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If Labour want to represent the millions who voted Leave, the party must halt the deselections of Frank Field and Kate Hoey

We must be sensitive to the fact that nearly 40 per cent of Labour voters supported Brexit. Consider the signal it sends to those voters, to deselect two experienced and electorally successful MPs who can appeal to the wider public? 

John Mills
Wednesday 15 August 2018 12:31 BST
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We could find ourselves losing the next election because those voters who had hitherto supported both Brexit and Labour switch their allegiance to parties like Ukip
We could find ourselves losing the next election because those voters who had hitherto supported both Brexit and Labour switch their allegiance to parties like Ukip (Getty)

The Birkenhead and Vauxhall CLPs recently passed motions of no confidence in Labour MPs Frank Field and Kate Hoey, effectively deselecting the pair. The motion will now go to the National Executive Committee, but this is a formality. One big reason for these decisions is Frank and Kate’s position on Brexit. But these judgments represent an injustice to two Labour veterans who have done great service to the Labour movement for over thirty years.

I have known them both for a long time and it is clear that both of them have spent most of their political careers fighting off the injustices of the Tories. Last year Frank’s speech on the impact of Universal Credit on his constituents moved Conservative MP Heidi Allen to tears.

The Labour Party prides itself on being a broad church. But now I worry that some of the Remain elements within the party membership are beginning to see their position on Brexit as gospel, and that they will attempt to excommunicate those who do not subscribe to what they deem to be canon, despite the fact that both Kate and Frank’s core values are solidly Labour. I worry that the potential precedent set by the deselection of Frank and Kate could result in a more authoritarian Labour Party. This is not our way.

Both Frank and Kate are in a difficult situation. An MP has to balance four priorities that are not always aligned: the views of the constituency, the party, the overall country and the MP’s own beliefs. Sometimes, in exceptional circumstances, an MP must act according to his or her conscience. Labour’s position on Europe has changed radically in the last 30 years. Frank Field became an MP when it was Labour’s policy to take Britain out of the European Economic Community. Arguably, on this sensitive issue, Labour has moved away from Frank and Kate.

So what really underpins the moves to deselect Frank Field and Kate Hoey? The prime minister briefed the parliamentary Conservative Party that, should she have lost the customs union vote on 17 July 2018, then the result would have been a vote of no confidence in the government which may have led to a general election. Many Labour activists are angry because they believe that a handful of Labour MPs who voted with the government thwarted an opportunity to bring down the government and give Labour a shot at getting into power through a general election.

Let me be crystal clear: I have supported and fought for the Labour Party for as long as almost anyone. But we must be wary of short-term political gain at the expense of the country. It is also worth noting that Frank Field and Kate Hoey increased their majorities in 2017 despite their support for Brexit.

Is it really in Labour’s interests to deselect two experienced and electorally successful MPs who can appeal to the wider public? We must be sensitive to the fact that nearly 40 per cent of Labour voters supported Brexit. Consider the signal it sends to those voters, particularly those in marginal constituencies in northern England, the Midlands and Wales. We could find ourselves losing the next election because those voters who had hitherto supported both Brexit and Labour switch their allegiance to parties like Ukip.

Our party should not fear Brexit. After our departure from the EU we need to present to the public a radical vision for Britain. We should see Brexit as an opportunity to regain the tools for radical social and economic change. Priority should be given to making the UK a fairer as well as a more prosperous place. We must take the opportunity to champion social justice through the introduction of a broader welfare system. We will have the freedom to invest in enterprise and apprenticeships, and the tools to make a success of our public services.

Leaving the EU certainly need not mean a degradation in people’s working rights. Labour championed workers’ rights before our entry into the EU. We can do so again. And we need to support tough, radical and principled MPs like Frank and Kate to make sure that this all happens.

John Mills is a Labour donor and former chair of Vote Leave

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