Dealing with anti-semitism must be Labour’s next step

Dealing with anti-semitism must be Labour’s next step

We were campaigning at a street stall in Canterbury. I was in conversation with one of the many Labour voters doubting their support for the Party in the European Parliament election. I caught a man speaking as he walked by to one of my team who looked surprised. She later told me the man had said to her, “Sorry, you don’t want to me, I’m Jewish.” In my 45 years working for the election of Labour representatives it was a new low.

Last week the UK’s Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), a Labour creation, commenced a statutory inquiry into the ongoing issues of antisemitism that have dogged the Labour Party and led to a situation where Labour is perceived as an institutionally antisemitic organisation. Opposing discrimination was a fundamental principal of the Labour Party I joined and over the years the paces forward down the long road against discrimination and toward equal treatment had more often than not been made by Labour governance. I have often cited these steps as the Labour achievements of which I am most proud, because they are the embodiment of social changes that last. Now I find myself deeply ashamed of the mire into which my Party has slid.

For Labour to once again become credible as a party of government it must address the contamination of its politics by antisemitic tendencies and the failures of leadership that have destroyed our credibility over this issue.

The new antisemitism

Everything take place in a wider social context and in that context. Eighty years after the holocaust the phenomenon of antisemitism in Europe is once again apparent. In this alarming climate, we need a Labour Party credible in fighting antisemitism - at present it is not.

Nothing stays the same, while crass vandalism against synagogues and graveyards occur again and anti-Jewish graffiti appears, the new manifestations of anti-semitism are often less blatant, more insidious, more difficult to identify. In an excellent report launched at a conference in the European Parliament during my first term by Austrian S&D MEP Josef Wiesenhalter set out the features of this new antisemitism and the conclusions should be taken seriously by all democrats. In the case of Labour’s antisemitism problem a key element has been the conflation of the actions of the government and state apparatus of Israel in relation to the Palestinian people with Jewish people and individual Jews. Unless we make this simple but fundamental distinction, we slide very quickly into dangerous territory. It is quite simple to oppose the injustices inflicted on Palestinians without doing so in an antisemitic way.

However too many on the left have failed in this respect. The dubious maxim of ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’ has too often led individuals on the left to make the wrong decisions in associating with reactionary regimes and extremist organisations. The failure to criticise or distance themselves from unacceptable language and forms of political action have in dermined the ability of Labour leaders to deal with instances of antisemitism. Cloaks of anonymity in the online world have enabled antisemitic individuals to place themselves within currents of the left and to spread hatred. These, I still believe, are the actions of the very few and are not representative of ‘the left’ but inaction by ‘the left’ has unfortunately been seen as acceptance.

Failure to act

When the problems surfaced Labour’s leaders failed to meet the test. The response had to go beyond process - it required strong individual action, high profile direct opposition to online antisemitism that said ‘not in my name’ but it didn’t happen. A history of keeping the wrong company made that difficult but it should not have made it impossible. As politicians we appear in lots of photographs and we attend lots of events without control or knowledge of other attendees. Politics necessitates talking to ‘the wrong people’ - but there are ways and means of going about it. None of this should have been a barrier to stamping out the problem early on - the failure to do so and instead the production of a report commonly seen as a whitewash instead gave the impression of not wanting to address the problem clearly or firmly simply and that the view that ‘there are no enemies on the left’ prevails. The suspension of NEC member Pete Wilsman following an outburst meeting the definition of antisemitism would confirm this failure. Mr Wilsman was supported by the Momentum organisation in his successful election to the NEC despite a similar outburst in a move that signaled tolerance of antisemitism and manifest double standards.

Moving beyond the climate of fear

Travelling around South East England in the recent election campaign and talking to hundreds of Labour activists it is clear that a climate of fear now exists within Labour. The notion of Labour as a ‘broad church’ is self-evidently under threat and does not form part of the thinking of many who see themselves as supporting the current leadership. Whether it is online trolling, threats of politically motivate deselection of hard-working representatives or spiteful removal of long standing lay activists in CLP posts the message is clear - comply with the regime or face the consequences. Long standing members appalled by the anti-semitic acts of the very few. The EHRC investigation must have evidence and must be seen to call to account the failure to act as well as direct involvement. To fail to act is a failure of leadership and that means on a local level too. It is in the clear interests of the current Labour leadership for the EHRC investigation to produce clear and decisive conclusions that enable Labour to move on from this untenable position. I will be submitting a statement to the investigation from a European and regional perspective. If individuals in the CLPs of South East England have evidence that they wish to submit but feel intimidated I would urge them to supply material through my office.

 

Posted by John Howarth
What now for Brexit?

What now for Brexit?

The pending resignation of Theresa May as Leader of the Conservative Party and, subsequently as Prime Minister is a key event in the Brexit process.

While any attempt to revive her long dead ‘deal’ and drive it through the Commons had only stood a chance of success in her own irrational thinking, her resignation effectively ended that process, at least for now. The fact remains, however, that the ‘deal’ represents the only offer that the EU27 are likely to make given the ‘red lines’ put in place by the UK Government. The coming to office of a new Prime Minister of itself changes nothing. The EU remains a rules-based organisation, the ‘red lines’ define what is possible within those rules and the land border between the UK and the Republic of Ireland is a conundrum that will continue whatever decision the Conservative Party makes.

