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.

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Richard Burden

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I was Labour Member of Parliament for Birmingham Northfield between 1992 and 2019 and a former Shadow Transport Minister. I now chair Healthwatch in Birmingham and Solihull, and the West Midlands Board of Remembering Srebrenica. I also work as a public affairs consultant. I am an effective community advocate and stakeholder alliance builder with a passion for human rights. I am a trustee of the Balfour Project charity and of Citizens Advice Birmingham, and a former Chair of Medical Aid for Palestinians.

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