(Article first published in The Telegraph on 6th April 2019 - https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2019/04/06/labour-mps-must-listen-voters-honour-referendum-result/ )
“Democracy in this country is dead. I will not be voting in any election be it local or national again”
This is an increasingly common sentiment in my constituency mailbag.
Whilst many dismiss this as blind anger and frustration, when I return to my constituency each week, the community that I proudly live and raise my children in, it is increasingly apparent that the trust, respect and confidence that constituents have in our politics and especially in us as politicians is rapidly dissolving.
This is not just from those on the extremes of the debate, but increasingly from moderate and committed voters who in Leigh, a Northern community that voted heavily to leave the European Union in 2016, have voted Labour for 100 years.
They did not vote to leave out of prejudice or intolerance, many of those who voted leave are close friends and fellow members of the Labour Party who fight all forms of racism and xenophobia.
But living in a proud ex-mining town in the North, left hollowed by deindustrialisation and then austerity, many in Leigh voted leave for some of the same reasons that they vote Labour – a fact too many in Westminster have been too slow to realise or too quick to reject.
They are deeply concerned for their community, desperate for their forgotten towns to regain their voice and they rightly call out the injustices they face in their daily lives. Their anger, which I share, was unleashed in the referendum but now we must provide the response they deserve.
To do so, we need to remember why working-class communities like Leigh have voted Labour for generations: identity.
In 1945 it was Labour that gave our industrial community a secure housing, health and welfare system. When the mines closed in the 1980’s, Labour was there fighting for us. When austerity hit it is Labour that gives us hope.
But all of us who witnessed the slow decline of our once proud town, from the working families struggling to make ends meet with not a penny to their name to those who felt isolated from decision making, the very same people Labour stands for, they all put trust in us as MPs to get on with it, implement their decision and make Westminster work for them.
Whilst Labour is not in Government and blame lays squarely at the Prime Minister’s door for her insulated approach that was always doomed to failure, after delay and chaos voters on both sides of the referendum debate and from every colour of politics increasingly question their trust and confidence in all of us as politicians.
As painful as this is to hear, I understand why we are in this situation. Since the referendum, our TV’s, radios and newspapers have been filled with those who claim that leave voters were wrong, they were lied to, conned, or sucked in by the far right. I have heard MPs in Westminster call my constituents stupid.
My constituents are not stupid. Whilst the 2016 campaign was far from honest, the problem is not that they were lied to, the crisis is that they were, and continue to feel forgotten, side-lined and ignored. Their communities have been given a raw deal for decades after their manufacturing base declined, nothing replaced it and they felt nobody cared or listened.
So when, long before any deal was put on the table, some MPs began advocating a second referendum with remain as an option, the message this sent to those honest but concerned constituents simply confirmed what they already feared - their voice is held as second rate in Westminster.
Worst of all, it sends the message that rather than the hope they were promised in 2016, we propose to take things back to the status quo because we think that is better for you – trust us.
As a Labour member, the party of progressives, regardless of my own views I must ask myself how I could possibly advocate reverting to the path of old to constituents already failed by the system, already at rock bottom and now crying out for change.
That is exactly why an alliance of MPs from right across the Labour family have now come together under the unity of our working-class roots, all determined that our proud backgrounds will be represented in the current debate.
And there is hope now emerging. Last week Westminster began to tackle this crisis professionally, across the party divide and in the national interest. Developing a bold new settlement could unite remain and leave voters by delivering promised change whilst respecting a referendum that intrinsically has the trust in our politics tied to it.
It is now up to us to move the country forwards whilst repairing damage, restoring faith and regaining your trust in us as your representatives. We must deliver on that.