I want to begin by saying that today’s “Socialists Together” conference is a great initiative, and when Gianni Pittella invited me to speak, I was very glad to accept.
I want to thank everybody from all the participating organisations, from many different countries, for being here to take part and contribute to this critical debate about the future of socialist and progressive politics and the future of our continent.
There can be no doubting the enthusiasm of the people here today. Or that our movement is brimming with passion and ideas.
So we need to seize this opportunity to channel that enthusiasm, come together, share these ideas and turn them into action and real change.
Since the financial crash we have seen years of austerity across Europe.
A political choice shaped by an ideology which has crippled many parts of our economies encouraged a dismantling of our public services and driven down wages and living standards.
In many of our countries, welfare and social security have been hit by the full force of that austerity agenda. Targeting the very poorest in our society.
At the same time the necessity of large scale and vital public investment has been all but abandoned as a neo-liberal dogma has allowed many of our valuable public assets to be sold cheaply to the benefit of the few at the expense of the many.
Beyond Europe’s borders we have seen war and climate change drive the mass displacement of people and forced migration; a refugee crisis on a scale not seen since the Second World War, tearing apart communities and families.
That in turn is being exploited by some of the ugliest elements in our politics. People who are determined to promote fear and division within our societies.
All of this against a backdrop where our world is slipping back towards the threat of global conflict; spurred on by national egotism and neo-imperial ambition.
And where human and democratic rights – including freedom of speech – are increasingly coming under pressure on the fringes, and even within the borders of the European Union.
These are some of the challenges that face us – and the people we represent.
For millions of people across our continent the current system is failing. Failing to deliver secure jobs. Failing to deliver rising living standards. And failing to deliver a safe and secure future.
Instead of seeing the current system and the long promoted panacea of de-regulated markets as a solution to their problems, people across Europe see them as the cause of their problems.
People no longer have faith that globalisation can bring a future of prosperity and security, or that political business as usual will roll back the rampant growth of inequality. Young people are angry at being forced into debt and insecurity.
And it is clear to me that people – of all ages, backgrounds and communities – want change.
Yet since the economic crash and the enforcement of a failed austerity, the people we represent have too often not associated the left and wider progressive politics with the change they want.
Instead we have witnessed the opposite. We have seen right wing nationalist and racist movements reap the benefits of a broken system.
And for many of those people who feel angry, held back and left behind, the voices of those on the extreme right often sound more radical than those on the left.
For too long the most prominent voices in our movement have looked out of touch; too willing to defend the status quo and the established order in a desperate attempt to defend and protect what is seen as the centre ground in politics, only to find the centre ground has shifted – or was never where the elites claimed it was in the first place.
From Donald Trump in the United States; Marine Le Pen in France and UKIP in Britain; to the worrying rise of the far right elsewhere in Europe; including most recently in Austria.
Our broken system has provided fertile ground for the growth of nationalist and xenophobic politics.
Now we all know that their politics of hate, blame and division are not the answer.
But unless we offer a clear and radical alternative of credible solutions to the problems people face; unless we offer a chance to change the broken system; unless we offer hope for a more equitable and prosperous future; we will effectively be clearing the path for the extreme right to make even more far-reaching inroads into our communities; and their message of fear and division to become the political mainstream in our political discourse.
We can offer a radical alternative. We have the ideas to make progressive politics the dominant force of this century. But if we don’t get our message right, if we don’t stand up for our core beliefs and if we don’t represent change we will flounder and stagnate.
For a start, the neoliberal economic model is broken. It doesn’t work for most people.
Inequality and low taxes for the richest are hurting our people and harming the economy – as even the IMF now acknowledges.
That’s why our thinking can and must become the new mainstream, as we develop a new consensus of how to run an economy for the many not the few. That rewards the real wealth creators – that means all of us – not the wealth extractors.
We must build an economy fit for the 21st Century with a democratic state at its heart that’s not afraid to act when something goes wrong. But also to shape and drive innovation and investment in the cutting edge technologies of the future.
This new consensus includes not only regulation but also new forms of public, co-operative and social ownership – for too long entrenched in the politics of the European establishment.
It should be a government’s duty to make sure that regulation keeps pace with an ever-changing world and for too long, calls for sensible and necessary regulation of working conditions and employment standards across Europe have been ignored – allowing wages to be held down and fuelling the resentment of many held back and neglected by the existing system.
We cannot continue to make these mistakes. The technology of the digital age offers us an opportunity to empower workers and to co-operate on a scale not possible before.
But it has enabled a more exploitative form of capitalism to emerge. Look at Uber, Deliveroo, Amazon and others. The platforms these companies use are the technologies of the future.
