (sitting) http://gleniswillmott.eu @gleniswillmott
Nicki Brooks - @NickiBrooksx
Labour Gedling Borough Cllr & Chief Whip
Khalid Hadadi - -
European Affairs Manager for Channel 4 in Brussels?
Rory Palmer http://rorypalmer.org @Rory_Palmer
Deputy City Mayor, Leicester; Cllr for Eyres Monsell; NPF rep
Linda Woodings - @LindaWoodings
Political Officer for the CWU in the East Midlands

— Eastern —

Richard Howitt (sitting) http://www.richardhowittmep.com/ @richardhowitt
Naseem Ayub - -
Labour Councillor in Biscot Ward, Luton
Bhavna Joshi http://www.votejoshi.com/ -
Previously Wandsworth Borough Councillor and Shadow Cabinet Member for Health, and Regeneration & Transport.
Alex Mayer - @alexlmayer
Member of Labour’s NPF
Paul Bishop - -
Can’t work out how this is… Googling ‘Paul Bishop Labour’ gives nothing relevant. [UPDATE 9.4.13, 1100]: Labour candidate in South Suffolk in 1997.
Sandy Martin - @sandyofipswich
Leader Suffolk County Labour Group
Chris Ostrowski - -
Former Labour PPC in Norwich North (2009)

— London —

Mary Honeyball (sitting) http://thehoneyballbuzz.com/ @maryhoneyball
Claude Moraes (sitting) http://www.claudemoraes.com/ @ClaudeMoraesMEP
Sanchia Alasia http://sanchiaalasia.com/ @sanchia46
Labour Councillor for Barking & Dagenham
Lucy Anderson - @Lucy4MEP
Member of Labour’s NPF
Ivana Bartoletti http://www.ivanabartoletti.co.uk/ @ivanabartoletti
Deputy Director of the Fabian Women’s Network
Andrea Biondi http://www.andreabiondi.eu/ @AndreaBiondiUK
Professor of European Union Law at King’s College London
Seb Dance - @SebDance
Former SpAd to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. [UPDATE: 9.4.13, 2350]: Now working as Government Relations Adviser at ActionAid UK
Kamaljeet Jandu http://www.kamaljeetjandu.org.uk @KamaljeetJandu
GMB National Officer for Equality [UPDATE 11.4.13, 0720: web link added]

— North East —

Judith Kirton-Darling http://www.judeforthenortheast.org.uk/ @Jude_KD
European TUC Confederal Secretary [UPDATE 9.4.13, 2340]: web link added
Jayne Shotton http://jayneshotton.wordpress.com/ @jshttn
“Trade union organiser” [UPDATE 9.4.13, 1100]: Councillor in North Tyneside until 2010.
Paul Brannen - -
Head of Advocacy and Influence at Christian Aid
Nick Wallis http://darlingtoncouncillor.blogspot.de/ @cllrnickwallis
Labour Councillor for Haughton West ward, Darlington. [UPDATE 9.4.13, 1100]: Was on Labour’s list in the North East in 2009.

— North West —

Arlene McCarthy (sitting) http://www.arlenemccarthy.labour.co.uk/ @EuroMP_ArleneMc
Steve Carter - @SteveCarter001
Leader of Macclesfield Borough Council Labour group
Kevin Doran - @ResEuropa
Managing Director of Grayling Belgium’s EU public affairs team [UPDATE 9.4.13, 0030]: Kevin has now left Grayling, and is working independently in the North West. He has a new Twitter account for the campaign too – @KevinDoranEU
Theresa Griffin - @TheresaG_EU
National Policy Forum rep. Member of UNITE. Work for UNISON. [UPDATE 9.4.13, 1100]: Was on Labour’s list in the North West in both 2004 and 2009.
Afzal Khan - @cllrakhan
Labour Councillor and former Lord Mayor of Manchester.
Wajid Khan - @wajid4europe
Daneshouse with Stoneyholme Ward in Burnley
Pascale Lamb - @PascaleLamb
No info to be found… [UPDATE 9.4.13, 0020]: she is listed as Catherine Stihler’s parliamentary assistant
Angeliki Stogia http://www.angeliki4eu.org/ @Angeliki4eu
Councillor in Whalley Range Ward, Manchester [UPDATE 15.4.13: Web link added]
Julie Ward - -
No idea… Not found anyone on Google.

