Europe Report 2016

The speech from Julie's Europe Report 2016, prepared for Labour's North West Regional Conference on 5-6 November.

"Good morning Conference,

It’s a great honour to be delivering the Europe Report today, on behalf of Labour MEPs for the North West. I did not believe for 1 minute when I submitted my candidate application form on Dec 31st 2012, that it would ever lead to this and I would like to think that my selection and election from a position of relative obscurity can be an inspiration for others, especially new members who have joined recently because of Jeremy's leadership and our return to socialist policies.

Over the past 2 and a half years there have been great joys, triumphs and celebrations, but also immense disappointment, sorrow and distress, especially as we three North West Labour MEPs personally campaigned very hard for a REMAIN result in the referendum. I would like to thank all of you and also our trade union comrades who campaigned alongside us in all parts of the constituency, believing that our social rights and future prosperity lie within a more progressive European Union, not outside of it as an isolated diminished power at the mercy of unregulated markets.

We have always been an incredibly hardworking and dedicated team and we've been able to achieve a great deal during our time in office and especially over the past twelve months, and we remain committed to being your representatives as we go forwards in uncertain, difficult and dangerous times.

Between us we bring different strengths to the job and a huge range of interests and sectors. There are 20 standing committees within the European Parliament and  each of us has one main committee responsibility and several other 2nd or substitute committees.

I am the European Parliamentary Labour Party's (EPLP) lead for Culture, Education, Arts, Sport, Youth, Citizenship, Media and Broadcasting, and as an active member of the CULT Committee, I'm proud to be given lots of responsibilities by our political group, the Socialist & Democrats (S&D). For example, I authored an important report in response to the Charlie Hebdo murders and the Danish and Paris attacks, outlining how to tackle radicalisation, racism and discrimination through pro-active positive programmes of work with young people, refusing to demonise what in many ways is a 'lost generation'.  This report on intercultural dialogue was adopted in the European Parliament in January with a large majority and has been taken up by progressive forces around Europe although predictably not by our current Tory government who prefer to decimate our education and youth services and force austerity measures on arts, libraries and museums where much positive intercultural work has been taking place.

Both Theresa and I are proud to work closely with the UK's cultural industries, bringing key players and innovators to the European Parliament to share best practice, such as Manchester's Sharp Project tech start-up hub, the Bolton Octagon's unique partnership with Bolton at Home social housing project, Preston-based Curious Minds regional arts in education service, the Hungarian circus family who run Blackpool Tower's world-famous attraction and dozens of young NW creatives pursuing socially engaged arts with the support of the business development network, PANDA.

Recently the Culture Committee hosted the award-winning filmmaker Ken Loach in the parliament alongside other notable European filmmakers. Ken and I had recently appeared on the same platform in Liverpool speaking at a rally to save the Liverpool Women's Hospital. A few weeks later his film 'I, Daniel Blake' was previewed at the Labour Film Festival in Liverpool, where I was proud to speak on the platform with NW TUC's Lynn Collins. It is this linking up of local activism at European and international level that we must now build upon, working more closely with wider partners to address poverty, climate change and other global challenges.

Other CULT Committee responsibilities have included a report on anti-EU propaganda, focusing on Russia and ISIS, and a report on e-democracy, which could and should increase voter turnout, especially amongst the young. I'm proud to be the S&D rep at the annual Internet Governance Forum, where last year I negotiated a text with the US government on maintaining an important civil society agreement about the future of the internet, ahead of the US elections.

As lifelong campaigners for people with disabilities Theresa and I are members of the parliamentary Disability Intergroup and I am proud to be a link MEP for the UN Committee on the Rights of Disabled People. It was good to witness the excellent discussion at Regional Conference yesterday regarding the party taking a stronger principled stance on promoting disability rights.  In my CULT Committee role I am standing up for the rights of disabled people on the reform of the audiovisual and media services (AVMS) directive, and I have made a successful proposal to the European Commission for investment in a pilot project developing internet accessibility in respect of public services. Theresa meanwhile has been taking on accessibility issues within the transport sector.

