With under a week to go till the European parliamentary elections, I’ve been out and about in the constituency over the past few days, reminding people how important it is to vote. This week, the prime minister announced that parliament will vote again on her proposed Brexit deal in the first week of June. I can’t see that her deal will be approved by parliament, and in the meantime, we remain members of the European Union. As long as that’s the case, and whatever the eventual outcome of the chronically painful and damaging Brexit process, I want to be sure we have British Labour MEPs standing up for our rights in the European parliament.
In this election, our votes really matter, and not just because our MEPs will continue to work on vitally important cross-border issues like climate change, protection for refugees fleeing appalling conflict and danger, and tackling terrorism and serious organised crime – subjects that one single country can’t solve on its own. (That’s why I’ve always voted for us to remain in the EU, or to continue to have the very closest possible relationship with it if we leave). But these elections also matter because, looking at the opinion polls right now, the Brexit party is doing frightening well, and in the elections, it may top the poll. We have to vote to prevent that happening, because the long-term repercussions of such a result would be disastrous for this country.
First, Nigel Farage and his Tory cronies would take the result as a sign the county wants out of the EU and doesn’t care if we leave with no deal. I’ve always been really clear that would be a terrible Brexit outcome for the UK, and a good result for the Brexit party next week will make it much more likely than before. But Farage would also use such a result as a springboard for his party to fight seats in the next general election, with a real risk that his vile brand of right-wing populism, fed by big money and interfering overseas governments, would occupy a central role in our politics for decades to come. Remember, this is the man that told us he’s the ‘only politician keeping the flame of Thatcherism alive’, and that we should replace our free at the point of need NHS with a system of health insurance. We have to keep him out of our politics, but a vote for any other party than Labour on Thursday makes it so much more likely he’ll succeed – and help the hate-filled and divisive Tommy Robinson too.
I do know some people who usually vote Labour are angry at our stance on Brexit, think our message has been too weak, and that other parties are clearer about remaining in the EU. As you’ll know, I too have pressed Labour to take a strong pro-EU position, to hold a confirmatory public vote on any deal, and to be clear we are a Remain party (and if there is a vote, I for one will definitely be campaigning to remain). But whatever your frustration, or however much you agree we ought to be making a strong, positive, Labour case for Europe in these elections, please, please don’t underestimate the risk of not voting for Labour this time. No other party can beat Farage – or Tommy Robinson – and a vote for any other party just helps to let those dangerous individuals to win.
Away from Brexit, I’ve posted on my Facebook page about meetings I had in parliament this week with parking operators, and with Northern Rail – neither of which are very popular organisations in my constituency. You can read the reports of my meetings here and here. I also attended a meeting about schools funding as part of the F40 group. This group is made up of around 40 local authorities who receive the lowest per pupil funding in the country, one of which is Trafford. With the government due to launch its spending review in the next few months, we’re gearing up to make the case for a fairer funding formula for our schools.
I also took part in a debate on prisons and the probation service this week – both have been badly damaged by Tory cuts and destructive policies. The day after our debate, the government announced a spectacular U-turn, announcing it would end its botched privatisation of the probation service, and bring it back into the public sector. It is disgraceful that Chris Grayling was ever allowed to embark on his systematic wrecking of what was a highly effective public service, not least as Labour warned him repeatedly at the time that it would increase the risk to the public. So while I am relieved that ministers have finally been forced to face up to the reality of their actions, I am dismayed it took them so long.
Meanwhile back in Manchester, I was very pleased to address the Chamber of Commerce Skills Summit, discussing how we improve the skills of those young people who do least well in education or at work. I was glad to squeeze in to the last half hour of HerStories at Stretford Public Hall last Saturday – it was great to see a range of stands covering everything from the fight for women’s suffrage, to the great Trafford Action Group campaigning for fair pensions for 1950s women, to the fabulous Muslim Arts and Culture Festival, urging us to #spreadhoneynothate. And last night, I had the great pleasure of returning to Ramadan Tent for the third year running, to join friends and strangers breaking their fast. This vast open-air street event is part of the Open Iftar movement that is now spreading right across the world, and everyone is welcome just to turn up to share food and friendship. When politics feels bleak, I remember all the amazing work going on right here in our community, and the warmth of the welcome people give.