Convincing the British public to remain in the European Union should be the overriding priority for our political leadership this year. Britain’s economic strength, jobs and trade, our quality of life and our long-term security are all on the ballot paper in the June referendum.
That’s why we are calling on the leadership of the Labour party to campaign relentlessly for our EU membership with passion and without equivocation. This is overdue. It matters and it requires more than the occasional speech. The government may be in disarray, but now is the time for Labour to show leadership on this defining issue. The Tories are deeply divided and Labour can show unity here. We must explain how a Remain vote is vital and how we can shape the future of Europe.
After all, with only 10 weeks until the most momentous decision facing this generation, there are millions of Labour supporters looking not just for information from government literature but for inspiration from the party they trust.
We can’t afford to leave this job to David Cameron. Many voters in our constituencies will not take the word of Tory ministers. The achievements of European collaboration – employment rights and social protections – often go unrecognised. The Labour party’s leadership has the ability to gain a hearing with communities that we represent.
According to the poll in last week’s Observer, only 47% of people are aware that Jeremy Corbyn is in favour of remaining in the EU, compared with 78% who know that the PM wants Britain to stay. This worrying differential should be a wake-up call. That’s why we want to encourage Jeremy to step up his efforts and convey this crucial message.
Alan Johnson and his team are doing a fantastic job. The Labour in for Britain campaign has hit the ground running. And as backbench MPs we will do our bit, making the case on doorsteps across our constituencies. But this isn’t an issue that can be simply outsourced or delegated. There are some moments when party leaders can make a real difference in shaping events – and this is such an occasion.
It’s the centre-left that can make the best case for a 21st-century European Union. While those on the extremes of politics espouse isolationism and disengagement, the progressive mainstream believes in the potential of cooperation, building alliances, gaining more working together than we do on our own. Britain faces a fork in the road and Labour has a duty to persuade people that we gain more by pooling our efforts and engaging with our neighbours than pulling up the drawbridge.
This isn’t a referendum that should be on a knife-edge; we can’t afford a repeat of the Scottish referendum where, despite a win for staying united, the question continues to linger. A decisive victory is needed and Labour has a responsibility to help deliver this.
If we remain in the European Union, this will be down in no small part to the votes of Labour supporters, something for which our party can legitimately take much of the credit. But if the British public vote to leave the EU, we will only have ourselves to blame – and many will naturally ask whether leaders of our main political parties did enough to pull their weight.
The fate of our country’s future isn’t just in the hands of the PM but also [in the hands of] the leader of the Labour party. We need Jeremy to convey that urgency and set out with force the issues at stake. The time is now for Labour’s leadership to stand up and not to stand by.
Chris Leslie is a former shadow chancellor; Adrian Bailey is the Labour MP for West Bromwich; Ben Bradshaw is a former Labour culture secretary; and Emma Reynolds is a former Labour spokeswoman on Europe
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