I continue to champion lifelong learning, active citizenship and inclusive youth policies as a Co-Chair of the parliamentary Life-Long Learning Interest Group and as a member of the Regional Development Committee which is where policy decisions are made regarding support to the poorer peripheral regions. As we know the north west has always been a net-gainer, receiving billions of pounds of EU investment for social projects as well as major infrastructure and business support. Much of this funding is now at risk because of Brexit.

The devastating floods of last winter which left thousands of constituents homeless at Christmas was a huge challenge for all of us. I spent many days in my wellies and waterproofs visiting affected areas with elected members and called consistently for David Cameron to request EU Solidarity Funds which are available for natural disasters in Member States and some neighbouring countries. I managed to get national media coverage for my campaign, headlining in The Independent and being broadcast on LBC Radio as well as numerous interviews with local media. All three NW MEPs wrote to the government (twice), and our pressure paid off when Cameron made his request to the Commission the day before the deadline. However, the Brexit vote has now put this funding at risk with the government failing to complete the necessary paperwork. Meanwhile many families face a 2nd Christmas as 'climate change' refugees in our own country.

I also sit on the Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM) Committee, and I am the co-author of a report on 'Women in Mental Health and Clinical Trials', highlighting the need for a comprehensive and holistic approach to well-being. This report connects with my work as a founding supporter of Labour's Mental Health Forum and as an MEP Mental Health Ambassador.

I have co-authored a report on 'gender mainstreaming' in the European Parliament, ensuring that gender equality is taken into account in all aspects of EU policy making - this approach could serve as a useful model for the UK government, local authorities and indeed for our own party! Along with Theresa I am a member of the LGBTI Intergroup and I was pleased to contribute substantially to the S&D LGBTI strategy. In August I was invited to speak on the eve of Amsterdam PRIDE at a conference organised by Rainbow Rose, the Party of European Socialists' (PES) LGBTI campaigning group. I also work closely with ILGA, the international advocacy network for LGBTI persons.

Since entering the political sphere I have always been an unashamedly anti-austerity feminist politician and was pleased therefore to co-author a report setting out an EU-wide anti-poverty strategy, including a special focus on gender equality. As we all know, women suffer disproportionately from austerity measures and cuts in public services, and many experience multiple discrimination with corresponding increases in gender-based violence. In November we have the 15 days of action campaign to Eliminate Violence Against Women and Girls. Last November I invited 45 grassroots north-west campaigners to the European Parliament along with a theatre performance about domestic violence. Every Feb 14th I join local campaigners in Preston to participate in the global One Billion Rising global campaign to end VAWG. And in March I was honoured to represent S&D FEMM at UN Women in New York where I met Yazidi survivor Nadia Murad who has recently been awarded the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought for her braveness in telling her story of captivity and brutalisation at the hands of Da'esh.

Women's rights ARE human rights and I am very active in promoting human rights.  For instance, I have been working on promoting the role of women in conflict resolution and reconciliation, especially in Israel-Palestine, leading a women's trip for Labour2Palestine last November, and hosting women peace activists in the parliament.

The European Parliament has a strong focus on human rights and we have passed important resolutions on issues such as the bombing of Yemen, whilst our own government refuses to act and remains complicit through arms sales and military co-operation with Saudi Arabia. I have also been speaking out for political prisoners and human rights defenders such as Nabeel Rajab in Bahrain and Ukrainian hostages in Russia, particularly the filmmaker Oleg Sentsov. Since the coup in Turkey, I have maintained a special focus on the situation of imprisoned journalists, academics, teachers, trade unionists and HDP opposition members, as well as humanitarian and human rights violations in the Kurdish regions.    

