My newsletter from June, July and August.
The outcome of the referendum and what next for Labour
Our country and our party are going through difficult and turbulent times. Like many of you, I am deeply saddened by the result of the recent referendum and the harmful impact it will have on young people and the most vulnerable in our society.
Clearly, I am disappointed that our campaign did not lead to a vote to remain in the EU and I am angry that 16 and 17 years olds were excluded from the process along with others such as British nationals who live in Europe and many EU nationals who live, work or study in the UK, paying taxes into our economy.
The referendum campaign was divisive with the Leave campaign preying on people’s fears, using misinformation and stirring up hatred in our society. The right wing media also played a part in this, amplifying the anti–migrant message. Since the result was announced on June 24th the increase in racist incidents has sadly continued on the streets and online, in our schools, communities and workplaces. It seems the success of the Leave campaign emboldened racists and the far-right. In the European Parliament, Marine Le Pen of the Front National crowed with delight as she spoke immediately after Nigel Farage on June 27th. Putin, Trump, and other right-wing figures are also celebrating what they perceive as the beginning of the end of a strong and united Europe, with Farage even travelling to the USA this month to speak in support of Trump. I fear that the UK's decision to turn its back on its nearest neighbours will have far-reaching effects on the rest of Europe and the wider world.
We live in difficult times in a dangerous world with scenes not unlike the 1930s when fascism was on the rise; sadly each terrorist incident adds fuel to the fire and our British Muslim communities pay the price of Islamophobia. But we must not forget that the murder of Jo Cox MP by a white British extremist was politically motivated and that terrorism is often homegrown. I attended three memorial events for Jo, reading a Syrian love poem in recognition of her dedication to the cause of refugees. I pledge to carry on her work supporting refugees and the amazing volunteers and aid organisations who do so much when our government does so little. To that end I was pleased to give evidence to the House of Lords on Unaccompanied Minors and I welcome their recent report highlighting government failures whilst also suggesting a more co-ordinated European approach.
So what now for the Labour Party? We must do our best to act as an effective opposition, and represent the interests of our voters, members, activists and supporters, and particularly the 48% of the British public who voted to remain in the EU and also those who have subsequently regretted their decision.
All parts of the Labour Party must deeply reflect on the referendum campaign, and on the direction we need to take. Austerity has failed the people of Britain and the people of Europe and the referendum result reflects that all too clearly.
Here in the UK we need an anti-austerity leader with grassroots support and who promotes Labour policies for investment in public services, including arts, sport, culture, libraries, adult learning, childcare and youth provision as well as core services such as education, health, transport and housing, along with a visionary industrial policy. We need to invest in sustainable 'Green jobs' and shoulder our share of the burden regarding poverty in the less developed countries and also in respect of the refugee crisis. In order to do this we need to strengthen links with our sister parties in Europe and across the world and work more closely with civil society and campaigning organisations. We need to listen and act in concert with members, recognising the changing landscape around us.
In the midst of terrible uncertainty, the processes we must follow should be calm and considered. Last year Jeremy Corbyn was given an overwhelming democratic mandate to lead by Party members and supporters. He brought many thousands of young people and grassroots activists into politics and into the Party. We must welcome and involve new members, and try and heal the rifts between us.
I am concerned that an orchestrated campaign against our leader has been underway for some time and that this has undermined our ability to move forward. I respect individuals' right to make their position clear and I know how heart-breaking it has been for some of my colleagues in the PLP to resign their positions. In that respect I was glad to see Sarah Champion MP un-resign in July and take up her role on the front bench again. There must be a calm and orderly leadership contest and I hope that members will make the best choice to enable the Party to be an effective opposition, holding the Tories to account and building towards a dynamic campaign for the next general election.
For your information, some members of the European Parliamentary Labour Party met in Brussels on June 29th to discuss the leadership issue, with eleven colleagues subsequently deciding to send a letter to Jeremy Corbyn asking him to reconsider his position. I was not a signatory to that statement and continue to support Jeremy in the leadership election.
So what happens next?
In the aftermath of the referendum we have seen the resignation of David Cameron, with Theresa May becoming the new Prime Minister. As we guessed, the primary ‘leave’ campaigners appear not to have had a proper plan and many of their original statements about Brexit have already unravelled. Theresa May has already said that she will not trigger Article 50 until next year and that it will then take two years to agree how to leave the EU. The reality is that it will take much longer to replace all the legislation and agreements that will be undone by the Brexiteers who have shamefully left the scene, abdicating responsibility. They have made the UK a laughing stock and the appointment of Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary only diminishes us further as an international player.
The Leader of the European Parliamentary Labour Party, Dame Glenis Willmott, has stated that MEPs will continue to ensure that constituents' voices are represented in the EU. I will therefore continue to do all that I can to best represent the interests of the people of the North West and in particular to work hard on my specialist committees - Culture & Education and Women's Rights & Gender Equality. - and also on the intergroups for Children's Rights, Youth, Disability, LGBTI, Anti-Poverty, Cultural Industries, Trade Unions, Public Services & Common Goods. I will also continue my profound commitment to human rights, acting in solidarity with those suffering oppression around the world.
