All posts by Brussels Labour

Brussels Labour joins calls to support the most vulnerable affected by COVID-19

Brussels Labour and joined forces with some of our sister parties in Brussels to call for greater support for the most vulnerable as the lockdown in Belgium, put in place to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, continue to reverberate.

The letter, addressed to Ministre Nathalie Muylle, responsible for Work, Economy and Consumers, while recognising the support already made by the Belgian Government, calls for measures to ensure that the most precarious and vulnerable people are also not left behind; and for a multi-language information campaign to remind employers of their responsibilities during the crisis.

Download the letter (in French and Dutch) here

Football has been handed over to the bosses: Labour will reclaim it for local communities

Elliot Robson

I was brought up a Sunderland fan. I was never given a choice in this and it remains the biggest burden my dad has ever put on me. In my first season of following the club we were relegated from the Premier League with a record low number of points for the league. Three seasons later we went on to break our own record. Today Sunderland is in a much worse state, sitting mid-table in the third tier and just knocked out of the FA Cup by Gillingham. F*****g Gillingham!!!

Things could have been a lot worse though. A few seasons ago, Sunderland had debts piling up and found themselves on the edge of bankruptcy. Fans were crying out for new owners and we eventually got them; and while they remain questionable characters, the short to medium-term existence of my club is assured. We were at the mercy of a select few individuals and we got lucky.

This is not the case for fans of Bury FC. There have been untold number of accounts from people who feel the loss of Bury very deeply. About how this founding member of the Football League has been stolen and wrecked by cowboy-owner after cowboy-owner. Heartbreakingly, a major unifying force in a community crying out for it has been lost. A football team is not just a sports club; it is not just a business. It is one of those things that knits people who happen to live in the same area together into a single identity. At its best, it is a force for solidarity and hope where people may not otherwise find it in their daily lives.

That is why Labour’s policies to give football back to the working people who built it are so important. Labour wants supporters to have a say in the boardrooms, with the power to appoint and dismiss at least two board members. They want supporters’ clubs to have the right to purchase shares in their club when it changes hands and they want the Premier League to invest 5% of their TV money into grassroots football. These much-needed changes will reinvigorate the sport’s working-class supporters that have increasingly felt marginalised in the unfettered capitalism of English football’s boom or bust model.

Take Arsenal for instance – the club that Corbyn himself supports and who have a proud tradition of representing some of the more impoverished areas of North London. The cheapest season ticket a fan can buy will set you back £891. That’s more than most of their fans could hope to afford and has led many simply to walk away and either watch at home or find a club where they can afford to get through the gates. Every year, clubs want to increase the sacrifice required for fans to keep going. That money is a holiday, or a better car, and thousands gladly pay it.

These unrelenting price hikes have been met with some great campaigns by fans. The ‘Twenty’s Plenty’ campaign has led to a £30 cap on away tickets. While falling short of the aims of the campaign’s organisers, this is a step in the right direction. We have also seen fan-led movements at Liverpool, Blackpool and Charlton to name a few, which have attempted to reassert fan power to varying degrees of success. It is time that this power was enshrined in the rules of the sport.

Giving these fans a say in the boardroom will have a massive impact. It will provide proper scrutiny of the shady collection of rogue bosses, oil tycoons and royal families that currently have carte blanche over these historic institutions by people who really care. It is no surprise to find that Mike Ashley holds working people in contempt as an employer and as the owner of Newcastle. It is no surprise that the Chief Exec of my own club, a man who said Margaret Thatcher would be his dream dinner party guest, referred to fans who can’t go to the games as ‘parasites’. If these people continue to be allowed to impose their will unabated, things are only going to get worse for fans. Talk is already ongoing about a ‘European Super League’ where clubs are treated more as American-style franchises, ripping them out of the heart of the community and confirming them as purely corporate entities.

All of this is sacrificed on the altar of TV money. The current Premier League TV deal is worth £4.5 billion and is the main source of income for top flight clubs. Labour is proposing that 5% of this (£235 million under the present deal) should be spent on grassroots football. This is not a major loss to the Premier League; but will have a transformative effect on local communities.

Facilities for local football are in dire straits. According to latest figures from the FA in 2017, one in six matches are cancelled each season because of pitch quality, while only one in three pitches are deemed “adequate”. Investment in 3G pitches can revolutionise football at this level. Ensuring that the next generation can hone their skills on decent quality surfaces and that adults have regular access to a hobby that will not only benefit their body, but also have a significant positive effect on mental wellbeing. Any government that is serious about combatting these twin health crises must harness the potential of the country’s most popular sport.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Labour will ensure that Clubs pay their staff a real living wage. If teams are to be brought back to their communities, they must treat their employees with the dignity of a wage they can afford. Corbyn himself supported efforts for this policy to be implemented at Arsenal and pushing this out across the country will not only help those it will directly affect, it will give people a sense of pride in the club as an institution.