I am proud to be the co-founder of the very first Children's Rights inter-group in the parliament where we have prioritised the rights of child refugees. Some of you know that I have visited the refugee camps in Calais and Dunkirk where I met women and children and subsequently gave evidence to the House of Lords enquiry on Unaccompanied Minors who have been much in the news and for whom our government has failed to act. In fact the issue of refugees has consumed much of our parliamentary time and we are proud of S&D's compassionate and holistic approach to those who are fleeing terrible conflict or unsustainable lives in countries ravaged by war, climate change and other disaster.

Alongside his responsibility as EPLP's Foreign Affairs spokesperson Afzal is Vice Chair of the Security and Defence Sub-Committee, a challenging brief in these difficult times. He recently spoke at an international conference in Stockholm on making cities safe and shared how Greater Manchester has worked together to tackle gangs and organised crime.  For those of you that don't know Afzal once worked as a police officer with GMC police.

Earlier this year Afzal was appointed as S&D's Special Representative for Muslim Communities and this has seen him take a leading role in visiting many of the countries and communities who are most affected by the refugee crisis. Afzal also plays a leading role in combatting racism, and Islamophobia in particular, bringing to bear personal experiences from his civic life as a previous Lord Mayor of Manchester and promoting best practice examples of multicultural integration such as the Manchester Muslim-Jewish Forum which he helped to found more than a decade ago.

All three of us continue to work closely with organisations such as Hope Not Hate, Unite Against Fascism and Stand Up To Racism, on campaigns to combat racism, anti-discrimination and Islamophobia. We owe a debt to those organisations for helping us to get rid of Nick Griffin and the BNP, and we need their ongoing help to combat the xenophobia promulgated by UKIP and the populist right wing press, bolstered by the Brexit vote, and now being mainstreamed by the government through Theresa May's anti-migrant policies.

Both Afzal and I sit on the S&D working group to combat extremism and Afzal launched the EU's report on Islamophobia. He is the parliament's rapporteur for Bosnia and Herzegovina (BIH) which means working closely with parliamentarians and civil society groups, helping to heal the wounds of the past by giving a platform to survivors of the genocide such as the Mothers of Srebrenica whilst trying to find a political solution that can bring opposing sides together for the common good and a better future for young people.

Afzal and I work closely together on this issue, as I also sit on the delegation for relations with BIH and Kosovo. The case of the Balkans should teach us something about ethnic conflict, and 'Never Again' should be a rallying cry for Europe and the world. Despite terrible conflict in many parts of the globe I am glad to report, however, that I was able to push for a successful joint parliamentary resolution supporting the UN process to make nuclear weapons illegal. This was adopted in the plenary session on October 27th 2016, a historic moment.

 

Many of our current societal problems emanate from poverty and inequality, from policies that favour the rich over the poor and from poorly regulated markets. The work we are doing as a party to combat homelessness, for example, is key to tackling this, and Afzal was proud to launch a Homelessness campaign with Jeremy Corbyn recently. In this context I would particularly like to mention the fantastic work being done with arts organisations and social partners by Manchester Labour Cllr Beth Knowles through the sharing of innovative inspiring approaches at national and international level which links with my work on the Anti-Poverty Intergroup.

 

As part of her work in the European Parliament’s committee on Industry, Trade, Research and Energy (ITRE) Theresa has been working to keep the lights on across Europe with the EU’s 'security of gas supply' legislation. The European Union is reviewing this regulation, which has been in place since 2010, with the Socialists and Democrats demanding stronger coordination between Member States to avoid any future EU gas crisis.

 

Since her election in 2014 Theresa has been working to highlight the plight of thousands of people in the North West, across the UK and the EU who live in energy poverty. She set up a working group with fellow S&D members, who then published an Energy Poverty Manifesto in Spring 2016, which was then adopted by the Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament. Theresa has also spoken at an intergovernmental conference on renewables in Denmark.

