Conference Diary – Day 3: Europe

I started with Europe again – I make no apology: as Jan Royall said, the referendum is going to be the most significant vote any of us has ever taken part in. Socialist elected representatives from Holland, France, Denmark, Ireland and Bulgaria spoke about how they had dealt with referenda in their own countries – what had worked, and what had not.

In the Dutch referendum on the proposed EU Constitution, 128 out of their 150 Parliamentarians were backing the “Yes” vote. When it came to the poll, the turnout was high and over 60% voted “No”. Every section of society voted “No”, but young people, women, and low-paid workers were even more heavily “No” than the rest. The lessons? – Go all the way, don’t use shades Be positive, don’t use negative phrases Don’t use absurd scaremongering Use good news stories that are real and happening.

The Danish representative warned us not to use the “Britain is so small” line – it didn’t work in Denmark – which has about the same population as Scotland. Young people in Denmark do feel European, but when it comes to politics they just don’t know what is going on. We should involve the Voluntary sector and pressure groups too, as they have the trust factor.

The French had had a referendum on Maastricht – all the main political parties were in favour, but the populist left and the populist right formed a coalition for “No”. The vote was won by just 51% to 49%. When it came to the vote on the EU Constitution it was a virtual re-run, but this time the “No” vote was 54%, on a 74% turnout. What had proven toxic was the public perception of a collusion between the Partie Socialiste and the Gaullistes – the actual issues became irrelevant, the vote was just pro or anti-establishment. In this respect, Corbyn as a clear anti-Austerity campaigner will be a great champion for our vision of Europe which will be credible for those who might have (mistakenly!) seen the EU as a bankers’ union up to now.

The Bulgarian President of the Party of European Socialists (PES) – the umbrella Party that the European Parliamentary Labour Party (EPLP)  is aligned to – pledged that all members of the PES would do whatever they could to support us in winning the referendum. He didn’t say what he thought anyone from other EU countries COULD do of course – my guess it is virtually nothing. But he did say that Bulgarian socialists – and the whole PES – supported our campaign against the Posted Workers Directive and unfair agency practices. He urged us to sound self-confident (not complacent) and appeal to people’s emotions – tell human stories, he said.

The Irish member explained how they had mobilised Irish voters abroad, Europen citizens in Ireland, and capitalised on a positive “Yes” vote. He didn’t realise that all 3 of those avenues are closed to us. I asked if there was anything we could now do to enfranchise the voters who have been so shamefully excluded, and challenge the word that has been foisted on us by the Electoral Commission – “Remain” – a word which has virtually zero positive vibe. I got no answer.

My mind ran on how we could combat the problem of the word – I came up with the slogan “YES Let’s RemaIN” – but I don’t suppose for one moment anyone will actually use any useful or positive slogans. The situation couldn’t be much worse if they decided to put all the polling stations in Clacton. I am convinced that we can do something about the franchise and I will sound out pro-European campaigners to see if they will agree with me.

That’s all about Europe, I promise! I’ll fill you in on the rest of the Conference this afternoon.

Sandy Martin, Group Leader, 29/09/15

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