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.
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 here. Speech 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.
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.