The Labour Party is busy. In amongst the rifts and the factionalism, the Blairites versus the Corbynistas, the left versus the far-left, another fight is developing. This time, it’s about squashing dissent on the European Union. A small but growing band of Labour MPs have dared to put their careers on the line to speak out and stand up for an old Labour tradition of Euroscepticism; they say that Britain would be better off by leaving the European Union. In the days of Clement Atlee or Tony Benn – Hugh Gaitskell even – these dyed-in-the-wool Labour Party giants stood up against the forerunner of today’s European Union.
Today that same charge is led by Kate Hoey, who I respect more than any other Labour MP. There’s Frank Field, the solid Northern MP for Birkenhead. Gisela Stuart MP was pro-European Union until she assisted in drafting the European Constitution [now Lisbon Treaty], and what she saw put her off the EU for good. Then there’s Khalid Mahmood, an MP from the Birmingham area who wants to leave the EU to help his local business community. Kelvin Hopkins wants to leave to boost workers’ rights, and to give the power to renationalise railways and postal services. I might add Graham Stringer, Roger Godsiff or closer to home, Ronnie Campbell – MP for Blyth Valley. Labour’s biggest private donor, John Mills, is putting his money where his mouth is to join the campaign. At the periphery, there’s a former Defence minister in Lewis Moonie.
It’s a pretty solid base considering the vitriol aimed at them by their own supporters. I’ve spoken to senior people in the various Leave campaigns; their experience is that a large number of Labour councillors will privately support EU withdrawal. But very few, if any, dare to go on the record. They’re tearing their hair out with frustration at all the untapped support. I’ve heard words along the lines of “I used to be a Labour councillor. I don’t agree with UKIP on much, but we need to be out of the European Union” many times, often through chance encounters when campaigning. Labour councillors have often turned up to UKIP events, usually because they’re interested in leaving the EU.
But don’t expect them to admit to it. Kate Hoey is branded a ‘serial maverick’ by the deputy leader of Labour’s MEPs. I would have thought that David Lammy MP’s comment that “A million Indians died fighting for us, they fought for the European project” should be considered more maverick not least because he rewrites history and forgets that the EU didn’t exist in any form until a long time after World War 2.
Then one of the North East Labour MEPs attacks the Labour Leave website. As I understand it, the Labour Leave – like Conservative Leave and so on – are all umbrella organisations of Vote Leave. The Labour Leave website was set up by some of the top people in Vote Leave. Cue faux outrage and an absurd leap of logic, the Labour mavericks must be in cahoots with Tories! Spin aside, it’s no more than pro-EU Labour MPs are in cahoots with David Cameron.
Top Labour donor John Mills hits the nail on the head: ‘There are many Labour MPs who do want out of Europe but won’t say so’. He’s right, even if he does confuse the wonderful continent of Europe with the appalling European Union. Indeed, even Jeremy Corbyn was for decades a staunch Eurosceptic. He wouldn’t rule out campaigning to leave the EU until he realised that he might be deposed by his own MPs if he did.
But for now the number of Labour MPs prepared to speak out against the European Union remains small. It’s the tyranny of the majority; rebellion would not be treated kindly. The Labour Party is broadly pro-EU, but it is not united. It’s telling that when Mills called for Shadow Cabinet members to have the freedom to campaign for a ‘Leave’ vote if they wish, no movement was forthcoming. If such a policy applied to the Shadow Cabinet, then other MPs and councillors might follow suit rather than lying low. Ultimately what certain elements of the Labour Party don’t want you to know is that it’s okay to be Labour and to want our freedom back from the European Union. I could say the same incidentally about the Greens; Jenny Jones, former Deputy Mayor of London and one of the Green Party’s three members of the House of Lords, is vocal in the anti-EU campaign.
Why does any of this matter? Why am I, as a UKIP MEP, writing about the Labour Party? Because the forthcoming referendum is the most important decision we’ll make for a generation. I’d urge everyone to look at the issues for themselves and make up their own minds, rather than unthinkingly vote according to what they perceive as the Party line.
This article was originally published in The Journal.