So what might happen from here on in? First there is the question of timetables (I've been banging on about this to whoever might care to listen since the latest extension was announced). Ever since it became clear that the UK would be unable to make an orderly exit from the European Union on 29 March it has been clear that the period that would follow was fraught with difficulties for any new negotiation based on different pre-conditions (for it is evident to all but the foolish that no other circumstances merit a renegotiation). The 8th Legislature of the European Parliament finished its session on 19 April in Strasbourg mean that there was no practical mechanism for the ratification of any withdrawal agreement and necessitating European Parliament Elections. This also represented the practical conclusion of the current European Commission’s term in office. The President of the ‘unelected bureaucrats’ these days being effectively elected by the voters in the European Elections and the remainder being subject to ratification hearings by the new Parliament in September and possibly October. Though the mandate for Brexit negotiations is strictly a matter for the Council (the member states) the difficulty during the EU’s transition process is obvious. The Conservative Party, having concluded it’s member ballot in July (and it doesn’t look as if it will simply be a matter of acclimation this time), the will remain little or no time for a new Prime Minister to engage with the EU27 negotiators before Brussels begins its summer recess and the UK conference season is upon us following which October is upon us.

The impracticality of the timeframe leads many to speculate that a Prime Minister elected on a ‘no deal’ prospectus will have to do precisely nothing to succeed in ‘crashing’ the UK out of the EU on 31 October. While in theory this is possible and the UK Parliament would, again in theory, have no binding method of preventing such a course, it should be born in mind that same Parliament has decisively voted against a ‘no deal’ exit and any Prime Minister would be risking losing a vote of confidence by defying the will of the House and The Speaker has already indicated that it is inconceivable the Commons would not express its view on the matter once again.

Predictions of what, exactly, will happen are therefore as foolish as ever, but there are a number of possibilities:

The new Conservative leader is a Brexiteer who seeks to crash out the UK and succeeds. The future course of UK politics in these circumstances is unclear but the probable disruption to domestic life renders an early election less likely.

The new Conservative leader, despite being a Brexiteer, is thwarted by the House of Commons and is forced to seek a new extension to Article 50 from the EU27.

or

The new Conservative leader favours an orderly exit but is forced to seek a further extension either simply because of the practicalities of the timetable or to facilitate a new negotiation on different pre-conditions.

In either case there is now considerable doubt over whether a further extension would be granted by the EU27. Much would depend on the position taken by the President Macron who, without an election in the offing, may choose a more conciliatory approach. Either way the most likely extension date would be 31 December 2020. This has always been the practical option for the EU27 as it brings the UK to the end of the current seven year budget (MFF) period (the rationale for the end of the formerly proposed ‘transition’). If this is the course of action agreed an early election is once again, given the volatile state of the polls, a less likely option.

Finally, there is the possibility that the newly chosen Prime Minister succeeds where Mrs May failed and gets some cosmetic variation of the Withdrawal Agreement through the Commons either through the fear of the political consequences of not doing so, the fear of crashing out or on the promise of ripping up the political declaration and unilaterally negating the backstop arrangement for the border in Ireland (and in the process violating the Good Friday Agreement). Should this be achieved the new Conservative leader would undoubtedly go to the country as soon as the dust had settled.

For what it’s worth, which is probably not very much, I regard these three scenarios as more or less equally likely. What I believe, sadly, has become much less likely, though not impossible, as a result of the dynamic of the European Elections, is a public vote on a final deal (the position I favour and for which I will continue to campaign). This would effectively be a subset of the second option – a further extension. While it still represents a practical route out of the mire and it necessary to gain acceptance within the UK of any outcome, the use of the vote as a political weapon in the European Parliament Election campaign was a major strategic error that will result in more intractable positions by key players in the two large Westminster parties who may now be inclined to back any orderly exit.

The waters of Brexit are as muddy as ever and with every test of public opinion the political stakes are raised further. The elections may be over for now by Brexit will remain unfinished business until the Autumn and would continue to dominate the public discourse well beyond any potential exit.

Posted by John Howarth
Thank you and sorry …

Thank you and sorry …

Following the close of poll and prior to the count for the European Elections on Sunday 26 May 2019 I wrote the following letter to Labour Party members in South East England thanking them for their roll and support during the campaign and addressing a number of important political issues that had arisen over the previous month.

Numerous members had raised questions about the conduct of the campaign during visits and in correspondence that I felt it inappropriate to go into in any depth during the election but who I felt were owed an explanation – at least as far as I could give one.

The reaction I had from members was largely positive across different currents of thought in the Labour Party. A sizable minority did not agree with my view, nor seemingly my right to express a view at all. Of them I would ask, if the worst Labour result in 100 years is not the right time to raise questions about the conduct of a campaign then when, exactly, is?

Rational readers will note the wording in paragraph 5 below and the reference to ‘leaderships’ of various political shades (1). Equally, the response from some to the point in paragraph 8 about the peddling of falsehoods was to peddle further falsehoods.

If Labour is now so fragile that it cannot tolerate criticism, then many of my points below are entirely proven.