But, too often, their business models depend not on technological advantage, but on establishing an effective monopoly in their market and using it to drive wages and conditions through the floor.
Socialists must rise to this challenge and radically rethink how to shape the development of our economies and societies over the next generation. Using the power of new technology to make our economy work for the many not the few.
And while the economic downturn takes hold, we must also never forget our responsibilities in tackling climate change and finding the solutions to the impact of global warming.
It is shameful the US president wants to pull out of the Paris Climate Change Agreement with the future of the planet at stake and we as Socialists should be the loudest voices in condemning such myopic and potentially catastrophic acts.
We must also think collectively about how we address other global challenges.
Never has the time been more important to restate our commitment to the UN Charter, the third clause of which states its aim: “To achieve international co-operation in solving international problems”.
“To achieve international co-operation in solving international problems”. With the problems facing us of nuclear proliferation, climate change, the humanitarian crises in Syria, Yemen and of the Rohingya in Myanmar – a global agenda driven by socialist principles is more necessary than ever.
Whether it is the belligerence and provocation of Donald Trump or of Kim Jong-Un – what’s evidently essential is calm, rational dialogue and co-operation.
And across the world our movement must play a huge role as a spur to development, empowering women and bringing communities together in a world of aggressive reaction and macho posturing.
Let us be the voice for diplomacy and the voice for peace.
As Europe continues to be swept up in an ongoing migration and refugee crisis, all Socialists must stand together in support of a humane and collective response.
No matter how hard it may sometimes seem it must be the left that shows leadership on the refugee crisis. There are still people in the Mediterranean fleeing war and persecution. Many from North Africa, as well as the wider Middle East.
We need a progressive and coherent, joined up approach. This includes a fair burden-sharing system and legal pathways of admission.
And our response must be matched by broader efforts by all concerned, to address the root causes behind migration pressures, create better protection for people in transit, and address smuggling and trafficking. Individual countries cannot be left to solve this crisis alone.
And I want to pay tribute to the outstanding work of the anti racist and peace movements across Europe.
Friends we must defend human rights, democracy and social justice within our own borders. The attack on freedom of speech and on academics in some parts of Europe should not and cannot be tolerated.
Europe is the birthplace of the enlightenment, democracy, the labour movement and socialism, and it has also been the cradle of racist colonialism, fascism, the slave trade and the most terrible crimes in human history.
The struggle for the best of Europe and its progressive traditions against that other European legacy must be vigilant and unending. Let’s not forget these freedoms are central to all of us.
We have always been proud to stand up to these breaches when they occur outside of the EU. We must be doubly determined to stand up to abuses when they happen inside our own borders.
Finally, when it comes to Brexit, let me be clear, the British Labour Party do not see you or any part of Europe as our enemy. You are our colleagues, partners, comrades and friends.
Our commitment is clear, we must and will respect the result of the EU referendum. But at the same time seek to build a new close and cooperative relationship with our fellow Europeans based on our common interests. We are internationalists.
I urge all leaders on all sides, the UK and the EU must take the next steps together. There is no room – and no need – for insults or divisive posturing. It is our responsibility to build a relationship that will continue to thrive for generations to come.
To all the EU nationals who live, work and contribute to British society, we thank you. We thank you for being our friends, colleagues and neighbours. And we will do all we can to make sure you will continue to be welcome and continue to call Britain your home.
In the referendum our party campaigned to “remain and reform” and that call for reform of EU institutions and rules in the interests of the many is echoed by friends and allies across Europe.
We will resist any attempt by the British Conservatives to use Brexit to try and create a deregulated tax haven off the shores of Europe.
A deal that works for us all is essential both for Britain and the whole of Europe.
We will continue to work with you and others across Europe, and of course Europe is bigger than the EU alone, on climate change, challenging the grip of corporate power and many other issues. Inside or outside the EU, progressive advances in every part of our continent strengthen us all.
Many establishment commentators have been determined to write the left off. In the UK we were told we had no chance and although we did not quite win the general Election, we comprehensively proved our critics wrong, delivering the largest increase in Labour’s votes since 1945 and depriving the Conservatives of their majority.
We showed that with a combination of the enthusiasm of on-the-ground campaigning and cutting edge social media it is possible to mobilise millions of people around a radical, transformational, socialist agenda.
It is possible to win the argument if our message is bold and our message is radical. If we listen to what the majority actually want, we will prove the elites and their pundits wrong, that we in this movement have the enthusiasm, the ability and the ideas to change this world.
But I also know we can only do it when we work together both at home and across the globe.