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Reflecting on Defeat

First of all, thank you to everyone who has sent such kind messages to me after last night’s result in Birmingham Northfield. Even though I never took this election – or any election – for granted, it is still a big blow to lose the seat I have represented for 27 years and which is my home. So all those messages mean a lot to me.

It has been an honour to serve the people of Birmingham Northfield for all those 27 years. It is an area that has been through a lot – not least with the loss of car production at the Longbridge plant that symbolised the identity of the area as well as providing the bedrock of its economy for more than a century. Neither I nor anyone else will forget those fateful days in the Spring of 2005 when MG Rover closed its doors. Building sustainable community resilience has always been important to me – both in response to the closure itself and to other changes that have been taking place in the area. It has been a real privilege to work with some amazing individuals and community groups in that mission.

No MP ever works alone and none of us can do our jobs without the support of the small staff teams we employ. I have been fortunate to have had the backing of brilliant staff over the years who have worked tirelessly to support me in Parliament and helping the many thousands of constituents who have turned to me each year. Dealing with the human consequences  of government cuts and austerity has made the work of my staff team even more challenging over the past nine years and I am so proud of the dedication they have shown throughout. Thank you to all of them.

I also want to say a big thank you to everyone who organised and helped Labour’s election campaign in Northfield. I was blown away by the numbers of people who turned out to help. The fact we did not make it this time was nothing to do with their efforts. They were all brilliant and no candidate could ever ask for better than the support I received.

This was a dreadful night for Labour across the UK and there is much to reflect upon. This is not the place to do so other than to say this. In analysing what has happened and charting the big changes we will no doubt need to make to rebuild for the future, we must always remain true to our core values of solidarity and equality, and to our determination to create a fairer society. Everything I have learned in my 27 years as MP for Northfield reinforces my belief in those values. They are values that distinguish us from the Conservatives in a profound way and the election of another Conservative government mean they will be even more important to guide us in the years ahead.

Before closing now, I would like to say one more thing. Our democracy is precious. A healthy democracy can only be built when debate between different views can take place in an atmosphere of respect that is free from abuse and intimidation. Nowhere is that more important than on issues like the future of Brexit on which opinion up and down the country is so sharply divided. All too often in recent years though we have seen online and other debates on this and other issues disfigured by hate, vitriol and threats that are incompatible with democracy. In extreme cases we have already seen they can  lead to violence and even murder.

Whatever political party we may support, all of us have a responsibility to protect our democracy from these existential threats. That means conducting ourselves in ways that show politics can be better than this. Rebuilding a healthy democracy is a cause bigger than any of us and something we owe to future generations.


The Prime Minister’s bid to call a snap General Election just before Christmas will not sort out Brexit as he claims and the way he is going about it is bad for democracy.

Why do I say that?

Last week Boris Johnson’s Government won a vote in Parliament to give his Withdrawal Agreement Bill a Second Reading. In other words it was a vote to agree the Bill in principle to allow it to continue its passage through Parliament, including scrutiny of the detail. I think it is a bad Bill and I voted against the Second Reading but I was in the losing side. That means I have to accept that the Bill should now proceed for further consideration by Parliament.

The only person that is stopping that now happening is the Prime Minister himself. He started off trying to insist that Parliament should have no more than a few days to consider his Bill in detail. When Parliament said no to his timetable, the Prime Minister could have asked Parliament to agree a different one. Scrutiny of the Bill does not need to take months but – if it is going to be done properly – it cannot simply take days.

But Boris Johnson has proposed no such revised timetable to Parliament. Instead, in what appears to be a fit of petulance, he is now insisting that, rather than bring his own Bill back, he wants a General Election to take place just before Christmas.

Whether they voted to Leave or Remain in 2016, everybody I speak to wants Brexit sorted one way or another. The trouble is that a General Election does not achieve that. A General Election should be about people electing the individual candidates they want to represent them in Parliament and choosing between different parties’ alternative programmes for Government. It should not be about a single issue – even one as important to the future of our country as our future relationship with the EU. An election should not be used as a kind of surrogate referendum in the way Boris Johnson is attempting, particularly when there is no consensus in the country about what a vote one way or another in such an election would actually endorse or reject as far as Brexit is concerned. Remember too that an election now could easily end up with another hung parliament and leave the impasse over Brexit in a worse place than it is now.

There are also good reasons why elections hardly ever take place in December. A winter election during cold weather is likely to depress turnout by older people and many with disabilities. Not only that but dark nights are not conducive to parties being able to engage with voters in the way that is important to democracy in the run up to elections. The date on which Boris Johnson is insisting – 12th December – also has real problems of its own. Coming after most universities and colleges will have broken up for Christmas, the ability of many students to vote is likely to be hampered. Boris Johnson might think that is an advantage to him in the light of his unpopularity amongst young people but it is not good for democracy.