Photo: above, campaigning in Brighton with No2 candidate, Cathy Shutt.

 

Thank you ...

First let me, on behalf of all ten of us on the South East England list for yesterday’s European Elections, say thank you for the hard work and support we received from Labour Party members across the region. Members do not have to work in elections, they are volunteers who do it because they believe it to be right. So thank you.

Second let me personally thank the other candidates on the list for their support, loyalty and enthusiasm in the face of very difficult circumstances. Your support was invaluable and you gave 100%. I very much hope the experience will reward you in years to come.

... and Sorry

Unfortunately, both the other Labour candidates and party members deserved better in this election. They all deserve an apology.

Had Labour’s ‘high command’ set out to lose an election they could not have gone about it in a more convincing way. These elections were there to be won, that victory was squandered and a key opportunity to stake a claim as the party of government in waiting was lost.

Time after time Labour has approached elections to the European Parliament as an inconvenience and, in an approach symptomatic of the UK’s dysfunctional relationship with the EU, sought to fight on domestic issues - ‘vote Labour for the European Parliament to put more bobbies on the beat/save the NHS’, or some such implausible rot. This is nothing new. It happened under Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Ed Miliband and now the current regime - in every case it was an insult to the intelligence of the voters and below par results followed as night follows day. It is simply not possible to fight a different election to the election on the ballot paper.

Labour’s NEC had plenty of warning, from MEPs, from polling data, from evidence of the last general election and from the local election results only three weeks ago, of the likely consequences of adopting an equivocal policy on Brexit not based on seeking to remain in the EU (2). Nonetheless come the NEC meeting to determine our election policy, what should have been a discussion about what were the best tactics to win an election became a skirmish in Labour’s internal war that ‘the leadership’ could not be seen to ‘lose’. From that point the die was cast. I and other Labour MEPs and MPs continued to receive right up to polling day messages from Labour members and supporters who intended to support other parties on 23 May. I received several hundred such messages - a lower proportion than many of my colleagues, but alarming nonetheless (I attempted to reply to everyone with a reasoned argument as to why this was a mistake - some I talked round, others not. I also received messages from some supporting ‘leave’ - but very few).

It isn’t that Labour’s message of ‘bringing the country together’ isn’t needed, simply that the country doesn’t seem ready to come together - Brexit is unfinished business. As such it was either phenomenally naive or utterly mendacious to put in place a policy that would knowingly lose votes in remarkable numbers.

From there on the party machine sought to close down any deviation for the suicidal central message. In an unprecedented decision the General Secretary was appointed agent for the entire country (1). At all other EU election since regional lists were introduced Regional Directors have been agents. They managed the desire of CLPs to promote candidates and help win the elections. The spending limits for these elections are huge, easily capable of accommodating local activity aimed at enhancing the campaign. This time spurious legal grounds were used to clamp down on local activity and even additional union assistance. The much derided nationally produced leaflets which carried no mention of a ‘confirmatory vote’ were presented to MEPs as a fait accompli that was “already at print” - this turned out to be untrue but it shows how the campaign was run. The eventual product was no better. While it was frustrating to be fighting an election with hands and feet bound and with Labour staff in apparent opposition it is not the fault of junior staff or middle managers - responsibility lies elsewhere.

Where from here?

Labour has lost a great opportunity and, over the past year, a great many members. By failing to listen to its supporters in the country who are ever more heavily ‘remain’, to the overwhelming bulk of its members, to the majority of its MPs and MEPs the Party has brought on itself an electoral humiliation at a time when the Conservative party is woefully divided and manifestly incompetent in Government. An open goal has been missed.

The absurd aspect of this is that Labour failed to capitalise on the credit it would otherwise have been due for fighting off May’s awful deal and backing a public vote with a whip and 84% of its MPs that it would otherwise have been given.

Sadly for many local parties who had spent time and effort since the days of the coalition removing the LibDems from their towns this campaign has allowed them back - not just into Conservative heartlands but to ours too - in particular to those ‘new’ heartland that produced such great numbers of Labour votes in 2017.

It is unclear how Labour will move on and recover from this position. Whether or not we retain Labour representation in the European Parliament for South East England is far from clear. As for a General Election - I would say, not for the first time, be careful what you wish for.

So once again I say thank you for the support I have received over the past two years. And apologies that you did not get the message or the campaign you deserved - it was not for the want of trying.

I hope I will be able to continue to serve.

All the best

John Howarth MEP.

 

(1) I wonder, from the tone of some replies, if they had read the original letter at all. It is fair to say that the HuffPost reporting of my words was considerably more sensational than the original.

(2) I and a number of others wrote to members of the NEC putting the case for a clarification of Labour's policy for the elections and the likely consequences of taking any other course. For information my representation is reproduced here:

(3) It is only fair to point out, as I had forgotten, that while the GS had not before acted as Agent for the whole UK , in the 1999 elections Alan Barnard, the then Head of Elections, did so. So perhaps not entirely without precedent, however, Mr Barnard described this as “the single most stupid decision I made while working for Labour”. It is also fair to add that in 1999 local parties had considerable latitude in helping promote candidates. It remains Labour’s best result under proportional representation.

