LEADING THE WAY OUT OF THE EU

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Kate Hoey for the Telegraph

My instant thought when the exit poll was released on Thursday night was “I told you so “. But the scale of the Labour defeat surprised even me.

I was in the BBC studio when the Blyth Valley result came through and the reaction mirrored the famous Portillo moment.

For the last few months my old party seemed like it was on a mission to nowhere. In an election called specifically to “Get Brexit Done”, Labour’s policy was to procrastinate, negotiate a new Withdrawal Agreement and then put it to another referendum in which the Leader of the Party Jeremy Corbyn would be neutral.

This was so obviously ridiculous and yet most Labour MPs loyally followed the party line. 

There was no understanding of just how much the country genuinely wanted to move on – leave and then start to build on the opportunities open to the UK from being freed of the European Union grip.

Those Labour MPs who spent the last two years trying to frustrate and delay Brexit must take responsibility for their own defeat. It is unfortunate that they took down with them some good MPs who had tried to honour the referendum, like Caroline Flint.

While Jeremy Corbyn ultimately must take responsibility for the worst result since 1935, they must not be allowed to duck their share of the blame.

There is absolutely no point in Shadow Cabinet members trying to lay the blame anywhere but themselves.

Emily Thornberry showed a typical arrogance in her reaction to the defeat trying to paint the Conservatives as extreme Right-wing, and so by association Labour voters who switched their vote.

MPs and party members will have woken up yesterday feeling grief and despair.

There is no point in futile excuses: an honest examination of how Labour has become so disconnected from the majority of the British electorate is needed.

It is achingly clear that London is out of step from the rest of the country, economically and culturally.

London is younger, more transient and more liberal-minded on everything from immigration to gender.

This has led to the party moving away from its traditional values – decency, love of our country, respect for the law and a desire for security.

Of course divides between rich and poor should always be at the heart of Labour’s mission, but Labour no longer has a monopoly on ending inequality.

In 2017, Labour lost the election, but got 40 per cent of the vote as a recognisably national party by accepting the referendum result and promising to implement it along with the wishes of the majority of the public.

This gave us the credibility to speak to people about other issues and offer hope of radical domestic change.

Once Theresa May lost her majority, Labour took the opportunity to block, stall and entangle Brexit negotiations rather than constructively support them.

Brexit is not the only issue, but it was emblematic of how Labour’s leadership chose a path that may have delighted the Remain heartlands of Islington and Camden while explicitly telling voters in the Midlands and the North that we rejected them.

Make no mistake, it was London shadow cabinet voices like John McDonnell, Emily Thornberry and Sir Keir Starmer who insisted on this policy.

When you double-back on your promises and rely on trickery and procedural shenanigans, you lose people’s trust. When you are advocating an extremely radical agenda on public services and the economy, you need to have the trust of the people.

When you imply that decent Leave voters are racist or extremists then how can you possibly expect those same people to trust you?

So can Labour ever be trusted again? As Jeremy Corbyn stands down there must be a clear-headed recognition of all that he got wrong and a determination to regain a connection with what can no longer be called Labour heartlands.

Those heartlands will now have Conservative MPs who at their surgeries will hear the voices of those who have gained least from rising prosperity.

They can and will act as the lever to ensure that the Prime Minister does fulfil his pledge to govern as a One Nation Government.

Boris Johnson has achieved what much of the London-centric media refused to believe he could.

But the country has put their trust in him and those who have seen Labour abandon them will now give him the chance to show he really can strengthen  the Union, end inequality and Get Brexit Done.