Marc Glendening is Political Director of Democracy Movement.
One week ago, at the Fabians’ Why Europe? The Left’s Answer, sponsored by the European Commission, Labour MEP Richard Howett said that those opposed to the EU were ‘racists and xenophobes’. I asked him from the floor if he included in that category Tony Benn, as well as Labour MPs Graham Stringer, John Cryer, Kelvin Hopkins and Kate Hoey? He refused, revealingly to answer this inconvenient question and instead said:
“Mark Reckless, Bill Cash, William Hague, Nigel Farage and Nick Griffin are racists”.
Mr Howett then said defiantly, playing to the Fabian audience: “I will not back down and apologise.”
He has been challenged subsequently to repeat this allegation and to provide firm evidence to back up his oafish accusation. He has now gone silent. He has failed to respond on twitter to those challenging him to back up his claims. Not quite so brave now. Howett’s intervention is one manifestation of the campaign the mainstream pro-EU lobby has been waging for some time and which they can be expected to intensify in the long run up to the possible referendum in the next parliament. The New Labour inclination has always been keen to play the man rather than the ball.
What was strange about an event advertised as being an intra-left discussion on Europe was that nobody critical of the EU from the Labour movement was invited to participate. The only anti-EU speaker in a whole day of ‘debates’ was Stephen Woolfe from UKIP. No doubt the organisers were disappointed to hear him say that he had been a former member of the Labour party and the Fabians twenty years earlier. Last year’s Fabian Europe conference similarly featured no left EU-sceptics, but, yes, you guessed it, a UKIP MEP.