Football is always a reflection of society at large, and much like the country, football has been held in the interests of capital for too long. Inequality is rife, and we are seeing an undermining of the values of community and people power that were once integral. Labour’s programme for the national game will see power going back to the fans, it will end the destruction of clubs by asset strippers and chancers and it will improve the health and mental wellbeing of many. These are radical proposals but ask any fan who has followed their team week-in week-out and they will tell you, they are badly needed.

I am incredibly lucky to have Sunderland ruin my Saturday every week.

Jackie Jones MEP visits Brussels Labour

Brussels Labour was delighted to welcome newly elected Jackie Jones MEP to speak at our June branch meeting. Jackie was elected in May as the Labour Party MEP for Wales. Since there is now unfortunately no Labour MEP in Scotland, Jackie is the only Labour MEP of a devolved region in the UK.

Prior to her election, Jackie taught law at Cardiff Law School at Cardiff University. She then taught at Bristol Law School, University of the West of England, where she was Professor of Feminist Legal Studies. Jackie is active in the voluntary sector on Wales on human rights for many years.

As such, it is fitting that she will now be working on both the legal affairs (JURI) and women’s rights and gender equality (FEMM) committees in the European Parliament.

It was refreshing to hear from a new voice at the branch meeting, and members were eager to hear more about Jackie’s plans for her time in Brussels, whether that be a few months or a few years. Brussels Labour hopes we will hear more from Jackie Jones in the near future and looks forward to having her as a Labour MEP.

Branch Meeting | 26 June

At the next Branch meeting on 26 June we will be joined by Professor Jackie Jones, the new Labour MEP for Wales, who will share her thoughts on the recent European Parliament elections and what the next few months might bring as the next parliamentary term gets underway

Where: Foundation for Progressive Studies (FEPS), Rue Montoyer 40, 1040
When: 26 June | 19:30 (Doors open 19:00) 

We look forward to seeing you there

After the European elections, what next?

We held our meeting in May on the first Wednesday after the European elections, giving us an obvious topic of discussion. Rather than invite in external speakers, we decided to use the expertise already present in our executive committee, with Frazer Clarke and David Earnshaw giving an overview of the elections and taking questions from members.

It was easy for many of us to feel pessimistic about the elections. Although many excellent Labour MEPs were elected, including one new face, there was almost an equal number who sadly lost their seats. 

Meanwhile, both the Brexit Party and the Liberal Democrats successfully portrayed this vote as a proxy second referendum, with themselves as the parties of Leave and Remain respectively. Despite the issue of a second referendum not being an EU competence, this was still a successful strategy for these elections, with the Brexit Party winning 29 seats, and the Liberal Democrats 15.

However, things look more positive for us at European level. The Socialists and Democrats remain the second largest party, with 154 MEPs. At the time of the meeting, it also still seemed possible that Frans Timmermans could be nominated as the next Commission President.

Unfortunately, since the meeting, the outlook has changed. Last week, the European Council not only chose not to nominate Timmermans as the next Commission President, but decided against nominating any of the lead candidates of the political groups. Instead, they nominated Ursula von der Leyen, German defense minister, for the top job.

This decision has been presented as a victory for either Macron or for Orban, depending on your source. However, whoever engineered this, the rest of the council approved it, save for Angela Merkel, who abstained. This could cause difficulties for the lead candidate process in the next elections. Of course, it is not a done deal; the European Parliament will decide whether to approve von der Leyen later this month.

In this meeting, we also discussed a branch submission to the National Policy Forum. The discussion was led by Jos Gallacher, who is the Labour International CLP representative on the National Policy Forum. Jos proposed a submission to the economy, business and trade commission, which is currently consulting on democratic public ownership.

There were lots of excellent ideas from members in the meeting. If you’d like to find out more about the National Policy Forum or this particular submission, don’t hesitate to get in touch with the executive committee.

Submission by Brussels Labour Executive Committee to the NPF Commission on Brexit

As decided on Wednesday 10th April, the UK will now remain a member of the EU until 31st October 2019, which means it will also take part in the European elections.

We believe it is important that Labour stands on a platform promising a public vote on any Brexit deal.

In question two of the International Policy Commission, the Labour Party asks what steps it can take to follow and build on the motion passed at Labour Conference. This motion clearly stated:

 “If we cannot get a general election Labour must support all options remaining on the table, including campaigning for a public vote. If the Government is confident in negotiating a deal that working people, our economy and communities will benefit from they should not be afraid to put that deal to the public.”

In January, shortly after May’s deal was rejected by Parliament, Labour tabled a motion of no confidence in the government. Unfortunately, the government defeated this option. Since then, May has brought her deal back twice and it has failed both times. There have been indicative votes, and so far, no majority for any Brexit option has been found.