 

Posted by John Howarth
Vote for Labour Values in the European Election

Vote for Labour Values in the European Election

This is the full transcript of John’s hustings speech in Reading on Monday 20 May 2019. It followed a presentation from the moderator on opinion polling for the European Elections. The event was organised by Berkshire in Europe. 

 

Thank you chair, I take it you want me to use this infernal thing for the purposes of broadcast. Yeah ok, I tend to be a bit loud with a microphone so I’ll try not to be.

Ok first of all, thanks for that introduction. It’s always nice to come back to Reading University where I served as a member of the council of this institution for 11 years. It also great to see so many liberal democrats in Reading here we haven’t seen so many liberal democrats in Reading since they went coalition with the Tories on Reading borough council. That lasted 12 months. And they now have, is it one councillor? Something like that. Anyway, never mind.

I’m going to talk first of all about the values and the manifesto that the party of European Socialists, the Socialist and Democrats group, the second largest group in the European parliament and the Labour party are standing on in this election because we may be there for five minute, we may be there until the 31st of October. I take personal offence to that by the way, as it’s my birthday. We may be there until the end of 2020 or we may be there for the next five years so I think you need to consider the values of the candidates, you need to consider the values of the parties when you vote in this election. And you don’t want to mess with anything tactical with the D’hondt system because frankly it does not work.

Anyway, first of all tax justice. Tax justice is the most important question of the age. It’s one that can only be addressed through the European Parliament. It is absolutely key to the future because one of the factors that created Brexit in the first place is the feeling of the guy who comes to fix your plumbing and works as a self-employed businessman and can’t avoid paying corporation tax. That he is paying more corporation tax potentially in a year than Amazon, of Facebook or someone like that who can move themselves between jurisdictions. It is absolutely key that that is tackled, because we need a new settlement between people, corporations and government, that was wrecked in this country in the 1980s by Margaret Thatcher and has never been truly redressed.

The second most urgent problem and by far the most urgent problem for the whole planet is climate action. The greens are sincere about this. Absolutely we work with them in the parliament, but it is the work of one of the second largest groups that pulls the centre of the parliament towards climate action. And we want to move towards a zero carbon economy by 2050.

The third question I think you need to be looking at is a question of data and automation because that is going to affect the future of the economy and everything that is done in it. And I hope that the European parliament is ahead of the game on this but generally legislators aren’t, they are usually running to catch up. And unless we get to grips with that we’ll continue a situation where the next industrial revolution, the next major technological change will do exactly the same as all those other technological changes, they will make a few people massively wealthy and they will diminish the prospects of many others at the bottom end of the scale. So that needs to be just also.

And finally we need to manage migration, and by that I mean, I don’t mean migration within the European Union. I mean migration to the European Union. Because that’s going to be driven by climate change too and potentially by conflict. And we either have that in an organised and legal way, or we continue with migration crises. And that’s something we have to get to grips with together.

Catherine, (Bearder MEP) where were we on the 23rd of March? (She says, “I don’t know, Strasbourg”) No, we were both on Eurostar on the way to the peoples vote march, the third peoples vote march. And this is what I mean about elections potentially shattering alliances. And you need to consider this also. Because if you want to make a statement about ‘Brexit is bad’, then you know, vote with your heart. vote for the Liberal Democrats of whatever.

Because the fact is if you want to stop Brexit, then you need to think about it seriously, and you need to vote with your values. Because the fact of the matter is, there are 203 members of the Labour party in the House of Commons who have already voted for a public vote. There are 15 MEPs from the Labour party standing at this election who are in favour of a public vote. There is 88% of the Labour party membership that’s in favour of the public vote. And you know those graphs, that he showed earlier. if you cast Labour as a Brexit party (it isn’t) you will have a Brexit majority the day after these elections and I suggest that Vince Cable and Catherine are going to be wriggling around to try to explain that. When the fact of the matter is, you would not even be having these elections if it wasn’t for the work of the Socialists and Democrats with the parliament. Because I’ll tell you something else, the leader of the ALDE group in the parliament wants Britain out. And he said so, and I can find the quotes for you if you really want me to but he said it at the Brussels plenary round about the 4th of April. So I suggest that you bear it in mind when you vote, that you vote for what you believe in. that you vote for the policies that you believe in, and the change that you want to see in the European union to make it a European union for people as well as a European Union for profit.

Thanks for listening.

Vote Labour on 23 May.

Posted by John Howarth
Guest Blog: Cathy Shutt: Vote for a New Green Deal

Guest Blog: Cathy Shutt: Vote for a New Green Deal

Cathy Shutt, Labour’s No 2 Candidate in South East England writes:

One of the main reasons I am putting myself forward as a Labour MEP candidate for the South East region is to ensure funding proposals for the European New Green Deal reach the top of the European Commission’s legislative agenda.

Thanks to the remarkable Greta Thunberg and the Extinction Rebellion there is growing awareness of the threats posed by our climate emergency.  This is particularly relevant for the South East Region. We are vulnerable to sea level rise, drought and ecological damage resulting from climate change as well as the region’s economic success. Our international transport links, high level of manufacturing and economic activity have put huge pressure on housing and natural resources. The physics is undeniable; if we want our children to prosper, we need to lead by example and reduce our carbon emissions fast.

