This week's big questions: How should we convince Britain to stay in the EU? Has the Labour Party improved its image? And is Borgen true to life?

This week's questions are answered by Neil Kinnock, former Labour leader

Share

Is Britain heading for the EU exit?

No. British people recognise the reality that, especially in a globalised economy and in politically insecure times, our country’s best interests are served by being fully and influentially in the EU. The possibility of exit arises now only because David Cameron is trying to appease Europhobes in the Tory party with the pledge of an in/out referendum. That is pitiful, not patriotic. It means unnecessary risks when the UK already has a law requiring a referendum if a loss of sovereignty is proposed. It won’t even harvest votes for the Tories, any more than the referendum promise won votes for Labour in 1974. He’s just given sensible people from the centre and the left another big reason for defeating the Tories and stopping this reckless ripping wheeze in its tracks.

How can Ed Miliband now avoid also offering the British people an in/out referendum on Europe?

By continuing to demonstrate that specifying an in/out referendum in several years’ time over unclear issues in uncertain conditions with unknown outcomes maximises economic hazard and minimises political strength. Vital investment will be deterred by the possibility that the UK could be out of the single market before 2020; other member states will react against the Tories’ “meet our demands or we quit” menaces. Contrasting with Cameron’s concessions to his militant tendency, Ed Miliband has the courage and common sense to defend the national interest and make the case for modernising EU reform, not risking withdrawal.

Could Britain prosper like Norway or Switzerland, trading with Europe but not bound by every piece of red tape and regulation, and in control of its own borders?

Norway is in the European Economic Area and obliged to apply EU single-market regulations and other rules over which it has no influence because it is not a member state. Through over 200 bilateral treaties with the EU, Switzerland implements most Union law and, like Norway, contributes to the EU budget while having no EU legislative power. Both countries are part of the Schengen agreement and therefore have no border controls with EU member states other than the UK and Ireland.

How would you go about turning around British public opinion in support of continued EU membership?

Keep on telling the truth about the multiple economic and political advantages of EU membership in return for paying less than 1 per cent of our GNP, the risks and costs of losing them, and the scope for achieving improvement in the EU as a strong, effective participant. That works. In recent weeks, political leaders in Britain and other EU countries, President Obama, and senior figures in business and the unions have voiced clear practical reasons for committed and sustained UK engagement in the EU, and polls have shown opinion moving positively. There’ll be much more of that – and the facts will beat the phobias.

What was Britain’s reputation when you were a European commissioner in Brussels?

In 1995, when I went to the European Commission, people working for the EU in Brussels were impressed by the quality of British civil servants (that’s a constant), amazed and appalled by the fallacies and falsehoods of the Europhobic press (ditto), and bemused by a Tory government snarled up in Euroschism (plus ça change...). Election of the Blair government brought a tide of enthusiasm which receded with the “red lines” posturing in the grandiose “constitutional convention” and went out completely with the Iraq war. Affection for Brits has remained strong.

Do you regret that Tony Blair didn’t do more to take on the Eurosceptic press or, indeed, take Britain into the euro?

From a commanding political position, Tony could – and should – have asserted his genuine enthusiasm for an active leading UK role in the EU more consistently and forcefully. That would have benefited the UK and the EU and it would have been a vigorous – and salutary – rebuff to the Europhobe press. Like Tony, I favoured – with some qualifications – joining the euro. I was wrong and Gordon Brown’s view that the euro’s fundamentals didn’t fit the UK was right.

If there is a hung parliament after the next election, is a Labour/Lib Dem coalition plausible or workable?

It’s certain that Labour will fight relentlessly to win an overall majority. All other ruminations are gossip and guesswork.

Does the Labour Party still suffer from the image problem that dogged your leadership?

No. Despite the poisonous efforts of parts of the press, it is clear that Labour is a united, forward-looking party inspired by decent, enlightened values, committed to practical purposes and policies and fully in touch with the needs and aspirations of the mainstream majority of people. Ed Miliband shows skill, imagination, bravery and toughness in his leadership, and he has a very able team which, like him, is young, energetic and experienced in government.

How big a problem for Labour is it that the Chancellor’s shirkers vs strivers narrative to justify welfare cuts is so popular with voters?

George Osborne’s deprive and divide, fool and rule tactics will fail. Skivers are – rightly – loathed. But people can distinguish between them and those who have genuine needs and strive to get work, to improve skills and to earn a decent wage when they have a job. They can also see that slashing the benefits of those in work and out of work is inefficient as well as unjust because it simply reduces spending, adds to unemployment, increases damage to families and communities and multiplies costs to the country.

You are the father-in-law of the Danish prime minister. Can Danish-style coalition politics ever work in Britain? And how true to life is Borgen?

Managing a three-party coalition is an interesting task in any democracy but, since the UK doesn’t have the Danish PR system, such an election outcome is unlikely here. We greatly enjoy Borgen. It’s an excellent drama, brilliantly performed. If it were true to life, it would be much less gripping.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
More From
Neil Kinnock
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist / Physio / Osteopath

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for o...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager / Sales Executive - Contract Hire

£35000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leader provides c...

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Don’t pity me for eating alone, just give me a better table

Rosie Millard
Aerial view of planned third runway at Heathrow  

Heathrow expansion: This final 'conclusion' has simply fanned the airport flames

Chris Blackhurst
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most