A talk by Richard Howitt, Labour MEP for the East of England on 21st January in Waterbeach Baptist Chapel, Cambs.
The talk was to an invited audience of Labour party members and was organised jointly by South Cambs and South-East Cambs CLPs. We had gone along to this talk hoping to hear a positive message about Britain staying in the European Union as the campaigning for the European referrendum starts to get into gear. We had been so glad to hear that Labour led by Jeremy Corbyn would be openly declaring its position as for staying in Europe. Our family has strong ties with other countries in Europe, having our roots in England, Scotland and Italy and we have personally come to appreciate the benefits of Britain being part of the EU. But much wider than this we have come to believe that the benefits for everyone in this country far outweigh any disadvantages. So we also came to the talk with a lot of anxiety about the possibility of leaving the EU.
On walking into the meeting hall it was heartening to see that the talk was very well attended, clearly people round here care about this issue. Neither of us had ever heard Richard Howitt speak and we were rather expecting some sort of suave ‘eurocrat’ (which perhaps illustrates how some quite negative views of Europe have managed to penetrate our thoughts). Instead Richard Howitt came across as an extremely good and captivating communicator, far from a stereotype, as well as an obviously seasoned campaigner. He is clearly passionate about Britain remaining in Europe and prepared to take on all comers in defence of this view. Most importantly to us, he was able to convey a sense that the relationship between the countries of Europe, including Britain, can be told both in terms of hard facts about nitty-gritty issues like jobs and migration and at the same time in terms of peoples’ feelings about such things as morality and fairness. We were convinced by the argument that this double appeal to the mind and the heart will be the way that the fight to keep Britain in the EU can be won.
Many issues were covered during the talk, including employment, national interests, workers’ rights, democracy, the environment, political reform, David Cameron’s negotiations, Scottish independence, UKIP’s arguments, migration, globalisation, TTIP (Howitt voted against it), crime and terrorism, etc., all supported by statistics. But throughout ran themes of respect for all people in Europe, including those from outside who are fleeing danger; the need for cooperation between partner countries and the relative difficulty, or impossibility of trying to tackle problems without cooperation.
During the talk we were handed copies of a campaign leaflet ‘Labour In For Britain’ which Richard Howitt and his team have produced. It sets out the main arguments of the campaign pretty succinctly in bullet points and short blocks of text. In our view most people reading this would get much of the sense and feeling of optimism that Richard created during this talk.
Cecilia and Martin Hall