— South East —

Anneliese Dodds http://www.anneliesedodds.org.uk/ @AnnelieseDodds
Former Labour PPC for Reading East [UPDATE 10.4.13, 1110]: Twitter & web link added
Maggie Hughes - @EUMaggie_Hughes
Victims’ rights campaigner in Europe. Active trade unionist
Karen Landles - @karenlandles
Former Guildford PPC [UPDATE 9.4.13, 1100]: Is on the NPF.
Farah Nazeer http://farahnazeerlabour.com/ @FarahNazeer
Labour Councillor in Newham, London, and Director of External Affairs at the Motor Neurone Disease Association [NOTE: biog and web link updated 9.4.13 at 1040]
Emily Westley - @emilywestley
Labour councillor in Hastings & Rye
Phil Bloomer - @pbloomer
Campaigns and Policy Director for Oxfam
John Howarth http://www.johnhowarth.com/ @JohnHowarth1958
Businessman, strategist, journalist (food, fun, travel, politics), musician
Del Singh http://delsingh.com/ @DelDSingh
International Development Advisor, Board Member Care International UK
James Swindlehurst - -
Labour Councillor in Slough
James Watkins - @watkins_js
No idea what he does [UPDATE 9.4.13, 1100]: Seems he’s on the Exec of Labour Movement for Europe, although LME’s website has not been updated to say so

— South West —

Clare Moody http://claremoody.org/ @ClareMMoody
Labour Candidate for Wiltshire Police and Crime Commissioner in 2012
Ann Reeder - -
LGiU (Local Government Information Unit) and South West Councils
Jude Robinson http://juderobinson.wordpress.com/ @Juderobinson
Labour & Coop Cornwall Councillor for Camborne North
Junab Ali - -
Swindon Councillor
Glyn Ford - -
Former MEP, consultant at G Plus Europe
Hadleigh Roberts http://hadleighroberts.com/ @HadleighRoberts
Translator and interpreter, French politics specialist

— West Midlands —

Claire Edwards - -
Councillor in Rugby
Neena Gill - @MEPNeenaGill
Former MEP
Olwen Hamer - @OlwenHamer
Councillor in Stoke on Trent
Lynda Waltho - @Lyndyluv
(
account locked)
Former MP for Stourbridge (2005-2010)
Ansar Ali-Khan - @ansar_ali_khan
Councillor in Birmingham
Anthony Ethapemi - -
Lawyer in Harrow, North London
Sion Simon http://www.sion-simon.org.uk/ @sionsimon
Former MP for Birmingham Erdington

— Yorkshire & the Humber —

Linda McAvan (sitting) http://www.lindamcavanmep.org.uk/ @LindaMcAvanMEP
Richard Corbett http://www.richardcorbett.org.uk/ @richardcorbett
Former MEP, currently member of Herman van Rompuy’s cabinet
Darren Hughes http://www.darrenjlhughes.com/ @darrenjlhughes
Labour/Coop Party. Chairman of Shield HIV and Rush House Ltd. [UPDATE 9.4.13, 1100]: Previously a Councillor in Rotherham and previously a member of the Conservative Party.
Asghar Khan - @asgharlab
Member of Leeds City Council
Helen Mirfin-Boukouris - @MirfinBoukouris
Member of Sheffield City Council
Tracey Simpson-Lang - -
Councillor in York
Eleanor Tunnicliffe - @ejtunnicliffe
Lawyer at DAC Beachcroft. [UPDATE 9.4.13, 1100]: Labour candidate in Richmond Park in 2010

— Scotland —

David Martin (sitting) http://www.martinmep.com/ @davidmartinmep
Catherine Stihler (sitting) http://www.cstihlermep.com/ @C_Stihler_MEP
Asim Khan - -
No details found
Derek Munn - -
Former SpAd, now Director of Policy & Public Affairs at the Royal College of Speech & Language Therapists
Katrina Murray - @katrinamurray71
Trade unionist, Labour Party activist, NHS worker
Kirsty O’Brien - @Coisty_OB
Freelance public affairs & campaigns consultant, previously Head of Policy at Labour Party

— Wales —

Derek Vaughan (sitting) http://www.derekvaughanmep.org.uk/ @derekvaughan
Jayne Bryant http://jaynebryant.wordpress.com/ @JBryantWales
Labour member in Newport
Christina Rees - @ChrisForArfon
Councillor in Porthcawl
Alex Thomas - -
Councillor on Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council

NOTE: for the sake of complete transparency. No candidate has asked me to write this post. The views within it are mine, and mine alone. I know Anne Fairweather, Richard Corbett and Kevin Doran reasonably well. I have met Glyn Ford, Sanchia Alasia and Lucy Anderson, and worked for Neena Gill. I knew Anneliese Dodds in student politics. I also know a number of the sitting MEPs (although this post is not about them). I regularly exchange tweets with, but have not met, Kevin Peel and Hadleigh Roberts.


Anne Fairweather is not a Labour MEP candidate for London. What is going on?

