The Daily Telegraph’s Brussels correspondent Bruno Waterfield rightly criticises the Labour Party’s lack of European vision after hearing a speech by Harriet Harman yesterday. I was on a Eurostar from London while Harriet was speaking, so did not hear her exact words, but you have to have some sympathy with her position – and indeed any loyal UK Labour politician when it comes to speaking about the EU. There is an essential contradiction between loyalty to all of the positions towards the EU that Labour has taken in government since 1997, and all of the developments that have taken place in the EU over the same period. For what it’s worth I reckon Harriet is quite a convinced pro-European and as I ran the website for her Deputy Leadership election I’ve met her plenty of times.
For a start the UK remains outside the Euro and Schengen, yet at the same time wants to sound liberal and pro-market in Brussels when it comes to economic reform, and keen that the EU should deal with terrorist threats, while still keeping its opt-out on JHA matters in the Reform Treaty. The UK wants to sound green, but has been allocated a low renewables target by the Commission (Sweden’s target is almost 50%) and has had dreadful problems with waste disposal. Opposition to the Working Time Directive has set the UK government at odds with all other centre-left parties in other Member States. For good measure let’s also throw in the divisions caused by the Iraq war, and Gordon Brown turning up late to sign the Lisbon Treaty. So how do you make an EU vision out of all of that?
So this is where Bruno Waterfield’s analysis lacks nuance. While he is right to point out that Labour lacks a European vision, he fails to look at the reasons why this might be the case, and the constraints within which Harriet finds herself. Waterfield has not yet managed to attain the level set by his predecessor David Rennie in this regard. Waterfield’s ‘Oh, well, Prince Charles is a eurosceptic‘ piece is equally uni-dimensional.
As for what to do about Labour’s lack of European vision… Well, that’s a whole lot harder.