Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

This week saw Conservative MEPs vote against a Europe-wide initiative to provide aid for those struggling with food poverty. The £3 billion EU fund, known as ‘European aid to the most deprived’, would have sent £3 million in the direction of Britain. The choice to try and block the fund was made on the grounds that “It is not for the EU to dictate…how to help the needy. Individual countries must be allowed to decide for themselves.” It left the Tories among a tiny rump of MEPs voting against, making the Coalition the only European Government to oppose the fund.

With the Tories under pressure to address the explosion in the number of food bank users since they’ve been in office, their approach to Tuesday’s vote baffled many. It comes at a time when pressure is building on the Coalition to address the food poverty crisis, with religious and third sector organisations condemning the effect welfare cuts are having on UK rates of poverty. This week Richard Howitt, my Labour colleague in the European Parliament, called the Tories’ decision to vote against the fund “heartless and callous”.

Blocking European Aid is just the latest in a string of instances which have seen Conservatives adopting indefensible positions in the name of Euroscepticism. Before Christmas they blocked the Estrela report – a strategy to, among other things, end FGM – and they have also obstructed the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, a market-based solution to environmental challenges. They’ve done so on the grounds that endorsing such plans would represent a concession to the EU. This is despite the government’s Balance of Competences review so far finding that the weighting between EU powers and domestic autonomy is roughly right.

David Cameron’s increasingly hostile noises about the EU appear to have been taken by Tory MEPs as a license to indulge their most reactionary instincts. They do this irrespective of morality or the UK’s national interests. As a result we are approaching a state of Tea Party-style fanaticism among some on the British right in Brussels; a new and virulent brand of Euroscepticism. It’s vital that those of us who support the EU do not allow this self-defeating ideology to triumph.

Also this week, UKIP’s Spring Conference was overshadowed by the embarrassing revelation that Nigel Farage’s campaign slogan – “Love Britain: Vote UKIP” – was a rehash of a strapline used by the BNP. Nick Griffin’s far right party campaigned under the same banner in 2010, using the wording “Love Britain: Vote BNP”. The comparisons did not appear to end there, with Farage using his “Love Britain: Vote UKIP”-branded plinth to launch an excoriating attack on immigration, which he claims has made Britain “unrecognisable”. When the BNP link was pointed out Farage argued, bizarrely, that he’d been trying to ‘reclaim’ the slogan.

So far Ukip have resisted calls from the European far right to join ranks. Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen have both attempted, unsuccessfully thus far, to reach out to Farage, pointing out the common ground their respective parties share with his. But with UKIP MEP Gerard Batten’s ties with the far right attracting increasing controversy – not to mention Farage’s recent admission that he supported the “basic principle” of Enoch Powell’s 1968 ‘Rivers of blood’ speech – the overlap between UKIP and the extreme right is becoming hard to disguise.

To avoid a return to the ugly politics and racial tensions of the 1970s Labour must contest UKIP’s narrative every step of the way.

Tory MEPs oppose LGBTI and Women’s rights (again)

Labour Party

A version of this piece was originally posted on LabourList last week. It was co-authored by myself and Michael Cashman MEP.

Tory MEPs showed their ugly side again last week – the anti-women, anti-choice, anti-LGBT dimension to the party which David Cameron tries so hard to shield from public view. They packed in behind UKIP to oppose a range of progressive measures on sexual and reproductive rights, health services and education, and the combating of sexual orientation and gender discrimination.

The measures were designed to provide adolescent-friendly sexual and reproductive health services which are in accordance with age, maturity and evolving capacities – and which do not discriminate on grounds of gender, marital status, disability, or sexual orientation. They underlined that sexual education should be non-discriminatory towards LGBTI persons, and stressed that sexuality education must fight against stereotypes and prejudices. In addition, the report said countries should facilitate safe and non-judgemental access to STI treatment, and should have effective inclusive health strategies for HIV prevention, removing laws that penalise and stigmatise those living with HIV.

The proposals also called for access to sexual and reproductive healthcare to be non-discriminatory and for women to have the right to choose the size and spacing of their family. They asked for sex education to “include the fight against stereotypes, prejudices and violence against women”, and to “shed light on and denounce discrimination on the grounds of gender and sexual orientation”. They called on national governments to ensure women who become pregnant as a result of rape can have unrestricted access to an abortion with full legal and health safeguards. Moreover, they stressed that coerced sterilisation and female genital mutilation represent breaches of human rights, and called on Member States to abolish any existing laws that allow such medieval practices.

These are measures which most sensible people can surely agree with. They protect women and LGBTI people, and focus on creating healthcare systems which safeguard the needs of young and in some cases vulnerable people in an effective and non-judgemental way.

So, following on from October’s shameful scenes – which saw the Tories siding with far right parties like the BNP – it was vital that  the draft Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights report went through successfully last week.

Yet thanks in part to Tory votes, it was not passed. Instead it was amended and blocked, with nearly 90 recommendations replaced by a watered down resolution. That Conservatives were among those responsible for this shows that the ‘nasty party’ is still alive and well.

At the moment approaches to birth control, contraception, family planning and sex education vary wildly across Europe. This means young LGBTI people and women in many parts of the EU are not given the information or the options necessary to make the best choices. We in the UK have one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy in Europe – something which has a knock-on effect for our economy and for the wellbeing of our young people – so this is not an issue we can afford to treat lightly.

One need only look at Finland, where sex education and emergency contraception helped drastically reduce unwanted pregnancies, to see the value of giving women control over their bodies. The enlightened, liberal values which lie at the heart of the European Union are the same values which argue in favour of women being able to choose and of LGBTI people have the right to exist in a safe and open-minded world.

David Cameron’s MEPs are, yet again, failing to stand up to discrimination, and are instead reinforcing prejudice and patriarchy. As Edite Estrela, the author of the report pointed out, they have won the battle but not the war. In so doing they have put themselves on the wrong side of the LGBTI and women’s rights debate, and on the wrong side of history.