Anne Fairweather campaigning in 2009 - source http://lgbtlabour.org.uk/uploads/4bfc5cc8-e3d6-56f4-9598-79589e4a9d48.jpgI suppose I should have had my suspicious that all would not be right with the selection process for Labour’s new MEP candidates when the initial information about the process was so thin. So it’s with considerable sadness and annoyance that it now turns out that one of the very best candidates Labour could have had for the EP elections in London – Anne Fairweather – has not even been interviewed for the long list for the selection, so will not make it onto Labour’s list at all in 2014. This is an astounding decision before Labour Party members have even had a say.

Anne was selected in third position for the 2009 EP elections, the first non-elected position behind the two sitting Labour MEPs Claude Moraes and Mary Honeyball. Anne’s campaign that time, then as an unknown new candidate, owed everything to her personal commitment and determination, and her effort to speak to Labour Party members about EU matters. She topped the ballot of members to decide the order on the list, with more than 3000 personal votes. Since 2009 Anne’s efforts in Labour politics, as far as I can tell from afar anyway, have only increased – at least if stories of campaigning from Twitter and Facebook are anything to go by.

So what happened?

Essentially the long list of candidates – the same number of candidates as there are MEP seats to be allocated in a region (8 in London’s case) – is decided by a committee in London Labour Party. It’s next to impossible to deselect a sitting MEP, so Moraes and Honeyball are back on the list anyway, together with 6 further candidates. Anne – placed 3rd overall last time and most popular among members, and more experienced and committed now than then – was not even deemed worth interviewing to be one of those 6 candidates. Why?

As former MEP David Hallam has said on Facebook “From around the country I am hearing Labour Party members becoming concerned that this process is now so discredited that there will be little appetitie to support candidates chosen in such a way.” Too right. And I’d really like to hear the reasons why Anne was not even interviewed to be on the long list of candidates. OK, if you dislike her politics then beat her in a fair fight, or at least let the members decide. But I find not including her on the long list quite astounding.

[NOTE: Anne is a friend of mine – I first met her more than a decade ago in Brussels, and we meet from time to time. Hence I may not be altogether objective. If anyone has good reasons to not include her on the long list then please do comment below]


“We’re standing up for Britain” or “We’re all in this together” – ways to explain the EU budget

A tweet by Emma Burnell pointed me towards this blog post by Tracy Hill about UKIP, and the threat they pose to Labour. You can read the whole blog post to look at the stuff about UKIP, but there is one paragraph I will highlight, for it shows the problems the EU poses Labour, let alone UKIP posing a problem to Labour. This is the paragraph – emphasis in bold is mine:

Labour MEPs work hard in Europe, engaging with the system and negotiating for a better deal for Britain. By promoting British interests actively in Europe, Labour can secure better terms for British businesses and push for reform where it’s needed. Labour MEP Derek Vaughan recently secured a real-terms cut for the 2013 budget of the European Parliament and other EU institutions, by restricting administrative expenses. The public will respond to evidence that their representatives can change things positively in Europe, and we need to find ways of communicating this evidence.

This is rather standard fare when it comes to explaining the EU in the UK. It’s about going off to Brussels and getting our way! Standing up for the country!

Only actually it doesn’t work this way.

First of all, what are Labour’s values? They are the values of compassion and social democracy, that we’re all better if we work together. That means that we should be emphasising a centre-left vision for the budget, not the notion that there is a British interest in the budget and that Labour is working for this. Less CAP money for rich landowners, and more for investment in the EU’s poor regions is more of a Labour line than “restricting administrative expenses”.

Second, Labour has been playing a tricky game on the budget for years anyway, where MEPs vote along S&D Group lines in the EP on all amendments, and then vote down the budget as a whole to make a symbolic point to the UK media that they were ‘tough’. Take a look at the 2013 budget vote that Tracy mentions – here is the vote on Votematch. Filter this for S&D Group and UK, and you will see that only Derek Vaughan, the Labour MEP, voted in favour (because he was rapporteur), while all his UK Labour colleagues voted against. But there was still led this press release from the EPLP about Derek’s work, welcoming the decision. If you can work out what Labour is actually trying to do in the EP on this then you’re more clever than I am.

Third, the idea that you can in any way communicate this sort of weigh-up-the-pros-and-cons approach to the EU is rather fanciful anyway. This is the way pro-Europeans have been trying to do it for decades in the UK already, and look at where it has left us. People vote according to their values, not according to a raw analysis of the facts or policies, and Labour has no values-based approach to the EU. Even if Labour thinks it needs a tough approach, no-one is going to believe that Labour can out-tough UKIP or the Tories anyway. And then there’s the deep distrust of UK and EU politics that Labour has to contend with.

So it’s time for Labour to ditch the “standing up for Britain” line, because it can’t work for the party. “We’re all in this together” might be a better way forward.


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