So, putting all that together, I believe we should sort out Brexit by sorting out Brexit, by timetabling the Withdrawal Agreement Bill for debate, not by trying to have a snap election in December instead. Of course, I would like to see that Bill amended during its passage through Parliament. The Prime Minister’s current Bill still leaves a No Deal Brexit as a possibility down the line. Because of the damage that would do to jobs and livelihoods in this country, I want to see No Deal ruled out. There is little doubt that the threat that the Bill poses for stability in Northern Ireland needs rethinking too. I am also one of those who would like to make the Bill’s passage into law conditional on the terms of the Brexit deal being endorsed in a confirmatory referendum. The people, not politicians, should have the final say. Parliament should have the opportunity to vote on amendments like these. Without amendment, I cannot see my supporting the Bill when the concluding Parliamentary vote on it takes place. But if people like me again lose in these votes, so be it. Either way a decision will be made – and much more quickly than if everything is now put on hold for a six week election campaign.

But it is actually worse than this. Boris Johnson is not just demanding an election on 12th December. He is even trying to change the law governing when elections can be held to allow him to do so. And, guess what, he is again trying to allow little or no time to discuss his new election law. As I write this, most MPs have not even been able to see the text of the new law he wants to bring in, let alone consider it. And yet the Prime Minister is demanding that the whole thing should be done and dusted by the Commons in just a few hours today.

Boris Johnson came into Government saying his priority was to “Get Brexit done.” By refusing to allow his Withdrawal Agreement Bill to proceed to its next stages of consideration by Parliament, he is demonstrating that in reality his priorities are elsewhere. To him it’s all about getting his way. This is not grown-up government and the British people have a right to expect better from a Prime Minister.

Don’t get me wrong. I want to see Boris Johnson out of Downing Street. He is a dreadful Prime Minister whose word cannot be trusted. After the damage that ten years of Conservative-led government has done to our country, I also want to give the British people the chance to elect a new government that works for the many, not the privileged few. So, yes, I want to see a General Election. I will listen to what is said today but, to give everybody the maximum opportunity to vote in a General Election, as things stand I think the best time for it to take place is likely to be early Spring. The priority before then is to get the impasse over Brexit resolved – one way or another.

Brexit Update

Today’s “decisions are not just about whether this deal gets over the line, and getting Brexit done, but about what it means for our country.” For one of clearest explanations of the real dangers that Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal poses for our key industries – including for jobs and opportunities in the West Midlands – please read today’s speech in the Commons today from Labour’s Keir Starmer. The Hansard transcript of his speech is hereSpeech starts at 12.11pm.‬

Ministers claim that these fears are not well-founded, but Sir Keir Starmer’s questions are taken from what Boris Johnson’s deal itself says. Remember too that Ministers have admitted that they have not even carried out a full assessment of the impact the deal is likely to have on our economy.

Yes, after three years, Brexit needs to be sorted. But the reality is that nobody had even seen Johnson’s deal until Thursday. It was wrong for the Prime Minister to try to bounce Parliament into endorsing it just 48 hours later when so many questions about it remain unanswered and before the Government has even published the legislation that would be needed to enact it. Indeed, if the deal had been endorsed by MPs today, and that as yet unpublished legislation then failed to get a majority, the result would have been the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal on 31st October by default – with the disastrous consequences that would entail for our country.

That was why Parliament was right to vote as we did today and to insist that we should know the small print of what Johnson’s deal means for the future of our country before we are asked to sign off on it.

Which, of course also raises the question of who should have the final sign-off in any event. As Parliament debated today, hundreds of thousands of people marched through London to demand that, just as it was a vote of the people that has taken Britain onto the road to Brexit, so too should the people have the final say when the full terms of the deal on offer are known . For reasons I have outlined in the Brexit updates I publish on my website, I back the demand for a People’s Vote. I do so not to delay a decision but to break the gridlock in Parliament and bring the indecision to an end, with the confidence that the course that this country decides to take will reflect what the British people want to see.

September Newsletter

Welcome to my latest Parliamentary newsletter with a round-up of news from September. If you would like to receive these updates by email, you can sign up here.

Space prevents the newsletter covering all of what I have been doing over the past month. However, hopefully it provides a flavour of some of the local issues I have taken up as well as my actions in Parliament. You’ll find updates on the Climate Protests, Thomas Cook and other issues. As ever, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me on these or any other issues.

Read more


Nobody has ever seen anything like this. We have a Prime Minster who has been found by the highest court in the land to have acted unlawfully in asking the Queen to shut down Parliament for five weeks. The Prime Minister seems to have been so sure that he would get his way that he did not even put in a witness statement to the Court. The judgement could not have been more damning. On the basis of the evidence they received the Court found “there was no reason, let alone a good reason” which justified what Boris Johnson had done.

