Monday, February 27, 2012

"Britain and Europe: Which way for Labour?"

Last week I attended (late) the joint meeting with Newham Compass and Fabians on "Britain and Europe: Which way for Labour?". Which took place at the West Ham FC supporters club in Castle Street, East Ham (now
what would Alf Garnett have made of this?)

Jon Cruddas MP, who was billed as a speaker with former MEP Anita Pollack, could not attend since he had to vote on the Health and Social Care Bill in the House of Commons (a very honourable excuse).

I only made the Q&A but Anita (who lives in Newham and was the former MEP for London South West from 1989 to 1999) was I thought on form and gave a passionate, no nonsense  and honest response to questions. It was one of the best attended Newham Compass or Fabians events that I have attended in recent times. It was chaired by former Newham Labour Councillor Graham Lane.

Please note my usual disclaimer about the absolute accuracy of my hurried and fumbled (two thumbed) Blackberry notes.

Anita responded to a question about the power of MEPs. She reminded us that in the beginning, the European Parliament had very limited powers. In 1979 it could only refuse to accept the budget set by the (unelected) European commission. Nowadays the Parliament has equal powers with commission. MEP's do have power. For example they managed to transform the recent Service Directive. Which is still not perfect but could have completely eroded workers rights had MEP's not amended it out of all recognition.

She then had a question about whether a Referendum on continued membership of the EU was not a good idea to settle the issue once and for all. Anita was firmly against. She understood that some good Europeans such as Jon Cruddas MP were for a referendum for this reason. However she thought that the "flat earthers" (those totally and utterly against the EU) would not be convinced if they lost a referendum in the same way that the one in 1977 (during which she admitted she opposed membership) did not settle anything permanently at all.

Anita admitted that she had maybe been wrong about UK membership of the Euro and it was not going to work. She was surprised however that Ed Balls MP in the Andrew Marr TV show on Sunday had said that this would not happen "in  his lifetime". There could be a "two speed Europe" with the Original 6 EU members forming a separate political and economic union. 

She had not read the full text but she understood that the EU Socialist Group was very much against. the "economic straight jacket" being proposed.

She noted amusingly that in America the Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, had been criticised for speaking French. When a good comrade made a separate point about British cultural isolation  by saying he had lived for "20 years in Europe mainly in France" Anita interrupted by saying "you have lived all your life in Europe, we are in Europe now".

Anita Greens was firm in response to a question about aliening to the Greens who were "pink socialists". In her view they were not at all "socialist". There was some good people in the Greens but many are in "Cloud cuckoo land". While you can work with individuals such as Caroline Lucas they are not "soft pink". Some of them she had come across in Europe had even believed in Eugenics. The Greens have different political values, they are not socialists even if we agree with some of their policies. 

A few of us stayed behind afterwards to continue to put Europe (and the world) to rights.
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