Deselecting the maverick MP is tempting, says Labour activist TESSA MILLIGAN, but won’t solve the hole at the heart of the party’s Brexit policy
Kate Hoey is an anti-EU maverick. Being a backbencher gives her the freedom to vote on her conscience. Labour Party whips mean little to her, and nor do pairing agreements by the sounds of it.
Deselection is probably the most she can be threatened with, which I personally find tempting as a pro-European – as I’m sure would the other pro-European members in the Labour Party.
But the truth is, you can’t tie Kate Hoey to a clear conference policy on Brexit because one doesn’t exist.
Yes, she has let down young people who’s bright futures are clouded by Brexit. She has given free reign to the regulation-hating Dominic Raab to impose his right-wing, anti-workers Brexit. She has gone against Labour Party members and young Labour voters who are overwhelmingly pro-European. The sole upside of her rebellion was that it may have prevented the Brexit-at-any-cost wing of the Tory party from seizing the leadership by toppling May.
Most of all, Kate Hoey has failed to represent her overwhelming Remain-voting constituents on the issue of Brexit. Our Future Our Choice, the largest youth group campaigning for a People’s Vote, went to Vauxhall earlier this week. Within a couple of hours, we got over a thousand signatures from constituents calling on Kate Hoey to back a People’s Vote. Young people in Vauxhall showed particularly strong support for a People’s Vote on the terms of the deal and oppose Kate Hoey’s Hard Brexit position.
If you are arguing for her deselection on the basis of Labour’s election chances, Vauxhall is a safe Labour seat, and Hoey’s vote share even went up at the last general election. In fact, all four of the Labour rebels – Mann, Field, Stringer and Hoey – have over 50% of their local vote in a First Past The Post system, which isn’t common.
Last year, four Labour MPs were sacked or forced to resign after voting for a single market membership amendment. It’s clear this isn’t a question of factionalism. Most Labour members oppose Hard Brexit and single market membership is a position now being championed by Corbynite commentator Paul Mason.
Breaking the Labour Party whip isn’t good enough to get deselected. Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell have a history of breaking the whip on an industrial scale. Last month 90 Labour MPs broke a Labour whip to abstain – 75 voted for membership of the European Economic Area and 15 voted against.
How would Corbyn and McDonnell have voted this summer if they still had the freedom of being rebellious backbenchers, considering their historical record of breaking Labour whips to join other anti-Europe MPs like Tories Peter Bone and John Redwood in the voting lobbies?
Threatening MPs over Brexit is not just double standards, it’s a double edged sword that can be used in future for any Labour MP on any issue. Introducing a ‘deselection for defying the whip’ rule sets a precedent which could unleash chaotic outcomes.
Instead, we must have a proper dialogue in the Labour Party and a decision on exactly what our Brexit negotiating position should be, without any of the unicorns which the Tories have already failed to fly. So far the party has run away from that dialogue and from taking a decision.
Rather than continuing to make Brexit policy up as we go along, we must come to a conference decision outlining a workable position on Brexit. And let’s drop the ‘only a Labour government can negotiate tariff-free access from outside the single market because we have the magic beans’ rhetoric.
So why are we terrified of a conversation about Brexit? Labour Party members (and voters) are overwhelmingly in favour of a People’s Vote on any final deal. It should be a simple matter of making sure our Brexit policy represents the membership’s views. Many of Our Future Our Choice’s supporters are Labour voters who want to make their voices heard by the Labour front bench.
So let’s quit making it up as we go along, agree on a policy which reflects Labour’s membership and voters, and hold all of our MPs to account on the basis of a workable Brexit position.
Tessa Milligan is a Labour Party member and activist for Our Future Our Choice