 

In April of this year Theresa authored an own initiative report called ‘A New Deal for Energy Consumers’. The report presents clear recommendations to fix our broken energy market. ‘New Deal’ calls for the end of termination fees when switching to cheaper suppliers, simplified energy bills and guidelines to ensure suppliers notify customers when cheaper tariffs exist.

 

Following the Leave vote in the Referendum, Theresa wrote to the secretary of state, Sajid Javid, to demand the best deal for the North West and ensure that no area of the region suffers as a result of the decision to leave the EU, seeking a guarantee that EU funding commitments across the region would be honoured by the UK government post Brexit. All of us continue to work with MPs, and local Labour Leaders and councillors to make sure that the North West is least disadvantaged by Brexit.

 

Theresa also convened a meeting with Universities UK to ensure that important research and development projects such as cancer research, are not disadvantaged by Brexit. Theresa now represents us on a NW Brexit working group to ensure synergy and good communication between all levels of the party. She has also been elected as Chair of EPLP with Afzal taking over from me on the National Policy Forum, where I was an active member of the Children and Education Policy Commission.

 

The EPLP and our sister parties call for greater transparency in financial and consumer affairs, using approaches such as 'follow the money' to take action on a wide range of issues from child labour to tax havens and the labelling of goods.  Following the VW emissions scandal, Theresa was appointed to the European Parliament’s EMIS committee which has responsibility for an investigation into the emission scandal. Meanwhile, we joined the call for an investigation into Barroso's conflict of interests regarding the former President's appointment at Goldman Sachs.

The EPLP has achieved a lot in the past year. We have worked on ending roaming charges, banning conflict minerals, combatting energy poverty, fighting tax evasion and uniting communities, and we plan to do a lot more.

Back in the UK we have continued to work hard during local elections, by-elections and PCC campaigns across the North West, in Oldham, Batley and Spen, on doorsteps across the region, working as part of #TeamLabour to deliver labour victories in local authorities, such as West Lancashire, Warrington and Rossendale. Sadly, we lost some fantastic hard working local councillors in Liverpool, Manchester and Knowsley but we made a fantastic Labour gain in Stockport, where Labour now run the council, as well as having a Labour Police and Crime Commissioner(PCC) in Cheshire! We also work closely with our trade unions on a range of campaigns including the Junior Doctors and the CWU People's Post campaigns.

Our country and our party are going through difficult and turbulent times. Like many of you, I am deeply saddened by the result of the recent referendum and the harmful impact it will have on young people and the most vulnerable in our society. The referendum campaign was divisive, with the Leave campaign preying on people’s fears, using misinformation and stirring up hatred in our society.  Now, more than ever, we must unite as a community.

So what now for the Labour Party? All parts of the Labour Party must deeply reflect on the referendum campaign, and on the direction we need to take.  We must do our best to act as an effective opposition, and represent the interests of our voters, members, activists and supporters, and particularly the 48% of the British public who voted to remain in the EU. In the European Parliament, led by our fantastic EPLP leader Glenis Willmott, it’s business as usual.

However, we can’t say for sure what the future might hold for the UK in Europe, but you have the guarantee that your Labour MEPs will keeping working for your interests until the boat sets sail.

Finally, I want to finish with this quote from Wilfred Owen:

"All I ask is to be held above the barren wastes of want."

Owen, the Manchester Regiment soldier-poet, died on November 4th in Northern France just a few days before the end of World War 1. Next week will be Remembrance Sunday, the time when we especially honour the memory of all those who died in two world wars as well as subsequent conflicts. Europe has always been for me primarily a peace project, designed to keep us talking to our nearest neighbours instead of fighting them, and I wanted us to reflect on that at this particular moment in time.

Wilfred Owen's remarks about 'the barren wastes of want' are very resonant in today's world, not only for the poorest in our communities here in the north west, but for all Daniel Blakes across the UK, and also for our fellow human beings suffering extreme poverty and hunger in fragile states around the world, many on the move, fleeing conflict. We need to remember what it means to be compassionate human beings and rekindle the spirit of social justice at the heart of our party."