FIRST of all, I would like to thank all those people who voted Labour in the recent elections in Oxford.
Labour did well in this city, and despite wall-to-wall Farage-mania in the national media, UKIP came a desultory third in Oxford. It is worth reflecting on why our city – like many others in the South East – bucked the trend and overwhelmingly supported Labour in the European elections.
First, Labour was clear that while we support being represented in Europe, we also need the EU to change.
Many Oxford residents’ jobs depend on our European links, whether we’re talking about workers at BMW in Cowley, apprentices at the Fusion facility in Culham, or teachers at our language schools. But the EU is not just important because of the jobs which depend on the European free-trade area.
From my many discussions on the doorstep with neighbours and other Oxford residents, many feel very strongly that we can’t deal with modern challenges like climate change, internet crime, human trafficking or competition from low-wage countries, without co-operating within Europe.
However, I think most people in Oxford who voted Labour were not voting for the European status quo.
Unfortunately the EU has been controlled by right-wing parties for the last few years. We can see the impact of that everywhere, from food banks in our own city to soup kitchens in Athens.
Cutting public spending too far and too fast has made the economic crisis worse, nowhere more than in the UK.
Despite our coalition Government´s rhetoric, one in five young unemployed people in Europe are British – a shameful statistic. Labour is part of the Socialist and Democrat group in the European Parliament, which wants to see real change in Europe.
Our top priority is to see real, sustainable economic growth and more high-quality, decently-paid jobs.
This is rather than zero-hours contracts and forced self-employment that – combined with the high cost of housing here – are pushing many working Oxford people into poverty.
Above all, we have to tackle the disgrace of youth unemployment. Labour in the European Parliament pushed for the ‘Youth Employment Guarantee,’ which provides training or job opportunities to young people out of work.
The British coalition Government is the only government out of all 28 European countries that refuses to take part in the guarantee, for ideological reasons.
As a result, our young people have to wait far longer to get help than other European young people. Labour in Europe also wants to cut out unfair competition in the labour market. We are determined to tighten up rules that let agencies employ foreign workers on lower pay than British workers – measures which the UK coalition Government shamefully lobbied against.
Above all, though, we want an EU that is accountable, and where MEPs are visible and accessible. Although I have only been officially inaugurated now at the start of July, I’m looking forward to having an office set up here in Oxford soon, and engaging with local people as much as possible. It only takes a few hours between saying goodbye to my family and getting on my bike in Rose Hill, to sitting in the parliament in Brussels – but sometimes they seem like separate worlds.
Far too many MEPs in the past – particularly those from ‘Eurosceptic’ parties like UKIP – have been elected and then just disappear for the next few years until election time comes round again. I want Oxford residents to know that they will always have a voice in Europe through their Labour MEP for the South East.
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