While this happens, pressing issues facing working people are being ignored. The NHS is being ignored. The homelessness crisis is being ignored.

We cannot continue like this. But, even if parliament were to pass May’s deal, Brexit would remain the dominant discussion for years as we try to negotiate the UK’s future relationship with the EU.

This is why any public vote should include the option to Remain. People were not told about how long Brexit would take, what form it would take, and the extent to which it would overshadow all other issues.

It has been three years since the first referendum. Not only is this more than enough time for people to have changed their mind, it is also enough time for demographics to shift: by June 2018, around 1.4 million young people were eligible to have a say in their future who didn’t get the chance in 2016.

All these people deserve a final say. We all deserve a final say. Labour members want a final say.

Please include a promise for a confirmatory public vote with an option to Remain in our European election manifesto.

Download the submission

Brussels Labour welcomes Lord Andrew Adonis for the John Fitzmaurice Lecture

“To create, by establishing an economic community, the basis for a broader and deeper community among peoples long divided by bloody conflicts; and to lay the foundations for institutions which will give direction to a destiny henceforward shared.”

This is just part of the preamble to the Treaty Establishing the European Coal and Steel Community, signed in Paris in 1951. The preamble itself is worth reading in full, which is exactly what Lord Andrew Adonis did when he gave the annual John Fitzmaurice lecture in February this year.

While many of us do not need reminding of reasons to continue to fight to remain part of the EU, hearing this certainly revitalised our spirits as we approached the dreaded 29 March deadline.

Brussels Labour were pleased to be able to welcome Lord Adonis as our speaker in this year’s John Fitzmaurice lecture. Adonis is no stranger to Brussels. Members who have attended rallies at Schuman may well have spotted him there.

Given the proximity to our expected departure of the EU, this year’s theme was an obvious choice, and Adonis spoke to us at length about the EU referendum, the forces behind it, and the future.

A whistle-stop tour of British history in the EU demonstrated the changing nature of the relationship between the UK and the EU. Adonis was able to conjure up a nostalgia for a forgotten past. This wasn’t the faux past that populists lament losing, but the late 70s and early 80s, when Britain was not just part of the EU but a leader, on a civilising and democratic mission, looking for opportunities not threats.

We also got a view of Adonis’ own character and politics beyond Brexit. He quoted extensively from Roy Jenkins’ diaries with references to his time in Brussels, giving the audience a good laugh as they recognised familiar places and events.

Looking to what might happen next, Adonis spoke of the ‘Sherlock Holmes principle’; once all impossible options are eliminated, we are forced to have hope. In the end, many left this year’s John Fitzmaurice lecture with a bit more optimism about the future.

About the John Fitzmaurice Lecture

John Fitzmaurice was an administrator, academic and writer, and a founding father of Brussels Labour. He was an author of numerous books and articles on politics, as well as an official at the European Commission and a lecturer at the Université Libre de Bruxelles.

In memory of John, and his unique contribution to democracy, socialism and Europe, Brussels Labour established an annual lecture around these themes, inviting a leading figure from the Left in Europe.

Neil Kinnock gave the inaugural lecture in October 2004, and since then we have welcomed a number of distinguished speakers from British and European politics.

Jude Kirton-Darling MEP joins Brussels Labour and GMB Brussels to discuss workers rights after Brexit

Our first meeting of 2019 was a joint meeting with the GMB Brussels Branch to talk about British workers post-Brexit, and, more broadly, workers’ rights in the EU. We were lucky to be joined by Dave Clements, who sits on the GMB Brexit working group for the southern region, and Andy Newman, branch secretary of Wiltshire and Swindon GMB and Labour parliamentary candidate for Chippenham. The speakers shared their experience of working with the ETUC on workers’ rights, as well as their views on the political situation in the UK, including how voters feel towards a public vote. For Brussels Labour, it was heartening to hear GMB’s backing for a final say on the Withdrawal Agreement, particularly as we creep ever closer to the cliff-edge of March 29th. Jude Kirton-Darling, MEP for the North East of England, also addressed the meeting. Before becoming an MEP, Jude was a Confederal Secretary of the ETUC, and she is currently working to strengthen links between trade unions and the European Parliamentary Labour Party. Jude gave us insight into the work she’s been doing, and offered her own thoughts about a People’s Vote, the Withdrawal Agreement, and where we go from here. After hearing from the speakers, we held a question and answer session. Many members were eager to hear more about the prospect of a People’s Vote, but we also discussed other topics. This included the impact of the UK leaving the EU on different policies; in some areas, Brexit may well be seen as an opportunity for the EU to push forward in areas where UK reluctance has hindered progress. We also considered what other, more palatable deals could be an option to the UK, and in doing so were reminded that even if the ‘Norway option’ was supported by the UK, it would not necessarily be supported by Norway. The conclusion from this, of course, is that the deal we have now is the best that we can get.