For the past four years the Fabian Society has held a conference on the subject of the European Union. Subjects like climate change, social policy and Britain’s place in Europe have usually dominated the discussion but, with Fabian members being overwhelmingly pro-European, debate has always been consensual and, dare I say it, maybe a little too friendly.
With the future of the EU so high on the political agenda after Cameron’s referendum pledge, it’s no surprise that this year’s conference was the biggest yet. But while we face the possibility of an in-out referendum on Europe within the next five years, the left has yet to seriously engage with the subject. This starts with us challenging ourselves and asking how we can reassess and remake the case for a progressive European Union.
We conducted a poll of our 7,000 members to ask what they thought about the policy frameworks that lie behind the EU and some of their priorities for reform and also asked how they viewed Cameron’s referendum pledge and Ed’s response.
Quelle surprise. Our members still overwhelmingly favour remaining part of the European Union –– however, 15 per cent of our membership is pro-EU but wants a referendum on the question. Whether this is a point of tactics or a genuine desire to win renewed democratic legitimacy for the European Union is hard to say, but there seems to be a growing hunger for a referendum, even amongst those who’d vote to stay in.
We asked our membership their thoughts on Ed Miliband’s response to Cameron’s pledge. 42 per cent described Ed’s response to Cameron as ‘neither good nor bad’, with 32 per cent saying ‘good’ or ‘very good’ and 26 per cent saying ‘bad’ or ‘very bad’. I’d argue that the high ‘neither good nor bad’ number is a reflection of the lack of clarity in Labour’s position. Fabian members, many of whom will be charged with selling Ed’s policies on the doorstep over the next few years, need a clear line to communicate to the public.
We took a variety of policy areas and asked whether Fabians thought there should be more or less integration with the EU. Terrorism (62 per cent) and the environment (66 per cent) were among the most popular for further integration with the EU, with education and major infrastructure projects the areas Fabians thought should remain under UK control (68 per cent and 54 per cent respectively). Surprisingly, given the current state of the Eurozone, many Fabian members supported greater integration on a number of economic policy aries. Banking reform (57 per cent), business legislation (54 per cent), employment rights 56 per cent and even immigration (51 per cent) were all candidates for deeper integration with the European project.
Finally, we asked Fabian members to play president and ask themselves what their number one priority was for European reform. Concerns over the democratic deficit came out way on top with 52 per cent of the vote, beating fixing the economy (27 per cent) by a clear 25 points. Fabians may be pro-European but the longer the EU carries on without its members feeling like they have a voice the more likely that will change in future.