The following letter was sent by Meg Hiller, MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch, to her constituency members. We felt this thoughtful piece was worth sharing.
It has been a tumultuous fortnight for the country and the Labour Party.
I want to thank so many of you who have been in touch to share your condolences, opinions and concerns over the last few days. I wanted to write to Party members first to explain to you my thoughts and actions about the referendum and the future of our party. Forgive the length of this letter but I wanted to set out my views clearly and wanted to write to local Party members before making any public statement.
My colleague Jo Cox was brutally murdered on the streets of her constituency on 16 June because of the views she held. Jo was everything that her public tributes testified to. A force of energy who pursued her politics with passion and commitment. Her death hits us all hard but my particular thoughts are with her family. As I write this I am once again in tears as I mourn her and weep for her two young children.
It is disturbing that since her death a colleague has shown me BNP leaflets distributed in Yorkshire criticising Jo for supporting Muslims. As colleagues grieve, this nasty, racist activity is causing even more distress. It also underlines a very worrying rise in hate and abuse in our country.
On Thursday, as you know, Britain voted to leave the European Union. This result was not reflected in Hackney South and Shoreditch which I believe is the constituency which voted most emphatically to remain – with four to one in favour. I have been inundated with letters from concerned constituents hoping that we can find some way to reverse the referendum vote. We have many questions about what leaving will mean but ultimately we lost the referendum.
Let me be clear: the Prime Minister was responsible for calling the referendum and is accountable for the disastrous result. It is right that he is resigning.
Some have blamed Jeremy Corbyn for losing the referendum. I do not believe he lost it for us but he was not as committed as I would have hoped in campaigning to remain in the EU. I was not one of those calling on him to go at the weekend.
I have known Jeremy for 25 years. We have campaigned for each other – ward by ward – over that time. We have worked together and I have always spoken in support since he became leader. As a Labour loyalist I want to back my leader as I have done every leader I have served since John Smith. I may not have agreed with everything they say or do but I have backed them. I am a Team Labour player.
But as the MP for a constituency which has overwhelmingly backed remain I was devastated to learn that his own office actively worked against the official Labour Party campaign.
Alan Johnson, a man who has held several key offices of state and has been an active Labour Party member and trade unionist all his life, was visibly upset when he told me that the leader’s office had decided to send out different messages to those of the Labour Party campaign. Not once, he tells me, did anyone from the leader’s office attend the weekly campaign meetings or speak to him directly about their concerns.
I have a mandate from Hackney residents who overwhelmingly support our place in Europe. We have responsibility to do anything we can do make sure that negotiations post Brexit take into account the needs and desires of Hackney and London.
I have come to the conclusion that we cannot play that role under Jeremy Corbyn. Even calling, as he did, for Article 50 to be triggered quickly shows a disregard for the needs and views of my constituents.
The Tory Party is fighting its own leadership battle. And the future of our country is at risk.
Week in and week out I see people at my surgeries who have no hope of a stable home, a well-paid job, a college place or even, increasingly, of an NHS that is properly funded. This Government is reducing opportunity for the poorest and a more right wing Government is in prospect. We see, as well, a rise in xenophobia and racism.
These people need a Labour Government.
To win in the battle ahead we need to reconnect with our Labour base. While our vote to remain in Hackney was phenomenal, in other parts of the country the result was the polar opposite particularly in areas traditionally considered Labour heartlands.
We need to reflect on that. We need to be proud about how we have created an inclusive society in London. But even in Hackney, a white, Welsh man walked into Tesco this week just to say to the South Asian cashier “Have a nice flight home”.
We could face a General Election in October. I don’t want that cashier to be on the flight home. We need a realistic prospect of winning a General Election against a right wing candidate determined to introduce the most drastic attacks on working class rights we have ever seen.
Now is the time to be honest. Jeremy will not lead us to victory in an upcoming General Election. This is a fight for the soul of Britain. Five years of an anti-immigration, anti-worker Government, forcing through more cuts which hit the poorest hardest is a horror I don’t want to see.
For all my years of working with Jeremy I voted no confidence in him on Tuesday. I never imagined that I would even contemplate this as a Labour member or MP. Even on Monday I was determined to try and make things work. But I did it because we now need a leader who is behind the Labour Party and who can get us into Downing Street. We need a leader who is passionately pro Europe and who has the skills and experience necessary to steer us through these troubled waters.
I am a member of the Labour Party and I always will be. I do not want to be a member of a protest movement that makes a noise but does not have a prospect of winning an election. We need to be in Government to make a difference.
I am sad beyond belief that it has come to this and that there is now such a gulf between myself and the leader who I have campaigned with for over two decades. We are a Labour family and this is grief. I hope Jeremy will accept that it is now time to act in the best interests of the party, but most importantly the interests of those we were elected to serve.
I urge you to get involved and work to ensure we are ready for the General Election whenever it comes. I have so many heartbreaking individual cases I could share with you of people who need a Labour Government. It is these people I think of and these people I serve. I urge you to join me in that fight for them.
Meg Hillier MP
Hackney South and Shoreditch