You might have thought the first Party conference after we lost power and did so badly in the general election would be a subdued affair tinged with introspection. But the atmosphere at this year’s conference was intense and energetic. Of course it had its moments of drama (especially the leadership election results on the day before conference) but none of these dented the clear sense that the Party is determined to move forward in a confident and united manner.
The media, ever keen to find a negative angle, seemed to be reporting on a different event from the one we attended. Yet the election of the new leader and his messages have accelerated the pace at which people are joining or rejoining Labour.
Much was made about the new generation, but Ed Miliband was at pains to stress that it’s not about age but about attitude. He managed the tricky manoeuvre of breaking with the past while clearly retaining Labour values and acknowledging the considerable achievements of the Labour government.
This year’s Brussels Labour fringe meeting, organised with the EPLP, attracted a record attendance of 250. Chaired by Brussels Labour’s honorary president, Neil Kinnock, the speakers included Emma Reynolds, a former Brussels Labour treasurer and now an MP, who began her intervention with a plug for Brussels Labour. Another speaker, Douglas Alexander MP, commented that Emma is one of the stars of new intake with a brilliant career ahead of her (she is already one of five Labour members on the Foreign Affairs Select Committee). The other speakers were Massimo D’Alema, a former prime minister of Italy, and Richard Howitt MEP.
All speakers stressed the importance for the UK’s own interests of active involvement in a strong EU. At the global level, the G8 has given way to the G20 but there is a real risk that the power relations are being dominated by the G2 of the United States and China: this needs to be turned into a G3, with an active and united EU voice.
Richard Howitt emphasised that a strong common EU foreign policy is vital for British national interests. The new External Action Service had been difficult to set up because of the lack of preparation, but thanks to Cathy Ashton and the EP’s use of its new powers, it was now taking shape. Massimo D’Alema emphasised the potential of the EAS but the need for a strong policy: the mere existence of it was not a guarantee of effective external action.
Douglas Alexander urged that we move on from talking about the reach or otherwise of the EU to understanding the implications of the rise of Asia. China’s role at the Copenhagen climate talks showed the change taking place in the balance of power. We need too to move from a narrative which depends on making the case for the EU by emphasising its role in keeping the peace (important but backward looking) to a forward looking perspective with an emphasis on four key areas where an EU collective approach is vital: climate, security, trade, and poverty.
Emma pointed out that the current government is demonstrating an outdated, imperialist view of the UK’s role in an increasingly multipolar world with a reliance on bilateral rather than multilateral relations. They overestimated their UK’s role in the world and underestimated the EU’s. As she put it, for William Hague, nostalgia is the way to the future.
Belinda Pyke | Chair, Brussels Labour
More conference photos are available at flickr.com/brusselslabour
Due to circumstances beyond the control of the organisers, the Peter Mandelson event scheduled for Tuesday 12 October has had to be postponed.
The event is provisionally rescheduled for 27 October. More information is available from firstname.lastname@example.org.
As usual at conference, Brussels Labour is jointly hosting the international breakfast with the EPLP – Tuesday 28 September at 8.30am, Manchester Central Charter 3
This year, the topic is
Europe in the World: Actions to Match Ambitions
Chair: Lord Kinnock
Douglas Alexander, Shadow Secretary of State for International Development
Massimo D’Alema, President of FEPS and former Italian Prime Minister
Richard Howitt MEP, Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs
Emma Reynolds MP, former member of Brussels Labour
At this year’s Labour Conference the European Parliamentary Labour Party will have a stronger presence than ever. Along with the Europe Reception held on Saturday evening, at which the EPLP welcomed the new leader of the Labour Party, Ed Miliband, the EPLP has fringe meetings throughout the week, in collaboration with Brussels Labour, the Foundation for European Progressive Studies and the GMB.
The EPLP will also have a brand new stall, brimming with the latest information on Labour’s work in Brussels and Strasbourg.
The EPLP events programme and a schedule of other events at which MEPs are speaking can be found at eurolabour.org.uk and in the files below:
Next Left: Insecurity, fairness and the new social democracy
Monday 27 September, 0800 to 0930 // Lord Mayors Parlour, Manchester Town Hall, 2 Albert Square, Manchester M60 2JT
John Denham MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government,
Dr Alfred Gusenbauer, Former Chancellor of Austria,
Catherine Fieschi, Director of Counterpoint
Sunder Katwala, General Secretary of the Fabian Society
With the support of the Fabian society
European Social Democracy: The Path Back To Power
Monday 27 September, 1230-1430 // Midland Hotel, Alexandra B
Roger Liddle, Policy Network
Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, Party of European Socialists
Claude Moraes MEP, EPLP Deputy Leader
Roland Rudd, Business for New Europe
Rushanara Ali MP
In cooperation with the European Parliamentary Labour Party
On Wednesday 15 September, Maria Damanaki, the Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, spoke to Brussels Labour. Here is the full transcript of her speech:
The European debt crisis – lessons for the left
Dear colleagues/comrades, I would like to thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to address you today. I think it is very important that we increase our cooperation inside the European socialist family. I know that the Brussels branch has been very active all this years, and has played a historic role in our political family. I thank you for it. Such collaboration is particularly important in this period when the majority of European governments are led by more conservative voices.
I agreed to speak today about the European debt crisis, a fundamental problem that we need to tackle urgently. Many in the socialist family insist that the European debt crisis is one element of a much wider issue, namely the European economic crisis. And rightly so. Look at the forest, not just the tree.
We should be careful however not to let this very valid point dilute the importance we ascribe to the debt crisis, and to the concrete responses we must take. Look also at the tree, not just the forest. Continue reading
A reminder of our upcoming events in 2010:
Wednesday 13 October
John Fitzmaurice Memorial Lecture, to be delivered by Martin Westlake
The Centre, Avenue Marnix 22, 1000 Brussels
Wednesday 10 November at 19.30 (note change of date!)
Brussels Labour Quiz, with Michael Cashman as compere
The Staff, Rue de Trèves 42, 1050 Brussels
Teams of four can register by emailing the Secretary and making a transfer of €20 to the Brussels Labour account: 001-1128765-52. Please include your team name and indicate that it is for the quiz.
A raffle will be held to raise funds for the flood victims in Pakistan.
Wednesday 8 December
Brussels Labour Christmas Social, hosted by David Earnshaw and Jo Wood
Square Ambiorix 6, 1000 Brussels
The latest edition of Brussels Labour’s newsletter, Germinal, is now online.
Click here to read more about our meetings with the Labour leadership candidates and other news.