Ed Miliband is right: when it comes to Europe it’s the same old Tories – a divided party and a weak prime minister. In his speech tomorrow, Cameron will seek to appease his vociferous Eurosceptics and by doing so, put his party before Britain.
Leaders from across the world are asking him to care more about his country than about his own party’s interests, but he does not seem to listen. The opposite: he is fuelling myths and stirring the usual ideology about scroungers – as if millions of Bulgarians were just waiting round to corner to come here to claim benefits and enjoy long lie-ins.
The reality is that, should the UK leave the EU, the general drift of business investment would be away from Britain and towards the continent. Without the shield of single-market rules, Britain would lose its position as the main centre for trade in euros and euro deals would soon be made in euroland.
Britain on its own would be less able to withstand protectionist pressure from outside. Size really matters in global trade. An example? The USA failed in the attempt to put steel tariffs on UK products because of counter tariff from EU.
But there is more to this.
While cutting taxes for millionaires, Tory MPs want to withdraw from European employment legislation.
Families are faced with rising economic insecurity and struggle to make ends meet. Yet the Conservative mainstream seeks to end interference from Brussels in matters like collective redundancies, working conditions, or protection of employees in the event of employer insolvency.
Women are bearing the brunt of the crisis in the UK: of the 100,000 increase in long-term unemployment since the election, 89 per cent is amongst women. Yet Cameron’s Tories want to withdraw from the social chapter of the EU, which champions maternity rights and equal pay.
So, I agree with the TUC when they say that the Tory Eurosceptics’ position on Europe is smokescreen to erode workers’ rights further still.
I believe the erosion of workers’ rights is a consequence of unfettered capitalism. Indeed, there is clear evidence that working conditions are inextricably linked to workers’ power. This is why the European parliament was right to acknowledge that “the financial crisis has demonstrated the need for a clearer corporate governance framework which focuses more strongly on stakeholder participation”. This is why we are advocating employee representation on company boards, with the same rights and duties as the other board members, including the right to vote.
The Statute for a European Company enshrined this in secondary legislation in 2001: 12 years later, only 17 countries out of 27 have introduced such measures, and Britain is not one of them. In the meantime, we have had a major financial crisis. The answer to that is more, not less, employee participation; it is more, not less, responsibility from the top to the bottom; it is a more, not less, inclusive democracy.
Instead, the Conservative Eurosceptics are pushing our prime minister to opt out of European employment law. This is just another sign of how out of touch they are from the lives of ordinary people: families, squeezed by the crisis; businesses struggling to compete in the international market; and women, for whom it is not acceptable to trade their employment rights for more money on their pay slips.
It is time for our government to put businesses, employees and women in Britain first – not the Tories’ internal party politics.