Reform not retreat: building Labour’s campaign for Britain in Europe

The public are not as Eurosceptic as you think; the lessons of the Scottish referendum must be heeded; and pro-Europeans need to speak a language people can hear were the key themes underpinning the panelists’ answers at the EPLP fringe event on building Labour’s campaign for Britain in Europe at the Labour Party Conference in Manchester today.

Byron Taylor, national officer of Unions Together, spoke of the need for something different from Europe, and for pro-Europeans to deploy stronger arguments:

“Europe is baffling to most voters, both in terms of the issues it dealt with and their context. Pro-Europeans need to get their point across better – the perception the EU is a distant entity with a democratic deficit is a huge issue.

“Freedom of movement, and the undercutting of wages, social dumping and use of agency workers are leading to a rise in support for UKIP – workers did not sign up to this. It is a huge issue and needs to be addressed.

“We need to be quicker, sharper and better in our arguments. We have good lines on immigration, maternity pay, sick pay and other rights at work and we need to win these debates. We are moving in the right direction but we have to think differently.

“There’s a lot we can learn from the mistakes in the Scottish referendum campaign, which were exploited by the nationalists. We need to talk to people about issues which affect them, then we can get out messages on Europe.”

Joe Twyman, YouGov’s head of political research for Europe, Middle East and Africa, said:

“Europe is not actually very important to people. It’s not the main issue for people. Most people don’t care, don’t think about it and ignore discussions. Fifty eight per cent of people want a referendum on Europe, including more than 40 per cent of Labour voters, but people will tell you they want a referendum on anything – a majority of UKIP supporters want a referendum on our membership of the Eurovision song contest!

“Whenever you ask the question, it is extremely close – 51%:49% in May. It is about 50:50 across the. But when confronted with options other than just in/out, only 25 per cent want to leave – and only 69% of UKIP voters. Less than a fifth of Labour voters, and under a third of Tories. The most popular option is renegotiation and reform. Sixty nine per cent want significant reform. One of the best and worst points is freedom of movement – more than two thirds understand why it exists, but less than a quarter think it a good deal.

“No one understands the European Parliament, MEPs, Groups. Most people couldn’t name a single MEP or their party. Though the ECHR is nothing to do with the EU, people are saying ‘I want to leave Europe because I hate human rights’ – they’re actually saying that!”

On the lessons of the Scottish referendum, Joe added:

“Don’t leave it so late! There was a lot of complacency, then public opinion started to change. Then after one poll all hell broke loose. Farage and Salmond are mirror images of each other. Both are very good at mopping up the distrustful, dissatisfied and disappointed, those who feel left behind. The Scottish Yes were very good at gathering those younger voters, UKIP are getting those older voters.

“You don’t succeed without a positive message. We need to talk about fairness, security and economic success. Positive messages have a greater impact.”

Rachel Franklin, research and campaigns manager at British Influence, said:

“We need to talk about completing the single market, a single market in energy, a globalised world, we need to make the arguments. There is a legitimacy deficit, people don’t understand what’s happening in Brussels. We need people to buy into the concept. Wider society, trade unions, climate groups, NGOs need to be advocates in the media. We need to mobilise voices in society to stand up.

“UKIP’s policies are the key to beating them. On equality, climate change – we need to attack them on more than their xenophobia. Also, what is their alternative? Norway? They have legislation without representation. We need to talk about these issues.

“Scotland us the value of campaigning, it was quite heartening actually. Yes did very well, getting 300,000 volunteers on the ground. Turnout was massive. We need to mobilise people ahead of an EU referendum. People say Westminster is dying. The rise of Salmond and Farage shows this. Everybody has a responsibility to speak out now.”