Campaigning on the doorstep for the last few weeks I’ve been asked multiple times what the point of these elections are. In all honesty, I considered that question myself when deciding to stand. We don’t know how long this set of MEPs will represent us for. It could be until the end of October, it might be for one or two years, or it could be for a full five year term. When I stood for election to the European parliament it was because I was determined that, however long we remain inside the EU, it is important to elect representatives who will stand up for the interests of working people across the country.
Although they arise from the Brexit negotiations limbo, these elections do provide us with an opportunity. And that is the opportunity to bring a message of hope and unity to a deeply divided Britain. The campaign so far has seen many political parties doing their best to deepen the divisions of the referendum. The Green Party, Change UK and the Liberal Democrats all see themselves as the flag-bearers of Remain, while the Conservatives, UKIP and the Brexit Party seek to represent the other half of the country that voted to leave.
The fact that Labour is not flag-waving for either camp has led to accusations of indecision. But that isn’t the case. Our position in these elections owes to the fact that we refuse to accept the lines of division which other parties have drawn. We don’t seek to represent just the 52% or the 48%. We represent the 99% of our society, the vast majority who work to create the wealth, build our communities and keep our public services running. These are the people who’ve suffered under austerity and not seen a pay rise in real terms in over a decade. Some voted to Leave, others voted to Remain. But a Remain voter in London and a Leave voter in Sunderland have far more in common with each other than they do with either Vince Cable or Nigel Farage, the former of whom implemented austerity policies and the latter who would sell off our NHS if given half a chance.
It suits politicians with these records to make this election a Brexit culture war, but it is about so much more than that. It is about what kind of Britain and what kind of Europe we want to see. Do we support the orthodoxy, here and across the continent, that the role of government is to cut public services and let the market run free? Or do we want to send a message that the current economic system is not working for the many, but only for a privileged few? The latter is what Labour believes and it is why we, alongside our sister parties in the Party of European Socialists (PES), believe in implementing transformative economic and social policies that redistribute wealth and power.
The PES 2019 Manifesto stands in clear opposition to austerity and commits to promoting long-term investment in Europe’s economies, as well as combatting insecure work and in-work poverty, supported by an emboldened European Labour Authority. The most important proposal so far has been the creation of a European Minimum Wage, which would be set based on average earnings within each member state. But it also commits us to binding rules to strengthen the welfare state, to a Europe-wide campaign to ban zero hour contracts, and to combat tax evasion by the elite and major corporations. These are the policies which Labour MEPs will be fighting for. You won’t find them in liberal or right-wing manifestos, nor in the platforms of the Lib Dems or the Brexit Party. Labour is the only party standing in these elections that has a clear message on the economy, public services and workplace rights at a national and European level.
As we make our case for improving the lives of working people we will face a threat from a far-right whose aim is to turn them against each other. The UKIP standing across the country today is not the party of even a few years ago, but an emboldened fringe of extreme right-wingers. ‘Tommy Robinson’ is also standing as an independent candidate in the North-West, aiming to whip up anti-Muslim hatred. Labour is clear in its opposition to these politics, which want to use the despair and alienation many people feel as a vehicle to drive our society to a darker place. The growth of the far-right can only be prevented with a bold economic agenda that addresses Britain’s burning injustices.
There is no denying that the country is divided. And the roots of this division are deep. In many ways they can be traced to the policies pursued by Thatcher’s government, and not remedied by those which followed; policies that drove this country apart and left too many places in the City of London’s shadow. Labour rejects the idea that politics should be solely defined by how people voted in 2016. Our problems go back so much farther. Perpetuating the referendum’s divisions won’t move us forward.
The polls for the European elections indicate that it’s a tight race between the Labour Party and Brexit Party, both nationally and across many regions. If you share our values of equality and social justice, if you want to see the policies Labour argued for in the 2017 General Election spread across Europe, if you’re sick of the economy working only for a privileged few, then the Labour Party is who you should vote for. Because our politics isn’t about representing the 52% or the 48%. It’s about representing the 99%. If you have the time, spend a few hours door knocking or delivering leaflets in the coming days—because people need to hear that message of hope.