Over the past three years I have been part of an informal network interested in economics, politics and the climate emergency. We live in different places and come from different backgrounds. One is a professor of biology in the day and climate science junkie at night. Another is an engineer and renewables expert based in Brussels who worked for the UK electricity grid before it was privatised.

Thanks to our conversations, I’ve learned a few things regarding the practicalities of a transition to a zero emissions economy and the structural change this will involve.  I’ve also gained insights into the political interests that have made it difficult to galvanise support thus far.

The Green New Deal and addressing climate change is a massive project and one of the reasons we need to remain in Europe.  We can’t undertake the transformation required alone. On the one hand itrequires huge change to our global finance systems to stop the current practice of banks investing in fossil fuels.  On the other, it means changes to energy systems and the ways we heat our homes, power our industry and the types of transport we use to get about.

Change on this scale will have both benefits and costs. Renovating 250 million private dwellings in Europe, for example, is going to create vast numbers of jobs and enhance well-being.  These renovations will be expensive and cost about 5 trillion euros.  Overall, it is estimated that the European New Green Deal will take approximately 500 billion euros a year for up to 30 years.Relying on private finance is risky, therefore much of this money needs to come in the form of cheappublic finance from the European Investment Bank.

MEPs across the European Parliament will need to be politically savvy and cooperate to overcome vested interests to get this investment agreed and make the New Green Deal that will create hundreds of thousands of jobs a reality.  Much of the knowledge about climate change and renewable energy solutions has been around for a while.  But corporate lobbying by those who gain from austerity politics and investment in fossil fuels has made politicians slow to act.

I’m just the woman for the job.  I’m used to networking and speaking truth to power. If elected I look forward to working with other European MEPs across the Parliament to advocate for money that is needed to implement ideas outlined in the New Green Deal. Moreover, the added value of a Labour MEP making this case is that it aligns so well with Labour’s plans for a green industrial revolution outlined in our European Election manifesto and Labour’s proposals for Bringing Energy Home. Part of my job would involve redirecting EU investment back to support Labour’s green industrial revolution that aims to address societal divisions created by the Tory and Lib Dem coalition’s austerity policies. When successful this will make the UK the first country outside Scandinavia tomeet our climate obligations and contribute to making Europe the first carbon free continent in the world.

Posted by John Howarth
Don’t Buy the LibDem Lie

Don’t Buy the LibDem Lie

LibDems promise what they can’t deliver – again

It’s nothing new for the LibDems to make promises they can’t deliver. Remember tuition fees with all those sincere pledges signed by Nick Clegg and his chums?

Well they are at it again.

Their false promise is that voting LibDem in the European Elections will stop Brexit.

The lie behind this claim is that Labour is a Brexit Party – despite 85% of Labour members and the bulk of Labour voters favouring remaining in the European Union. Labour MPs, along with other parties that take the same view, have voted down Theresa May’s Brexit deal three times– because it is bad for jobs, bad for citizens’ rights, bad for Northern Ireland and not remotely what anyone, leave or remain, voted for. Labour also voted to block a ‘no deal’ exit and the Labour whips have twice instructed Labour MPs, during the House of Commons ‘indicative votes’ on alternative options for the Brexit process, to vote FOR a public vote on the final Brexit deal crated by the Labour MPs Peter Kyle and Phil Wilson. 203 Labour MPs accordingly voted for a confirmatory referendum. The LibDem have 11 MPs.

The Lead Labour candidates in every nation and region at these European Elections support a public vote on the final Brexit deal.

So it is a FACT that Labour in Parliament and Labour in the European Parliament support taking the Brexit settlement back to the people. Yet the LibDems, with their 11 MPs and a single MEP, claim to be “the biggest remain party”. This is so untrue it could be written on the side of a big red bus. Even if we ignore Labour for a moment, the Scottish National Party, with its 35 MPs and many more members than the LibDems, might reasonably feel aggrieved too.

But let’s park the big lie and come back to the false promise.

How exactly are the LibDems, with their 11 MPs, going to “stop Brexit”?

  • By wearing a nice jumper?
  • By waving yellow flags?
  • By almost saying something?
  • By jumping up and down a bit?

Well? Come on! Tell us!

You see I’m not doubting for a minute that the LibDems sincerely want Britain to remain in the EU. But they know very well they can’t achieve this without the support of the biggest opposition party where decisions will actually be made – i.e. Labour at Westminster. The fact is there is no public vote on Brexit without Labour support.

  • Labour has taken part in talks with the Government over what alternatives there may be that limit the damage of Brexit. That’s the right thing to do as a responsible opposition. The LibDems think they can say what they like because they will never be called to account.
  • Labour has stated it wants to bring the country together – well, who can deny that needs to happen? How was it helping when the LibDems called immediately for a second vote - in fact it made things much worse.
  • Labour has also stated, by its conference policy and its European Election manifesto that a Brexit deal should go back to the people. If and when it does this it is the country’s interest that the vote is between a less damaging option and remaining in the EU.

Make no mistake, what the LibDems are about here is naked party advantage. It has nothing to do with stopping Brexit and everything to do with reviving their party left in ruins by broken promises and five years of coalition with the Conservatives.

