West Midlands Regional Meeting, Saturday 24th April 2021 10am
incorporating special talk “Building a Young European Movement for the Future”
Chair: Richard Jones, Herefordshire for Europe
Organiser: George Longstaff, WM Regional Representative and Stratford for Europe
Zoom Host: Nigel Higgs, Herefordshire for Europe
Note taker: Elizabeth Baker, EM Staffordshire.
Recording of meeting: https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLvDLSIGgn42TxyO5x4vhYVFLQ_mv6NA3l
Welcome and introduction
Richard opened the meeting, the second WM regional meeting to be held on line, by welcoming the attendees, thanking the organisers and introducing our two guests Andrew Adonis, Chair of the European Movement UK (who would be joining at 10:15 following an appearance in a radio interview) and Julius Lajtha, President of the Young European Movement UK who had kindly agreed to come and tell us about their ideas for building a powerful, more youthful pro-European movement.
e-Twinning petition (see recording at 12:52)
Julius lead an “icebreaker” session during which the issue of Erasmus and e-Twinning arose and Peter Corkill (Warwick District) was invited to talk about the petition to reintroduce e-Twinning.
The loss of the Erasmus+ programme has affected more than university students. School children aged from 3-19 were abruptly cut off from the e-Twinning programme at the start of the year, many mid project. e-Twinning was inclusive and a means for children to participate in multi-national experiences without a passport or cost of travel. Warwick District 4 Europe and Oxford region are leading the campaign calling on UK government to sign up to the e-Twinning plus programme and restore the opportunities to schools. Please sign and promote their petition https://www.europeanmovement.co.uk/save_etwinning
Talk: Building a Young European Movement for the Future
Richard invited Andrew Adonis to set out his aims and objectives for the European Movement and claimed a feather in the cap for the West Midlands Region as being the first to have Andrew speak after his election as EM Chair in March. (recording 18:20)
Andrew’s talk is available in full starting at 18:40 in the recording.
Key points – with focus on what we need to do (with time guides to the recording):
- West Midlands is at the crux of the national debate. We can’t win without the Midlands. (18:40)
- We lost Brexit in the Midlands and it wasn’t just to do with the EU but whole structure of the economy and the situation is still as bad as ever it was. (19:00)
- It is a golden rule of life that you can’t win an argument if you don’t make it and almost no one other than the European Movement is daring to make a pro-EU argument in Britain at the moment, the situation is grim. (20:38)
- We have to be realistic about how weak our movement is. Membership has grown from fewer than 1000 members in 2016 to about 12,000 now but that is not enough to be an effective political movement. We need at least 100,000 members. (20:58)
- We have a branding problem. The name European Movement is hard to market these days and our logo suffers from “flagism” which is a cultural motif of the right-wing used against Europe. We need complete rebranding.(22:29)
- Until we can turn supporters into members who can do something we aren’t really a political movement that can do much. (24:15)
- Wants to hear our suggestions for transforming the European Movement. (24:50)
- Not much point us talking about the national position. National situation is about as bad as it has ever been. (25:02)
- Andrew’s judgement is there is not much point campaigning on specific issues in the UK-EU relationship at the moment as it almost certainly won’t make appreciable difference. Frost is not listening to us. (25:38)
- We need to work out how we can become credible again. The first step is to grow the membership to become serious political force. Welcomes our views. (26:40)
- Unless we can find a path to real and substantive advance in the West Midlands we won’t succeed anywhere in the country so Andrew wants to hear our ideas. (28:40)
- Julius is crucial, we need the Young European Movement. Until election of Andrew and Julius there had been no YEM representation at national level. Now Julius has assembled a very talented team and is about to appoint an organiser to really get going for the start of the next academic year to build a presence on campuses. (29:35)
- We need to reach other young people, not just university students, but universities are the place to start. (30:58)
- The average age of current EM members is about 67 (32:20)
Julius Lajtha – Young European Movement YEM)
Julius’s presentation on YEM is available in full from about 39:30 to 58:38 in the recording and a copy of his slides will be made available.
- YEM is the UK Branch of JEF, a pan European independent political youth NGO covering 35 countries and the youth division of EM UK. (40:19)
- YEM has a small team lead by five board members and and is aiming to grow its branch network. (40:53). Anyone under 35 interested in joining see the links (below) and contact one of the team. Branch network in the UK is still small but there are a number of interest groups.
- There are many opportunities for people under 35 who wish to join and volunteer to get involved, learn new skills and make a difference. See links below for more information and getting in contact.
- Through JEF, YEM members are part of a pan European active political network of young people which is also a large social movement. It runs large scale, long term projects and operates via exchange programmes (with costs of travel often reimbursed) to enable its members to meet to debate, develop and advocate for policies which will help shape the future of Europe, to share ideas and best practices and to build pan European relationships and promote European values. (From 44:30 and 49:05 – European Projects)
- YEM is also currently actively engaged on UK focused projects (From 46:05):
- Brexit Reality Portraits project (Brexit impact on people across Europe). If you have a story for Portraits of Brexit or have contacts in the media please let Julius or his team know.