The referendum has caused me to rethink how best I can work to serve my constituents interests, so it is with great sadness that I have closed my office in Workington, Cumbria. This means that I will be conducting roving surgeries up and down the constituency in the near future, whilst having an administrative base in Manchester. You can read my full statement here.
Meanwhile the European Parliament has been in recess and MEPs have had the opportunity to take a well-earned break from parliamentary duties in order to spend time in their respective constituencies and also attend conferences and events linked to special areas of interest. I have therefore been very busy over the summer. Here are a few of the things I have been doing:
Politics and culture
Before the recess and as part of my parliamentary duties I represented the Culture Committee on a visit to Wroclaw in Poland, European City of Culture, where I met local politicians, academics, entrepreneurs, town planners and cultural activists to discuss the crucial role of culture in regeneration. I was able to share the story of Liverpool's success as a previous City of Culture, citing ongoing examples of what a vibrant cultural scene and successful tourism industry can offer.
Back home, I was pleased to be invited to attend the opening of the Liverpool Biennial, a three month festival of contemporary art taking place in venues, public spaces and community venues across Merseyside. Cllr Ann O’Byrne spoke at the event reaffirming the city's commitment to the arts and reminding those present that Liverpool was a welcoming city that had voted to remain in the EU.
I have also been pleased to spend time celebrating the burgeoning music scene in Manchester, attending a young women's music and science event at MOSI hosted by the brilliant music development agency Brighter Sound. Meanwhile Manchester Jazz Festival won the European Jazz Network Award for its excellent programming and support of emerging artists, and Salford-based Music Action International won a Southbank Centre Changemakers award for their work with refugees and asylum seekers. Elsewhere in the region, there are a plethora of excellent social action arts projects working with other marginalised communities. Of particular note is Cllr Beth Knowles’ work with the homeless. I am proud to have signed the Manchester Homelessness Charter and earlier this year attended a performance of Streetwise Opera's moving performance of Bach's Passion. In August I was invited by Cllr Knowles to speak at the opening of an exhibition of photographs taken by homeless people during the weekend following the referendum.
Still in July, I was very proud to represent the European Parliament at the Euroscience Open Forum 2016 in Manchester where I spoke at two high-profile panels along with academic experts, leading business figures such as Juergen Maier, UK CEO of Siemens, personnel from the Islamic heritage organisation, 1001 Inventions, and celebrated artists and scientists who are bridging the gap between disciplines and working together to foster mutual understanding at many different levels.
Other recent cultural activities I have been involved with include speaking about media literacy at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival along with the British Film Institute who have contributed to a new framework for film education. You can listen to a podcast of an interview with me speaking to young journalists from FRED.fm. I continue to support international cultural youth exchange with projects such as 'Contacting the World' at Contact Theatre, Manchester, which is where I worked in the 1980s. I have also been pleased to attend a recent performance of an Anglo-Asian dance company at the lovely Kirkgate Arts Centre in Cockermouth and attend exhibition openings at the world-class Grundy Art Gallery in Blackpool. I attended a particularly poignant post-referendum theatre, music and poetry event at the Royal Exchange Theatre hastily produced by the anti-austerity theatre collective Take Back Theatre led by celebrated Corrie star, Julie Hesmondhalgh. Scratch performances by the famous and as yet unknown explored the issues of racism during and after the campaign and the sense of loss experienced by young people.
From the beginning of my mandate, I have been working closely with the British Council and was pleased to host their Shakespeare Lives event in the parliament, marking the 400th anniversary of the death of The Bard and promoting his work to future generations. This is a collaboration with the RSC demonstrating the use of culture in development and also formed part of the EU Development Days. The British Council's work in areas of conflict is growing evermore important and I was moved to tears by their presentation of Queens of Syria, a retelling of Euripides Greek tragedy (The Trojan Women) rehearsed in a refugee camp and performed by victims of the terrible ongoing conflict at venues around the UK. I continue to support the Syrian community in Manchester via community organisation Rethink Rebuild.
Peace, reconciliation and human rights
The High Representative of the EU, Federica Mogherini, announced a new Cultural Diplomacy strategy earlier this year which I wholeheartedly welcome along with greater representation of women in foreign affairs, defence, security, peace-building, conflict resolution and, most importantly, conflict prevention. My support of the Parents Circle Families Forum 'Taking Steps For Peace' project is an excellent example of what can be done to bring opposing sides to work together. In this context, bereaved Israeli and Palestinian families share their common grief in order that others will not suffer similar loss.
I have continued my support of Palestine by taking part in The Big Ride, cycling with constituents from Manchester to Shenstone in Staffordshire to draw attention to the Elbit Israeli-owned factory that makes parts for military drones, used against civilians, especially those in Gaza, including children. You can find out more here and donate to the fund raising money for children's activities.