 

And in the European Parliament?

It is also worth mentioning that the Liberals in the European Parliament are prone to the same big talk and false promises of their British counterparts. The leader of the ALDE group in which the LibDems sit is a man called Guy Verhofstadt. This is the man who said he favoured British people being able to apply for individual European citizenship. Given that he has loads of experience, what with being a former Belgian Prime Minister, he knows very well that this is just not possible under the EU treaties. So why did he float it? Judging by my inbox there are plenty of people who believed it. Another Liberal another false promise – spotting a pattern here.

In fact Mr Verhofstadt has become far too fond of his monthly spats with Nigel Fararge, which generate plenty of heat but no light whatsoever. Mr Verhofstadt recently stated that he hoped Nigel Farage won the European election and it has become increasingly clear that he and a number of his ‘liberal’ colleagues would prefer Britain gone.

So be clear at this election – voting LibDem might be making a statement but it won’t alter the facts – there is no public vote on Brexit without Labour supporting it and voting against Labour makes it less likely Labour will do so.

So don’t buy the LidDem lie.

Posted by John Howarth
Climate and extinction crisis: urgent steps

Climate and extinction crisis: urgent steps

Last week MPs endorsed a Labour motion to declare a formal climate and environment emergency, making the UK parliament the first in the world to do so.  The Welsh and Scottish governments have both already declared a climate emergency, along with dozens of towns and cities, including Milton Keynes, Oxford, Reading, Brighton & Hove, Hastings and Oxfordshire - all Labour led or influenced.

The motion follows ten days of marches and protests by the group Extinction Rebellion, an international movement committed to bringing issues such as climate change to the fore. It also comes a matter of weeks after I listened as Greta Thunberg - Swedish school-striking climate activist and figurehead for a growing climate movement - urged MEPs to take emergency action to prevent a sixth mass extinction and days before the release of an alarming UN report that details just how rapidly that mass extinction is progressing.

This motion is a vital step in recognising the urgent need to take radical action to combat the climate crisis. The science behind the UN report and thousands of others is clear: humanity and life on Earth now face a direct existential threat, and unless we take decisive action, future generations will face utter catastrophe.

The UK is not immune to the devastating effects of climate change, and nor is South East England. Warmer summers brought on by climate change greatly increase the risk of cardiovascular or respiratory-related deaths, which scientists predict will cause more deaths in London and South East England than the rest of the country. In addition to increased average temperatures, we also face heavy rainfall and flooding, rising sea levels and more dramatic coastal erosion, as well as wildfires, droughts and extreme weather events. And as tends to be the way with these things, it is the poorest and most vulnerable in society that will suffer. Less well off communities in the UK will experience the worst effects of climate change as they are least able to bear the costs of damage to their homes and communities, or deal with food insecurity and rising living costs.

But sounding determined about climate change is one thing; taking decisive action is another. This is clearly demonstrated by the thoroughly ineffectual approach taken by the Conservatives, who in 2015 banned onshore wind projects and scrapped warm homes standards, in 2016 scrapped subsidies for solar energy, in 2017 sold off the Green Investment Bank, in 2018 forced fracking on local communities, and in 2019 refused to meet the climate strikers. Labour’s motion demonstrates that not only is it committed to tackling the climate crisis, but that it is the only party capable of securing a majority in Westminster that is.

Tackling climate change is often sold as an issue that requires individual action, where individual changes made to the way we all live can solve the problem. What we need instead is collective action that forces corporations (including the 100 companies that are responsible for 70 percent of emissions) to make fundamental changes to curb their environmental impact.

The EU provides us with the multi-government platform to effect that change to a crisis that doesn’t recognise borders. I have been directly involved with promoting a number of measures that are central to the next seven year EU budget framework, in particular the inclusion for the first time of ‘just transition’ funding to help communities adjust to a low carbon economy and to increase the proportion of funding directed to climate action.

At a national level, the climate crisis needs to be seen as Labour’s most significant challenge in government. We must increase our ambitions under the Climate Change Act in order to achieve net zero emissions before 2050, and I will continue to push for massive investment to make the UK a world leader in renewable energy; to significantly boost the electric car project and introduce the required energy infrastructure and more electric car hubs; greatly to increase the number of sustainable homes built and for the modification of existing ones; to embark on large-scale reforestation and rewilding programmes; and to make our nation’s food system more secure and sustainable.

Posted by John Howarth
A Labour vote: against this Tory Brexit and for a different Europe

A Labour vote: against this Tory Brexit and for a different Europe

Europe is at a crossroads. The certainties of the post-Cold War era were shaken by 9/11 and its aftermath and blown away by the 2008 financial crash and the decade of depression that followed. The roots of Brexit and the rise of new right populism are inherently linked to these events. The response of European social democracy has been well intentioned but slow and overly traditional, frequently relying on institutions that themselves have failed to adapt to circumstance.

Europe’s progressive forces have led the political development of the continent at important points and must learn to do so again. This does not require simply numbers in the European Parliament - though they help - it requires leading ideas that can command consensus, building movements that embody European ideals in today’s context and have the capacity not just to win arguments but to achieve consensus and pull the centre back toward the left. The creation of a new settlement of inclusion for the many.

