A One Nation Labour case for Europe
2013 will see us unveiling our plans for how we can reunite Britain and create a One Nation country.
Under the Tories, we have become a divided country, with fragmented groups living side by side: the rich and the poor, the working and the out-of-work, the Brits and the non-Brits, the young and the old.
With Cameron and Osborne gifting the wealthiest minority with a cut of the top rate of income tax from 50p to 45p, the Tories’ masks are slipping to reveal their true nasty face. As Frances O’Grady put it, pushing hard working people to the edge of poverty and, having done that, calling them scroungers, is the true definition of ‘nasty’.
The real picture is a 146% increase in long-term unemployment, 6.5 million people looking for full-time work without finding it, and an increase in part-time work and self-employment – spun by the coalition as an increase in the rate of employment.
As a recent poll conducted by the TUC found, voters estimate that benefit fraud amounts to 27% of the welfare bill; in reality, this figure does not exceed 0.3%. To me, this is the real consequence of a divided nation, when people do not stick together but are forced to compete. ‘Mors tua vita mea’, the Latin expression goes; today, we might say ‘your defeat is my victory’.
Recently, while campaigning in a by-election in Sutton, I spoke with a working mum, who was expecting her second child. She was angry about her local hospital shutting down, worried about the many miles there would be to travel when she went into labour; she was appalled by all the local schools being forced to turn into academies, having moved to the area for the quality of its state education.
She felt a deep sense of betrayal, because what she wanted for her family, the institutions that hold our communities together and enable social cohesion, are being dismantled by the Tories. Many feel just as, if not more, betrayed: as Rachel Reeves wrote on Saturday, the Tories ‘cannot bring the change we need because they don’t see anything wrong with the way this country is run in the interests of a few at the moment’.
In the same way, at the European level, Cameron is betraying people here in Britain – simply to appease the vociferous eurosceptics in his party. We need Europe, as much as Europe needs us. That working mother in Sutton needs the social Europe that introduced equal pay and maternity rights. Her husband’s small business needs to be able to benefit from a new European framework for investment in SMEs, replacing the orthodoxy of austerity that has prevailed in Europe since the crisis. And for the sake of her children and future prosperity, she needs to feel safe that Britain will be alongside Europe negotiating with the emerging economic powerhouses: from ASEAN in the Far East to MERCOSUR in South America, as this cannot be done on our own.
Being patriotic means being fighting for a different Europe too.
The right-wing parties across Europe defend the same values and similar policies. Their response to the financial crisis is a key example of this, with blunt cuts and no grip on growth, which have pushed countries like Greece ever-closer to the edge.
At present, political parties on the Left can hardly promote a common programme; we are heterogeneous, and have different roots. Nevertheless, the challenge we face is the same: how to interpret social democratic values in modern times.
With Hollande in power in France, and promising elections ahead this year for both Bersani’s Democratic Party in Italy and the German SPD, led by the credible former finance minister Peer Steinbrück, there is a chance for a different Europe.
The French socialist government is creating a State Investment Bank (BPI) at the start of this year, to offer companies a tailored funding service and, under the new National Investment Programme, the BPI will be called upon to operate a brand new innovation support program.
We are thinking of doing the same in Britain. This shows there is a common ground, and we can shape a common future at home, as well as in Europe, where we know investment in innovation, SMEs and public infrastructure must be key priorities for a return to growth.
Standing up for hard-working people and One Nation Britain, to me, means making a case for Britain in Europe. We need to make the link, and show that being patriotic goes hand-in-hand with being an active member of the EU, working together to equip Europe for growth and change.