Continuing the theme of peace and reconciliation, I participated in several events to remember Srebrenica including a Peace March from Blackburn to Manchester Cathedral and a multi-faith event sharing women's stories of survival. As an MEP with responsibility for relations with Bosnia and Herzegovina, I am pleased to continue my support for the pan-European youth arts project The Complete Freedom of Truth which is now working with Blackburn-based SLYNCS and In Place of War, a creative enterprise and research project supported by the University of Manchester.
On August 6th, along with fellow MEP Afzal Khan I was pleased to join the Rt Rev David Walker, Bishop of Manchester, the Deputy Mayor of Manchester, Eddie Newman (who previously served as a Labour MEP), Nick Merriman, Director of Manchester Museum, and other peace activists to commemorate the 71st anniversary of the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima which resulted in the deaths of at least 146,000. Together, those who gathered participated in a simple and solemn service, laying flowers at the University of Manchester's war memorial, reading out poems and a global pledge to work to rid the world of nuclear weapons.
The situation in Turkey has become very worrying since the failed coup with thousands of people being detained including many academics, journalists and politicians. I visited Istanbul in April to show solidarity with the Armenian community on the anniversary of the genocide and met several MPs with whom I continue to maintain contact. I am working with the NUJ and the European Federation of Journalists, writing letters of support and condemning Erdoğan's crackdown on freedom of speech. I am also sponsoring a woman Kurdish MP and working with the Manchester Kurdish community in order to raise awareness of the situation regarding the Kurds who offer a peaceful solution to some of the problems in the Middle East.
Along with Afzal Khan MEP I am also working with the British Kashmiri community raising awareness of ethnic violence in Jammu and Kashmir.
Solidarity and anti-austerity
At the beginning of July, I was delighted to attend the Durham Miners’ Gala again this year and was pleased to see so many party members from the North West at the event. Jeremy Corbyn was greeted very warmly by the crowds and I was privileged to sit on the platform with fellow MEP Jude Kirton-Darling. I had previously appeared on the same platform as Jeremy at Burnley May Day where he enjoyed enormous support and stated it was the duty of the Labour Party leader to attend events such as these.
This year I chose to spend a week of my holiday attending the World Social Forum in Montreal. The WSF is the largest gathering of civil society and works to find solutions to the problems of our time by building concrete alternatives to the neoliberal economic model and politics based on the exploitation of human beings and nature. Its mission is to build together, in a movement of international solidarity, a better world founded on social and environmental justice, a social and solid economy, participative democracy and the acknowledgement of equal dignity for all. I was invited to speak at the WSF Parliamentary Forum on how we S&D MEPs are challenging austerity.
Austerity in the developed west is also affecting the world's poorest nations and so for the final week of my break from parliament, I joined CARE International on a study tour to Malawi where the population is facing multiple crises due to climate change, poor nutrition, AIDS and high pregnancy rates. As a member of Labour Campaign for International Development, I believe it is incumbent on the world's richest nations to help those suffering elsewhere on the planet. CARE was initially founded in the USA to provide emergency supplies for victims of World War II in Europe. You can find out more about their work here.
Young people leading the way
I truly believe that young people hold the key to a better future and was pleased to give my support once again to the CATS project working with children teaching them how they can help shape policy by participating in decision-making processes. CATS works closely with researchers at UCLan and Liverpool universities on children's rights and I look forward to welcoming young constituents to parliament again in the future.
I was also honoured to attend a debate of the European Student Parliament in Manchester Town Hall in July and accept resolutions on a range of issues concerning science, ethics and innovation. I am thrilled to know that I will be meeting these enthusiastic bright young Europeans again in Brussels later this year.
I was delighted to be invited to speak at the Young European Socialists summer camp in Italy where I met Young Labour members from the NW and the national Chair of Young Labour, Caroline Hill. I also spoke at the Party of European Socialists LGBTI conference in Amsterdam about the work I am doing with my colleagues in the European Parliament to advance gender equality.
I believe the greatest job we have to do as socialists and internationalists, working closely with our sister parties and other allies on the left, is to challenge the status quo on economic policy, promoting a bolder social agenda and a new form of compassionate politics.
Great Britain’s golds
As the Labour Party's European Spokesperson on Sport, it gave me huge pleasure to see our outstanding sportsmen and women doing so well in the Rio Olympics. I am thrilled that the 'Welcome Home' parade will now come to Manchester as the North West produced many of the award-winning athletes and continues to provide a range of world-class facilities. I can’t wait for the Paralympics now as I get ready for 7th September, let the gold rush begin!
Finally, many Congratulations to Andy Burnham MP and Steve Rotherham MP who have been selected as Labour candidates for Mayoral elections in Manchester and Liverpool. I look forward to campaigning with both in the months to come. I look forward to seeing you at our annual conference at the end of September in the great city of Liverpool.