While in some respects it may seem that progressive forces in Europe are historically weak, everything is relative. The centre right is also struggling. The lack of nuance in the response to the financial crash and Eurozone crisis, while ticking fiscal boxes and delivering the confidence of markets, trashed confidence in the social market model and left behind far too many people. Now the centre right struggles with the consequences and, while they might reject conservative nationalism and alt-right populism in theory their lack of answers too often leads to acquiescence. So the task, as ever, is shifting the consensus - not just back to where it was, but to a new post-populist settlement.

Owning the agenda and enabling solutions informed by progressive and socialist ideas requires the ability to address the great challenges of climate, freedom, technological transformation, the nature of work and education, fair taxation and sustaining peace and development in a destabilised international order. Europe frequently finds itself at crossroads - it’s a big continent with a lot of crossroads, but the breadth of challenges and the dark political backdrop should convince us of the critical importance of this juncture. In each of these areas there are seeds of hope in new thinking and the open-minded approach that recognises that neither the economic nor political dogmas of the twentieth century are fit for the age in which we live.

Socialist and progressive thinking brings a lot to the mix, but central and essential is a recognition that left to their own devices markets, as well as producing great innovations, produce great inequalities. The European Union remains the only real and partially successful attempt to address the inadequacies of the nation state and enhance its successes. Far from being the enemy of the nation state the EU, reformed and revitalised, can be the protector of national identity, the enhancer of national and regional culture and the guarantor of both the power of governance and of individual liberty. The potential role of the EU in calling to account transnational commercial interests and charting courses for progress on supra-national challenges remains self-evident. If it didn’t exist it would have to be invented.

Nonetheless, radical reform - institutional, political and budgetary is essential if the EU is to survive, prosper and regain the confidence of public and polity. While perceptions of democratic deficit are dated to some degree, the EU has much further to go. To overcome those perceptions the Union needs both to establish effective dialogue with its citizenry and further empower its elected politicians. Leaders fitted with tin ears fail to understand that pragmatism in a crisis is the best protector of progress while flexibility, scrutiny and responsiveness are not words that lend themselves to the governance of the Union - they need to be. Ensuring the accountability of the Commission through effective democratic scrutiny an essential first step both to regaining public confidence and delivering better evidence-based policy making.

One set of elections will not bring about the solution to these issues but they should be part of that road. The electoral programme of the Socialists and Democrats provides a vision of economic progress in which communities can see the prospect of ‘just transition’ - assistance and investment in moving to a post-carbon society rather than market abandonment. It offers a route where the priority for climate action and responsible environmental stewardship is based not merely on pious appeals to changing individual behaviour but on pragmatic but concerted governmental and social intervention to create the flow with which people can go. The new social democratic politics seeks to lead a reality that leaves behind the notion of leaving people behind. That will require an economic justice built on the understanding that inclusive digital societies must abandon old notions of an education that ‘ends’ and embrace a notion of education that ‘is’ and in turn, hard as it may be, rebuilds a value system where knowledge is ‘good’, is encouraged and is, yes, rewarded. Alongside this sits that old but ever more relevant adage best ironically summed up in the language of the time by that ultimate pragmatist, Harold Wilson - “The Labour Party is a moral crusade or it is nothing”. Socialists have struggled through their history with the balance of the individual and collective, most frequently in the balance between the power of the state and the freedom of the individual. It has tarnished the brand and ruined the perceptions of the left for generations. A decisive break from that past is crucial to the relevance of progressive ideas in the future for the notion of the individual subsuming their interests to that of the collective will never again fly - any progressive vision has to encompass the enhancement and protection of freedom. Continuing progress on the long road to gender equality, to the liberation of personal identity, the celebration of diversity and cultural freedoms all contribute to a world where the individual can be what they want to be, where discrimination and racism is once again unacceptable and where a set of modern values of citizenship and responsibility can be fostered.

So, assuming these elections to the European Parliament go ahead, a Labour vote is a vote not just against the incompetence and failure of this damaging Tory Brexit, but is also a vote for a different Europe. A Europe that uses its power to ensure that multinational corporations can no longer within impunity duck and dive to avoid paying fair taxes when ordinary people have no choice. A Europe where the tech giants are not allowed to exploit their monopoly power to manipulate data, violate the privacy of citizens, rip-off consumers online and exploit creative workers for mega-profits. A Europe where we can mobilise resources to combat climate change, where we can continue down the long road toward genuine gender equality and a Europe where the long battle to defend peace and democracy can be won.

A Labour vote is also a vote for a Europe that is a powerful, progressive voice on the world stage, a counter weight to Trump and Putin, using our collective strength to aid development, promote environmental responsibility and to stand with those who defend democracy and human rights.

It’s a new battle in an old fight - the good fight for peace, jobs and freedom - let’s go out and win it.

John Howarth MEP
12 April 2019.

Posted by John Howarth
Why does the U.K. have to have European Parliamentary Elections?

Why does the U.K. have to have European Parliamentary Elections?

It seems odd to many that nearly three years after a referendum that voted to leave the EU the U.K. is on the point of holding elections for the European Parliament. Of course the U.K. would not need those elections at all if it had managed to leave the EU on the timescale envisaged by the Government. That the U.K. hasn’t is entirely down to the Government.

