My early reaction to the Leave vote is already posted on my website but as each day passes I become more and more concerned about the terrible effect the process and its result is having on our society. I was in Wigan twice in the immediate run up to the referendum and met a wide range of people from both Leave and Remain camps and many still undecided. We had a particularly positive day when the Labour Remain campaign bus turned up in town on May 25th to meet local MP Lisa Nandy along with Ed Miliband, myself and local actress, Sue Cleaver who plays Eileen Grimshaw in Coronation Street.
I used to work in the creative industry so it was fantastic having a respected celebrity like Sue with us to give her personal message about why a Remain vote mattered. She believed that the referendum was about the future of our country. “On a very basic principle it is about solidarity," she said, adding, "It is about achieving more together than we can alone”.
And sadly, now we are alone and isolated, having abandoned the principle of solidarity upon which the European Union was founded after 2 bloody world wars. Already we can see how the result has been welcomed by people who seek to divide us for the benefit of their own political ambition, from Putin in Russia to Trump in the USA, and with the National Front leader Marine Le Pen, positively crowing with delight as Nigel Farage spoke in the European Parliament, adding her provocative nationalistic comments immediately afterwords. One shouldn't forget that Farage and Le Pen, whilst not in the same political group, sit very close together in the parliament - on the opposite side from my political group, the Socialists and Democrats. A British MEP, Janice Atkinson, who used to be in UKIP, moved to join Marine Le Pen's group last year after a scandal concerning a hugely inflated restaurant bill. Atkinson had previously called a Malaysian constituent a "Ting-Tong" live on radio.
Now a week after the referendum, racist abuse - physical, verbal and online - has increased by more than 57% and continues to rear its ugly head as more and more people with racist tendencies feel emboldened by Leave's success.
This is the legacy of Farage's vile campaign which chose to scapegoat migrants and refugees as well as provoke fear about the Turks. A case of incitement to racial hatred was submitted to the authorities by Dave Prentis General Secretary of Unison following the UKIP campaign poster that featured refugees.
On May 28th I had joined with fellow anti-racist campaigners to celebrate Wigan Together whose endearing slogan is "Love Pies, Hate Racism". The event was organised as a counter rally to a threatened National Front demo which failed to materialise. The rally heard from members of various political groups as well as trade unionists, activists, musicians and poets, and organisers from Stand Up to Racism (SUTR), Unite Against Facism (UAF) and the Peoples' Assembly who were organising a refugee aid convoy to Calais. Nahella Ashraf, a speaker from SUTR was the target of abuse from passers by that day, as she talked about the refugee crisis. It is easy to see how the issue of refugees has become conflated with the word migrants, and I fear worse to come as feelings are still running very high.
So what happens to representatives such as myself working within the EU Parliament?
For the present, it is 'business as usual' in the parliament as the referendum was not a legal instrument. The country is effectively without proper government as David Cameron has resigned his position as Prime Minister, presumably not wanting to take responsibility for the mess he has inflicted on our communities. So I have been in Brussels this week attending meetings, continuing with my committee reports and writing of amendments and speaking at a business event with top UK bosses about the role of gender equality in driving up growth. The event was chaired by BBC presenter Quentin Cooper (of Material World) and the irony of the dismal referendum result was not lost on any of those present as the EU has been a driving force for gender equality across all 28 Member States, sharing best practice and improving employment opportunities for women whilst addressing wider gender equality for LGBTI persons. I also attended a fundraising gala for ILGA, a network for LGBTI advocacy and campaigning groups across Europe. Speakers at the gala all expressed their dismay about the UK referendum result as they perceive it as part of a growing xenophobia which impacts heavily on the LGBTI community.
I have 3 members of staff working with me in Brussels including a young woman who grew up in Bury - the other two are French and Israeli. All 3 are very upset at the outcome, not because their jobs are at risk in the long-term, but because they passionately believe in a Europe for people and understand the need for a political union in order to progress social policy and safeguard peace. I have offices in Workington, Cumbria and also in Manchester with 3 staff working across both offices. Whilst we are continuing to honour engagements such as meetings and conferences, the email inbox now has a different kind of constituency query. Many people are anxious about what the decision to Leave the EU will mean for them and their families, and the truth is that no-one really knows. Already the economic outlook has become bleak with the pound in free fall and businesses such as Siemens freezing investment in the UK.
We Labour MEPs are doing our best to keep abreast of a volatile and changing situation but we do not expect to know much about a timetable for the withdrawal process until the autumn when a new Prime Minister is installed and Article 50 has been triggered, although this may not even happen in 2016.
Meanwhile, next week we are in Strasbourg in the plenary session where we debate and vote on matters of importance. Constituents can watch the sessions live.
Also in Strasbourg I will be also hosting the Manchester-based creative enterprise hub, the Sharp Project, at a high level conference with senior international digital business experts and members of the European Commission. Sharp was a recipient of EU Regional Development funds and it is this kind of investment for high growth innovative tech businesses of the future that are now at risk.
At the end of next week, I will be coming back to the North West as usual to attend events relevant to my Culture and Education portfolio. This includes the preview of the Liverpool Biennial, an amazing vibrant 3 month contemporary arts festival happening all over the city with an excellent programme of fun educational events.
And on Saturday July 9th I will be attending the annual Miners Gala in Durham to show solidarity with the trade union movement. I look forward to seeing NW constituents and activists on the march behind the banners in the historic Medieval City and listening to Jeremy Corbyn and other speakers at the rally.
Constituents wishing to contact me can do so by finding information on my website.