Jeremy Corbyn speech to the Party of European Socialists Council in Prague
December 3, 2016
Colleagues and comrades, I want to thank you for inviting me here today, and for the reception we have received from our hosts in this magnificent city.
It is fitting we are in Prague to discuss the challenges ahead for democracy in Europe.
This is a city which has been at the heart of the history of our continent and the convulsions of the past century – of war, revolution and the struggle for democracy and social justice.
We are in a city that also suffered the scourge of Nazi occupation and the horror of its genocidal crimes.
Today I will also be visiting the Terezin memorial which commemorates the victims of Nazi political and racial persecution in the Czech Republic, a permanent testimony to the threat posed by far right politics, anti-semitism and racist scapegoating.
On behalf of the British Labour party I will be paying tribute and remembering those who died, whose suffering is a reminder of the scars left by the far right, not just on this country or this continent, but on the whole world.
Today, we live in a different time with different pressures and opportunities.
But it is clear, across Europe and beyond there has been an alarming acceleration in the rise of the populist right.
Whether it be UKIP in Britain, Donald Trump in the United States, Jobbik in Hungary or Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France.
Politics has been shaken across the world and, as socialists and progressives, we know very well why the populist right is gaining ground. But we are finding it increasingly hard to get our message heard and it is up to us to offer the political leadership needed for a real alternative.
We know the gap between rich and poor is widening. We know living standards are stagnating or falling and insecurity is growing. We know that many people feel left behind by the forces unleashed by globalization – powerless in the face of deregulated corporate power.
Often the populist right do identify the right problems but their solutions are the toxic dead ends of the past, seeking to divert it with rhetoric designed to divide and blame.
They are political parasites, feeding on people’s concerns and worsening conditions, blaming the most vulnerable for society’s ills instead of offering a way to take back real control of our lives from powerful elites who serve their own interests.
But unless progressive parties and movements break with that failed economic and political establishment it is the siren voices of the populist far right that will fill the gap.
It can be difficult to convince the long-term unemployed that the reason there is no work is not that immigrants are stealing their jobs but the result of the economic programme of the right that has failed to deliver sustainable growth, security and rising living standards for all.
Or It can be hard to make clear that our public services are being run down because of years of austerity and predatory privatisation, rather than overspending and government waste, but it is vital that we do.
We cannot abandon our socialist principles because we are told this is the only way to win power. That is nonsense.
The reason we are losing ground to the right today is because the message of what socialism is and what it can achieve in people’s daily lives has been steadily diluted.
Many people no longer understand what we stand for.
Too often in recent years the left in Europe has been seen as apologists for a broken system rather than the answer to how to deliver radical social and economic reform for the 21st century.
Too often the left has been seen as the accomplice to reckless, unfettered capitalism rather than a challenge to it.
Too often the left has been seen as standing up for the privileged few rather than for the many we exist to represent and defend.
If we are only seen as protectors of the status quo how can we expect people to turn to us when they can see that status quo has failed?
We must stand for real change, and a break with the failed elite politics and economics of the past.
If we do, I have every confidence that the principles of solidarity, internationalism and socialism that we stand for can be at the heart of European politics in the 21st century.
That’s why it is vital that our rhetoric cannot be used to legitimise the scapegoating of refugees or migrant workers.
When we talk about refugees we need to talk about them as human beings, not as numbers, or as a burden, but instead as children, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters.
And when we face the challenge of migration we need to work together to halt the exploitation of migrant labour to undercut pay and conditions in a race to the bottom across Europe. We cannot allow the parties of the right to sow divisions and fan the flames of fear.
When it comes to Britain’s referendum vote to leave the European Union we in the Labour party respect that decision, and we want to work together with Socialist and progressive parties across Europe to find the best possible solution that benefits both Britain and the EU in the Brexit negotiations.
Labour is calling on the British Government to guarantee the rights of all EU Citizens before Article 50 negotiations begin, and not to use them as a bargaining chip in negotiations.
Labour is pushing for Brexit negotiations to be carried out in a transparent manner, in a spirit that aims to find a deal that works for all across our the continent.
That is why I am inviting leaders from socialist and progressive parties and movements across Europe to a special conference in London in February.
I believe our movement has the new ideas to take on and beat the populist right.. But we must harvest those ideas and that energy, allow a space within our parties for new ideas to be heard and build a movement with a democratic culture at its very heart.
It is when people lose faith in the power of politics to improve people’s lives that the space opens up for the far right to scapegoat and blame. Our task is harder, to restore people’s confidence that we have both the vision and an understanding of the lives of those we represent to change them for the better.
As we head towards 2017 many people are worried about the direction that Europe is taking. Well now is time for us to turn the tide. To put the interests of working people front and centre stage and to fight for our values, of social justice, solidarity, equality and internationalism.
If we do that together, and break with the failed politics of the past, I am confident we can overcome the challenge from the populist right.