So why does the U.K. need to have MEPs in place for what could be a very short period?

Under the international treaties (agreements) between the member states that are the rules of the EU, member states must have MEPs elected by their people and to the countries share of the votes in the Council - the two bodies that make EU law. So no election, MEPs, no membership.

Why does this matter? Could the U.K. just not send MEPs?

If the U.K. didn’t sent MEPs but was still a member state the decisions of the European Parliament made without U.K. MEPs could be legally challenged. The EU is a ‘rules based organisation’. The Union must follow the legal process.

Why could the U.K. not just make a special arrangement?

This is theoretically possible, however everyone else would have to agree to a special ‘protocol’ - an addition to the treaty that would allow the U.K. to make appointments. Approving such an agreement would taking time. MEPs cannot serve in national and the European Parliament, so who could be legitimately appointed?

What if the U.K. started Elections and called them off as it then left the EU?

This would be a problem because the elections would leave U.K. citizens in the EU27 would be entitled to vote in the 27 Member States, some may have voted, calling into question the legality of the elections. Similarly, EU citizens who voted or expected to vote in the U.K. would have been denied a vote in their home country. So for the U.K. to commence elections and not to conclude the process could be seen to be deliberately disruptive. Anyway, doesn't the Prime Minister understand we are quite enough of a laughing stock as it is?

What if the U.K. took part in the elections and the MEPs didn’t take their seats?

Less of a problem if a little odd, as well as being another sure way to wind up the EU27. In any case, the one point at which the U.K. must have MEPs in the Parliament is if and when the treaty governing the UK’s exit is ratified, otherwise the treaty is invalid so the terms of the UK’s exit could be legally questioned.

Why was President Macron so wound up about all this?

It wasn’t just him. The seats in the Parliament had been reorganised for the elections without the U.K. so that some member states got a few more MEPs - including France. It is more than a little inconvenient to revert to the old distribution.

Surely Theresa May understands this?

You might think so. I couldn’t possibly comment.

Posted by John Howarth
Gains for professional drivers in mobility package

Gains for professional drivers in mobility package

Three legislative reports, known together as ‘the mobility package’ have been making painfully slow progress through the European Parliament in the later period of this legislature. The package finally and somewhat unexpectedly was approved by the Parliament meeting in Brussels on 4 April.

Opposition to the mobility package came from several different sources - those on the right who felt it imposed too many obligations on haulier businesses, those in Eastern Europe with concerns about the impact on drivers operating away from their home country and a group of people who didn’t feel the package was going far enough. Add to this mix a Rapporteur (each of the report has a different one - so that’s a lot of people involved) who proved unable or unwilling to move the negotiations on.

It’s worth a little diversion here (excuse the pun) because this is a good illustration (for those who are interested) of how things are done in the European Parliament. The Rapporteur is an MEP appointed by the responsible Committee to lead the process on a report. They draft the response of the Committee to the draft laws tabled by the European Commission (the civil service). The Rapporteur will draft amendments or develop the text of the report which will be voted upon by their Committee along with those tabled by the shadow Rapporteurs appointed by the other political groups (rapporteurships are allocated to the different political groups in the Parliament according to their size). The Rapporteur and the shadows will ususally on a significant report try to negotiate compromise positions likely to gain majority approval - though this doesn’t always happen nor succeed. One further complication is that on many reports more than on Committee has a say on a piece of legislation. For example here the Transport Committee was the lead Committee on the Mobility Package but the Employment Committee was also involved as the report came into its competence. In this case each committee has a Rapporteur - they do not always agree as they may have different politics or come at the issue from a different perspective. Where there are many different views and perspectives it can be very complicated to get a result. You might wonder why the Parliament has such a complex process - well the world is a complicated place and if you are going to get leislation that works you need a process that takes account of that.

This latest Mobility Package was seeking to address a number of problems: rest breaks, safety provisions and ‘work-life balance’ for professional drivers; competition issues within the industry; and migratory ‘undercutting’ that has produced distortions in the market. Long distance driving is one area where the requirement to do things at a European level is obvious and where the effect of drivers from the U.K., Brexit or not, is equally so. The ability to implement and police such legislation did not exist until tachographs because sufficiently smart to record geo-positioning of vehicles, thus tracking in which member states a vehicle was operating at any time is now practical.

This ability to police legislation is essential. The problem of professional drivers being ‘posted’ to other member states where they work internally for wages much lower than their local counterparts is frequently exploitative, disruptive of family life, causes distortion of local markets and resentment from the local workforce. The package seeks to limit this practice (know for some reason as cabotage) within limits that restore work-life balance and broadly require the same pay for the same work in the same place.

In the end the mobility package was approved despite a rearguard that involved the repeated tabling of many hundreds of amendments and procedural attempts to kill the legislation through repeated postponement. In the end, however, a majority was established and Socialists and Democrats found a compromise with other groups that delivered the key elements the transport unions had sought but which protected haulier businesses and therefore jobs. It may be difficult, it is necessarily complex but it is undeniably important that if the EU is to mean anything to working people then it must be able to address issues like those in the mobility package.

Posted by John Howarth