- Collaborating with others to develop Erasmus+ campaign (advocating for Erasmus and for the whole UK to rejoin).
- Building the UK branch network. If interested in starting a local branch please contact Julius.
- Europe@School. YEM is looking for people who want to be trained to go into schools to promote civic education and advocate for Europe. The European Parliament liaison office will advertises to affiliate schools. The project is ready to go but needs more people to join. (from 51:35 and more from 55:41)
- JEF wants to start a pod cast and already has an online media, the New Federalist for which young people write articles. JEF provides training and mentoring. Anyone interested in contributing should contact Julius or one of his team. (52:30)
- There are a lot of opportunities and plenty to do to promote European values and co-operation – much already set up – but YEM needs more people. For volunteers training (social media, public speaking etc) useful for professional careers is available. (From 55:00)
- YEM is supported by European Commission and Council of Europe/ Funding is available (although UK YEM has lost access to EU funding it received from EC via Erasmus, but is still eligible for Council of Europe funding)
- Julius opened a break out room where attendees under 35 could join him for further discussions.
Attracting young members
John Burt, EM Shropshire (33:00): Shropshire has joined with the Young Farmers to organise an exchange to send young farmers – selected via an essay competition – to EU farms similar to their own and then hosting EU farmers on local Shropshire farms. Starting small. Hoping to grow. This is seen as a good PR opportunity with local tv, radio and press.
Judith King, Walsall (37:29): Youngsters are very concerned by the climate crisis. We should be pointing out that dealing with the climate crisis is best done through co-operation with our neighbours and so our relationship with Europe is very important.
Dave Underwood: (1:02:30) Asked Julius to recommend best way to recruit younger members, for example which social media is best for reaching younger people? Email introductions & presentations, encouraging individuals to sign up for the newsletter, publishing social media handles & their information links. Let youngsters see what YEM is doing don’t just try to tell them.
Peter Corkill: (1:05:03) Attending freshers’ fairs is hugely expensive for third parties but we could help man them if there is any funding. Is there? YEM is trying to get stalls in conjunction with other on campus political groups but funding is an issue. Andrew said we need to get YEM to freshers fairs as 1st party hence need to get student groups on campus set up now. Funding (see Agenda item 5 below and 1:08:32)
Structure and rebranding EM
Dave Underwood, EM Staffordshire, asked about rebranding plans (38:32). Andrew: there will be a revamp of the whole digital & marketing strategy, social media, communications and website (1:12:17).
Richard Jones, Herefordshire for Europe: (58:52) asked about co-ordination between YEM and EM and how YEM communicates its events? Purely on line until last week. Zoom meetings and Facebook but last week London branch organised a picnic and then freshers fair. Collaboration – good working relationship now after previous difficulties. Closely in touch on daily basis. Operate separately as it has different audience and focus and needs different tone and way of operating but shares content and contacts. Speak differently to 18 year old from 60 year old.
Peter Corkill: (1:18:53 via chat) Is EM developing a member offer to make a difference between being a member and a supporter? Andrew (from 1:19:17) said he wanted EM to become more democratic – he was elected by body of only 31 people – with more say for the members, including the right to vote for their representatives and principal officers and a constitution that includes diversity criteria. Need serious debate and engagement with members about the future of the movement. (1:23:50) At the moment YEM has opened almost everything to everyone who signs up as supporter in order to focus on expansion but will later introduce distinction for members.
Party links and campaign strategy
Tom Pratt, EU in Brum (1:10:58): The 3 Million Pledge campaign is struggling to get Labour to join. What can we do to get Labour to stick its head above the fence? Andrew (1:13:22): Thinks it unlikely Starmer will move, he’s bought in to the Deborah Mattinson analysis, Beyond the Red Wall. Don’t talk about Europe and say you agree with Brexit. Labour members (and other parties) need to get involved personally – take positions, become councillors and eventually MPs. Bottom up change.
Julius (1:23:12) YEM is not aligned to party – it is issue based and this gives it the advantage of allowing young people to be politically active focusing on issues without joining a potentially politically polarised organisation.
Ann Holland (from 1:26:23): Regarding Starmer’s approach, there is no chance of rejoining while Tories are in power and Starmer is trying to avoid a Remain culture war which will play to Tories. Andrew (from 1:28:35): Ann reflects the majority view at top of the party but he completely disagrees in practice and principle. If the approach is to regain ground it is failing. (1:31:08) Alternative is to have open and frank debates about the benefits of EU on the basis that the remain/leave split is about 50:50 and we lost the previous campaign because Corbyn and Swinson opted for a GE and we never got to make the argument in a further referendum.
Liz Baker (EM Staffordshire) (1:38:30): Even in strong Leave areas not all leave voters were strongly anti EU and wanted politicians to be honest with them and act in theirs and the national interest but instead were trapped in an identity war. Shouldn’t EM be trying to to reach and influence these people? Andrew (1:42:34): That isn’t the space we are in. The next decision point will be the next election. The current challenge is not to speak to the people but to build the movement and then we can take to the streets. (1:45:05) If every member could sign up 4 or 5 friends and then they each do the same we could be what we claim: a movement, and no where is it more important than the West Midlands.
