With the threat of Brexit now a very real possibility, this book investigates Britain’s relationship with the EU during the pivotal years of the New Labour government. What emerges is a tale of an opportunity lost for Britain to establish a leading role in the shaping of Europe, resulting in declining influence and diminishing goodwill from its EU partners.
When Tony Blair led the Labour party to victory in the 1997 general election, he did so pledging to put Labour at the heart of Europe, reversing the drift of the previous Conservative governments to an ever more negative attitude to the European project. The great initial goodwill that greeted Blair’s election in Europe – and not just on the socialist side – was dissipated, however, as the years went by and Britain came once again to seem semi-detached: in Europe but not truly of it, always opting out or half-hearted. Policy on Europe became hostage to domestic considerations – both short term tactical needs and the more intractable problem of deep-rooted British Euroscepticism which grew as the period went by.
Former MEP Anita Pollack covers in detail the impact of major developments such as the Iraq war and the decision not to join the euro. Where her book differs from most accounts is in the attention it pays to the interplay between domestic British politics and perceptions elsewhere in Europe, especially in sister socialist parties and in the socialist group in the increasingly influential European Parliament. Labour MEPs in particular, while seeking to cooperate with their socialist colleagues, often found themselves undermined by the countervailing pressures of domestic politics – and not just high level politics, but at the grass roots organisational level where attitudes to Europe could be persistently old Labour or lacking any real enthusiasm or engagement. This unresolved ambiguity in Labour’s commitment has now assumed even more salience with the election of long-time Eurosceptic Jeremy Corbyn as party leader.
“thought-provoking insights for students of recent history, political activists, politicians and those working in the European institutions … illuminates the failure to inform and educate the British public about the merits and challenges of EU membership”
Neil Kinnock, former leader of the Labour Party and European Commissioner
Anita Pollack was from 1980 political assistant to Barbara Castle, the first leader of the British Labour group in the directly elected European Parliament, and then an elected MEP herself for London South West from 1989-1999. From 2000-2006 she was head of European policy for English Heritage and is now a freelance consultant on European affairs.