A Corbyn supporter looks back

December 19, 2019

In Blog News

Dear residents of North West Durham,

Firstly, I want to say thank you to the almost 19,000 of you who voted for me and the Labour Party. Standing there, watching the votes being tipped out of the ballot boxes, even when it became clear that I was going to lose, I was so proud and heartened that so many of you placed your faith in the Labour Party. To those people who felt they could not vote for Labour, I want you to know I am reflecting and trying to understand what prevented us from winning the seat this time.

So, at this point, I just wanted to share with you the lessons I learned from the two and a half years I had representing this constituency and from the six weeks of the General Election campaign. People will say it was Brexit, and, yes that was a huge factor, or that it was Jeremy Corbyn, and yes, again that was a factor too (I will talk about that a bit later), but in my view it was about more than these two important factors.

Firstly, what was acutely obvious throughout my time as the MP, was that there was a hard core of people who were bitterly angry with me before I had even opened my mouth: angry at the political establishment; angry at the expenses scandal; angry at being left behind, angry that their life was not as good now as it was; angry that their communities had not been invested in and that there was no longer a buzz and a sense of community about the place.

At many doors, there was a mixture of fury and apathy at successive governments (and I very much include New Labour in that). The current Labour Party were blamed for much of the problems in our communities, despite being out of power for a decade and I was seen as part of the establishment. I have always been very patient with this anger from people I represented. It was the same anger and rage which got me interested in standing in the first place. But it was a barrier to being believed. I so desperately wanted people to see that I am genuine about the changes we wanted to bring about and that the party I belonged to was genuine about that too.

On our spending commitments, lots of you said: “It sounds great, but how are you going to pay for it?” Despite the costed manifesto and the painstaking and detailed work of different Labour teams, it didn’t seem achievable. You talked about wanting control back to your country, but when I relayed how a Ministry of Employment Rights would unlock power in the most fundamental way — in the control over your employment and working life — I understand that it did not resonate. I could almost hear media pundits yawning when I tried to talk about the Ministry of Employment Rights.

When we tried to talk about a fundamental shift in power, the rapid pay rise that would come for many after the election of a Labour Government, how we would move towards security and certainty for workers, the interviewers (pretty much across the board) lost interest, and instead would ask about the day’s political gossip (for example, ask repeatedly whether the leaked documents on the NHS were from Russia or not, for goodness sake). That made it hard when I got to your door, to try and explain the importance of what we were proposing, because the foundations had not stuck. I am sorry about that. Some of it was in our control, some not.

On Brexit, I listened over the last two years, I really did. People passionately wanted to Remain and passionately wanted to Leave. It became a divide so deep, never to be healed. In North West Durham, you voted by a majority to Leave, as did the nation. I repeatedly argued, inside my party, that we should respect the result of the referendum and avoid a second one. Of course, when you are in the Shadow Cabinet, you are bound by collective responsibility and I respected that.

There was no appetite for that ‘Norway-style’ Brexit in the last Parliament and, it appeared, not amongst the people I represented. People who wanted Leave would tell me that is not really Leave and people who wanted Remain would assert no possible deal could be better than remain. Brexit was without a doubt a fog that descended, and no issue could penetrate it. It was frustrating that, so often, no other issue could be discussed, that doors would close and that, in the minds of people that I cared so much about, I was lumped in with a political establishment I desperately wanted to fight.

We are leaving the EU now, on the hardest of terms. We will be moving to free trade agreements. Leaving the EU did not scare me, but this exit does. Irrespective of what I think, it is happening. I warned of the strength of feeling. I listened to you in North West Durham. But it was not enough for those Labour voting people who really wanted to Leave and sniffed a sense of betrayal. Many did not believe that we would implement the deal we re-negotiated the EU. Many of you believed that there would be something else that the political establishment would cook up to prevent leaving the EU. I very much get that sense of suspicion.

On Jeremy. This bit is hard, because when I knocked on your doors in 2017, so many of you talked about what a good guy he seemed, that he was on the side of the people and that he was getting a very hard time from people inside the Labour Party and out. People who were less friendly to Labour spoke about how damaging a divided party is, about things like the IRA and the connections internationally that you didn’t understand or agree with.

