Cook claims pro-Europe youth vote

Labour says generation gap between main parties is trump card. Colin Brown reports
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The Independent Online
A generation gap between Labour and Tory supporters will help Labour win support for its pro-European policies, Robin Cook said yesterday as he launched a campaign to win the hearts and minds of increasingly Euro-sceptic voters.

The shadow Foreign Secretary said the average age of Labour Party members was falling while the average age of Tory party members was rising. Labour had increased its membership by one-third to more than 300,000 since Tony Blair became leader, and the new members were young.

"There is now a generation's difference between the membership and the attitudes of Labour and the Conservative parties.

''That is one reason why Labour faces a future for Britain in Europe with confidence while Conservatives want to retreat into the past," he said.

The average age of Labour members is 46 compared to 61 years in the Tory party, according to Labour research, although Conservative Central Office said it was impossible to tell because they did not have a central membership register.

Labour's youth section is open to 15-to-26-year-olds and has increased its membership in the past 18 months from 14,000 to 22,000. Membership of the Young Conservatives, whose ages range from 15 to 35, stands at 5,000 but the Tories said the Conservative Students had 10,000 members.

Mr Cook, regarded as a sceptic about a single European currency, will take the campaign to the country to sell Labour's policy of a "People's Europe". Labour strategists confirmed the Cook tour was designed to counter the rich Euro-sceptic vein being mined by the Tories.

Europe remains one of the few clear dividing lines between Labour and Tory policy, and Tony Blair, the Labour leader, has been attacked by John Major as a "poodle of Brussels".

The Labour mini-manifesto on Europe published yesterday said Labour believed that in the longer term, further moves towards economic and monetary union through the creation of a single currency "could produce significant benefits to the peoples of Europe".

It would remove the costs of currency transactions currently estimated at pounds 18.5bn each year, boost inward investment by reducing exchange rate risks, create a more stable economic environment for industry and reduce currency speculation.

It also strongly hinted that Labour would offer a referendum on a European single currency, but stopped short of a firm commitment. It stated: "The move towards a single currency must be based on the consent of the British people." Mr Cook said consent could be obtained either by a referendum or a general election in which a single currency was a prominent issue.

But Labour would not accept the "bankers' criteria" for joining the single currency of economic convergence in the Maastricht treaty, Mr Cook said. Labour would insist on convergence on employment, productivity and growth rates across Europe before joining.

The shadow Foreign Secretary coupled Labour's pro-European stance with a dose of Euro-scepticism by offering an assurance that Labour would not "sign up for a federal European superstate. The Europe we seek is an association of free member states sharing common interests, not surrendering sovereignty".

The Tories insist that Labour is as badly split as the Government over Europe, but Mr Blair has united his party behind a commitment to sign the social chapter extending EU workers' rights to Britain, including workers' councils.