You would think that something like this might have prompted a little humility on the part of the Prime Minister. Not a bit of it. When he appeared in Parliament last week Boris Johnson appeared to think he was above the law and insisted that the Judgement was wrong. Just as serious, he did so in a way that seemed deliberately designed to deepen the divisions in the country that are taking on an increasingly ugly character. When an MP from Yorkshire talked about the death threats she and others have received, the Prime Minister dismissed her words as “humbug”.

And he has continued to refuse to give a straight answer about whether he will carry out the mandate Parliament has given him over Brexit in a law passed just a few weeks ago.

I think we are entitled to expect better from a Prime Minister – particularly at a time when Britain faces decisions on the most profound issues affecting our country for generations.

After all this time and after all the arguments, people want Brexit sorted one way or the other – whether they voted Remain or Leave back in 2016. I get that and agree with it. The issue is how we achieve it in practice.

How did we get here?

First, though, here is a quick recap on the story so far. Sometimes you get the impression that MPs have spent the three years that have elapsed since the referendum refusing to agree on a deal to leave the EU. I can understand why it sometimes seems like that but that is not actually what has taken place.

For most of that time the then Prime Minister Theresa May either could not or would not say what deal she was seeking from the EU. If you check the entries on my website from 2016, 2017 and 2018 at you will see that for most of that time MPs like me were calling on her to produce a plan that could be tested to best protect jobs and living standards in the UK after Brexit.

If Theresa May had been willing to discuss the possibilities with MPs across the Commons at that time a lot could have been sorted out. But she did not do that and it was not until the end of last year that Theresa May finally told Parliament the details of the deal she had agreed with the EU. When she did so Labour set out why we could not support her plan and what needed to change in it. The fact that hardliners in her own party also opposed her scuppered her deal three times in the House of Commons. Their objections were different from those of Labour and most other opposition parties. The hardline Tory rebels focussed on the so called “Backstop”, which ironically was a necessary part of the deal to avoid the re-emergence of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and was key to maintaining the peace process that has achieved so much in the past two decades. If Theresa May’s deal had included some of the things Labour had recommended, the Backstop would not have been necessary. Without those things, something like the Backstop was inevitable.

Some of the Tory rebels against Theresa May were so hardline that it is doubtful they would have backed any realistic Brexit deal preferring to risk the UK crashing out of the EU without any deal at all. Other rebels seemed more motivated by personal ambition, hoping to profit politically if Theresa May was brought down as leader of the Conservative Party. The most prominent of those was Boris Johnson.

Moving Forward

However we got here though, the fact that Brexit remains unresolved is a collective failure of government and Parliament as a whole. The most important thing for all of is to find a way of sorting out the issue of Brexit one way or another to enable the country to move on.

In my last Brexit update I explained why I believe a No Deal Brexit would be the worst deal of all. And it wouldn’t be the end of the story. None of the issues that a Brexit deal would have to cover would go away. They would still have to be sorted somehow and it would take years more negotiations to do so. The only difference would be that if we had already left the EU without a deal, food and medicine supplies would already have been disrupted, thousands of jobs would have been lost across the country, and peace in Northern Ireland would have been put at risk in the meantime.

In that update and in others over the past year I also said why I think the people, not just politicians, should be given the final choice on where we go from here.  I will not go into detail about why I think that again here. However, I do just want to say three things.

First, I disagree with those who say a People’s Vote is simply a device to overrule the votes of those who voted Leave in 2016. It is not. I have no idea which side would win in another referendum. What I do know is that every vote would count the same – either for the deal finally on offer or against it. The UK would only stay in the EU if a majority voted that way.

Second, this is not a re-run of the first referendum. That was a vote on whether in principle the UK should leave the EU or remain in it. I along with other MPs voted to implement that decision when we voted to trigger Article 50 and open Brexit negotiations with the EU. Only after those negotiations are completed can any of us know the final terms of what is on offer. Before I was an MP, I worked for a trade union. Before we put in claims to employers, we would consult our members to make sure we were asking for was what they wanted. Often we would later ballot them once the terms of the employer’s offer in response to our claim were clear. It was about giving members the final say. I do not see why the British people should not have the same opportunity to express a view once the final terms of Brexit are known.

The third point I would emphasise here is that a People’s Vote is not about delaying a decision but about making one. Unlike last time, the legislation governing this referendum could specify that the result is automatically passed into law. No more arguments in Parliament, whichever side wins. Brexit has to be sorted one way or the other. A People’s Vote can achieve that.

Lastly, I want to say something about the way we talk to each other. Some of you will agree with what I have said in this update. Others will disagree. But we are never going to find a way forward unless we treat with respect those who may take a different view to our own. The vitriol and threats against people we are now seeing on social media and worse are incompatible with democracy. Only three years ago my friend Jo Cox MP was murdered by a Far Right extremist yelling “Britain First” as he killed her. All our futures depend on there being no place in our society for that kind of violent hate.  That means rejecting the rhetoric that feeds the violence too – from whichever quarter it comes.