Saffron Rainey (1:16:37) Is there a problem with EM structure so members and supporters at local level not known to centre, are we losing leverage? Andrew 1:16:58 This is a real problem. Should be partially sorted by Nation Builder. (1:18:40) Andrew will ask Anna what is happening with EM Shropshire and Nation Builder and it will be a good test case. (1:36:12) George advises all WM groups are on option one for Nation Builder but have no dates for going live. Request for Andrew to facilitate it. (1:37:17) Richard Wilson – it’s number one on the council agenda but staff difficulties have slowed it down. No question that it is a big issue.
Mailing List: http://bit.ly/yemuk-mailinglist
Campaign Brexit Reality Portraits: https://www.yem.org.uk/projects_brp
Join Erasmus+ Campaign: https://www.yem.org.uk/erasmus
Open team calls:
Join the mobilisation team: https://www.yem.org.uk/mobilise
Join the communications team: https://www.yem.org.uk/joinsmteam
Website of our European Umbrella: https://jef.eu/activities/#projects
Website of YEM UK (still under redevelopment): https://www.yem.org.uk/
Part 2 – Regional Meeting – Agenda Items
- Electoral Reform. Getting rid of FPTP is seen as a key objective by many Europhiles and personally favoured by many in the European Movement but Andrew doesn’t believe the movement itself should take a stance. It should campaign for closer relationship with Europe and maintain as broad support for that as possible, only taking a stance on Europe connected issues. There may be many supporters of close relationship with Europe who do not want to change the electoral system.
Tom Pratt agreed EM should “stick in its own lane” and pointed out that there are a number of co-operating democracy and electoral reform groups. They attract support from Brexiters and others who do not support closer European relations. Anyone interested in joining a Democracy West Midlands wide grouping should contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
John Burt disagreed with Andrew when he said we were routed at the election. Tories only got 44% so he believed it was important to take action on both fronts.
- Multiple Pro-EU groups appearing to compete. How do we avoid a repeat of the problems which surfaced during the People’s Vote campaign? With Best for Britain relaunching on Monday, EM and Grassroots 4 Europe are about the only two left solely in the EU area and Richard Wilson is a vice chair of the former and chair of the latter. They both have different approaches but co-ordinate closely. Richard’s view is that the two organisations support different aspects of the campaign which supplement each other. It may change as EM grows, and we need to see how things develop, but G4E has been co-ordinating independent groups and keeping the movement active & the current relationship seems relatively successful.
Saffron Rainey agreed with Richard and cited the dual campaign by Leave.eu and Vote Leave during the Brexit campaign playing to different audiences but with common aim. EM and G4E could form similar dual campaign.
- UK local Elections 2021 – Pledge for the 3 Million campaign. Campaign to raise awareness of the need for EU citizens to register for Settled Status before the deadline and also to let people like landlords know about the digital only platform for proof of status. Campaign is to ask all councils and candidates in May elections to sign the pledge. Details are on website of The 3 Million. Read it and then ask local councillors and candidates to commit to it.
So far no Conservatives have pledged. Tom Pratt wants us to try to get a conservative to pledge.
Still concerns that some EU Citizens don’t know. Possibly old and vulnerable and also children.
Jill Hanna, Herefordshire for Europe, suggested writing to Social Service departments reminding them they have a duty to register EU citizen children in their care.
Peter Corkill said he knows councils have been given funding to prepare for Brexit and some haven’t spent it all. He suggested we ask councils if they have spent all their allocations and if not to use some of it sending out information on settled status.
Tom P said some councils claim it would cost a lot but Brighton did it for about 10p each.
Liz Baker asked whether the EU Embassy was still providing the leaflets (in different language packs) they had offered earlier in the year. No one knew but it was agreed we should find out.
- What is the future of County wide structures for West Midlands? Herefordshire, Shropshire and Staffordshire have successfully developed county wide structures covering the previous smaller local groups. It has given scale and helped during the Covid period. Other potential candidates are the groups in the West Midlands Unitary Authority and Coventry and Warwickshire groups. George will pursue bilaterally with those groups.
- Branch funding. Is any HQ funding available to help branches undertake local campaigns? George contacted Anna Bird to ask. There is some budget allocated for this so they may be able help. There are no formal criteria but it is likely to be allocated for activities which grow the movement or capture Brexit impact stories. Contact George with any ideas which may need funding and he will help to see “if it flies”.
HQ is also planning to provide customisable campaign material to help groups reduce their costs.
- Brexit impact on Businesses – do West Midlands groups want to co-ordinate a collective view to feed to HQ? This initiative overlaps with the EM Brexit Impact Stories and insufficient time to discuss fully. We should collect information about impacts on local businesses including businesses who may not want to admit it.
- EM Events and Initiatives – see George’s recent email on the topics.
Suggested/requested Campaign actions marked above in bold.
In approximately three months. Type of meeting (physical or online will depend on Covid situation)