A ‘Remain and Reform’ message is the key to Labour winning the next general election, to ending Brexit, and to finishing Tory dominance of our politics.
Remain on its own is not enough – we have to talk about the reform that’s needed in the EU and the UK; by doing so offering voters the hope that the change they want can be realised.
If the new Tory leader fails to deliver Brexit, the Conservative Party will split asunder. But to win the subsequent battle we need to win public opinion on Brexit.
More than money
Any argument to Remain in the EU cannot be simply based on a cold economic calculation that households are a few thousand pounds a year better off if we stay. Nor can it be based on an argument that the EU is flawed, but being out is so much worse so we had better make the best of a bad job.
Instead we need to argue for Remain on the basis that membership of the EU has resulted in significant benefits for the UK, and all who make their home here, that goes far beyond mere financial gain.
Tangible benefits like peace in Europe for more than 70 unprecedented years; the ability to partner with our European allies on the biggest issues of our age, including climate chaos, the rise of automation and AI, and the increasing threats to our way of life from a belligerent Russia and a repressive China; the ability to partner on security, education and scientific research that benefit all of us and enrich our lives in ways that go far beyond a simple economic transaction.
This positive argument to Remain is best made from the progressive left in Britain, who can claim common cause with socialists from across the continent. Those who, like us, wish to see an end to climate chaos, to regional inequality and to poverty, and to ensure that safety standards and workers’ rights are not cast aside in a rush for trade agreements with the US and others.
A better EU
But we also need to make a progressive argument for the UK helping to reform the EU. July’s example of national leaders ignoring the lead candidates put forward by parties for President of the Commission during the European election campaign – and plucking a new name out of the hat as a ‘compromise’ – was hardly edifying for those of us who want to see a fully democratic EU.
Equally, the bloc’s inability to deal with inward migration from North Africa and the Middle East is another evident point of concern. Progressives need to be at the heart of these debates.
We must also take into account the reforms needed in the UK. Many of the grievances felt by Labour Leave voters are problems created by Westminster, not by Brussels.
It is Westminster that has failed to resolve regional inequality in the UK; that has failed to develop an economic policy that would see decent wage rises in the last decade; and that has failed to build enough houses to meet the needs of a growing population.
Reform is the frame through which Labour can argue for both for our EU membership and for an end to Conservative Government. Remain and Reform provides the clear story the party and the country needs to hear. It is a message of hope that cannot be told by an unrelentingly negative right. Reform can only be led by the progressive left.
The Brexit debate has over recent months become more polarised, rather than less. Committed Leave voters have flocked to the Tories and the Brexit Party, while Remainers have sought the clarity offered by the Lib Dems, Greens and SNP. What could be, before May, written off as aberrant polls was proved by the cold hard fact of the local and European election results, which saw Labour fall to a mere 14%. There is no escaping that voters wanted clarity on Brexit – one way or another.
The Leave myth
Despite this, the belief that to win Leave seats Labour needs to continue to make a play for Leave votes persists in certain circles, with some equivocation about what Labour might do in government. The facts do not support this theory.
In a Leave voting seat that is a Conservative / Labour marginal it is certain that a large majority of Labour voters voted Remain. Three years on, any Leave voters that Labour still has – and it’s a fact that we have them – are likely more wedded to our party than they are to Leave. We are now in far more danger of losing large numbers of Remain voters to the Lib Dems and others than we are to losing more Leave voters. Getting this right is our only route to power, and to ending the disaster that Brexit has become.
The fact that the Brexiters, and hence the Tories, are only offering job losses, less safe communities and reduced ability to challenge the world’s bad guys, means that Labour has an open door to offer a more hopeful, and crucially achievable, future. The mantle of ‘Remain and Reform’ is Labour’s means to offer that future.
Remain and Reform is a new think tank which aims to provide the space for discussions on how progressive and radical Remain and Reform policy can transform the UK and Europe to the benefit of all.
Mike Buckley is Director of Remain and Reform. Richard Corbett is Leader of Labour MEPs in the European Parliament. Jude Kirton-Darling is a Labour MEP.