By 2019, you seemed so much angrier about Jeremy Corbyn. I had a handful of angry people say “I would shoot him” or “take a gun to his head” whilst in the next breath calling him an extremist. But mostly people were not connecting with him for lots of different reasons. I know people on either side of the Brexit division wanted him to come down on the side of Remain or Leave. I don’t want to patronise anyone by saying that this was all the fault of the media. I know people make up their own minds. But I cannot and will not accept that the media had no part. So much of the coverage sought to demolish Jeremy from day one, not because of him as a person, but because of his politics.

And that demonization will happen to other leaders who try and challenge the way things are: the inequality, the poverty and merciless, brutal wars. It will happen to those who push for a different economic system to save the planet. It will happen again when we try and argue for a better, more equal world. For the last three years, on almost every interview on policy, or what we believe as representatives of the Labour Party, questions of his popularity intervened. That had an immense impact.

If you go to Westminster and fit in, it is a relatively easy job. The biggest pressure is the response time of the emails that come in from your constituents, the issues they need help with, holding the Government to account, speaking up for your community or being away from family. However, if you are there to take on the establishment, there is another whole layer of pressure and it can be all consuming. At every turn you have to be precise in your language and behaviour, because if you are not, there are thousands of people ready to point it out.

Telling the truth in Westminster can mean people want to punish you. You must accept that there are newspapers ready to write ridiculous headlines. It is so difficult to get the truth out once the lie has been sown. And so every day is a battle to get a hearing for those you represent and for the ideas you believe in. Without the constant demands of Parliament and representation, I am sure I will get more time with my little boy, partner and family and I can begin to grieve for my father.

I never stopped being a working-class person just because I became an MP. In or out of Parliament, I hate what the system does to our communities. I hate the way large parts of our media are so complicit in hiding or concealing the silent voices or the real political catastrophes at play, because they choose to highlight other, much more superficial and insular dramas.

I will never stop believing that another world is possible, or that North West Durham can thrive — that high quality, well paid jobs can be brought and remain here. I believe there is a way to make sure people have money in their pockets at the end of the month and look forward to using the public transport system, as in many other countries. It is all possible.

I don’t regret these past two and a half years and I feel like I tried my very best. Did I get some things wrong? I am sure I did, but I did give my all to the people of North West Durham. I didn’t do it because I wanted to keep my job, but because I connected with the people here and feel like I have such a positive relationship with people, even those who disagree, even after losing.

To those of you who answered your door and begged us to get rid of this Government and testified to the damage being done and how our community could take no more, I am so sorry that we failed you, I really am. The barriers were too great. Brexit, years of decline, anti-establishment feeling, lack of trust in Westminster politics, little connection to the leader of the Party, all that turned into the perfect storm which was our defeat. I just wanted to make it clear, though, that I never took one Labour voter for granted. I didn’t ever think, that because you previously worked in the steel works, you should be Labour. Or because your grandfather was truncheoned by the police under Thatcher, you should be Labour.

I know it was my job and my party’s job to make the arguments for our politics, to prove why we would be different to the Blair years and why we would have been so much better than a Boris Johnson government and it didn’t cut through. It’s quite unbelievable how the Conservatives were able to masquerade as an entirely different party, after their failure to deal with Brexit in the previous three years and after a punishing decade of austerity, inflicting immeasurable harm on our communities.

We will hold the new MP for North West Durham to account — on every commitment he made and every statement he makes. But what we must also do is defend of our community. People voted for change, control and security. But I think we will get something very different. Will Wolsingham Sixth Form re-open? Will the school become an academy? What will happen to all the schools in our area worried sick about their budgets? Will we get a new hospital to replace Shotley Bridge? Will the council get anywhere near the £230 million back that has been taken for vital services? What will they do to tackle the low pay epidemic in North West Durham? What will ‘getting Brexit done’ mean for our communities? What will the future trade deals mean to our communities? How will we have our say?

We have to fight for our area. We must be there for our fellow working people and their families, who will be attacked under this new government.

And lastly, I want to say thank you for giving me the privilege of a lifetime in being your MP for two and a half years — to represent you in Parliament. Even if these were the only moments I get to stand up for our communities and our class in that building, it was utterly worth it. I’ve lost this election, not with anger or resentment, but with love in my heart and a determination to build a better future.