I was asked by the Sydney Morning Herald for my immediate thoughts on the General Election result. Here is what I said:
“In the end, it wasn’t even close. The Conservatives have returned to power in the UK with their biggest majority since Margaret Thatcher’s 1987 victory. No more hung Parliament and no more doubt that Brexit will go ahead, with the withdrawal bill likely to pass Parliament before Christmas.
For my party, the Labour Party, last night’s election result was devastating. Despite nine years of crippling austerity, Labour’s promise of real change just didn’t cut through. Instead, the result laid bare the deep divisions in the UK that we first saw so clearly with the 2016 Brexit referendum vote and which only feel to have grown in the years since.
I represent a very diverse constituency in north London, where thousands of EU citizens have made their home and where the overwhelming majority of people voted to remain in the EU. Here in Hornsey & Wood Green. Labour’s promise of a final say referendum and the chance to stop Brexit was extremely popular on the doorstep. Across the capital, our vote held up and we won back Putney, a south-west London seat that has been Conservative for the last 14 years. Had the remain supporting vote not been split in other London seats between Labour and the Liberal Democrats, that tally would have been higher.
But in many of the northern, traditionally Labour, heartlands that voted to leave the European Union back in 2016, Labour has lost and it has lost big. That can’t all be explained by Brexit and Labour needs a serious period of reflection before we attempt to move forward. But without doubt Brexit played a role. I believe it was absolutely right to back a final say referendum, and it was something I’d long called for, but I fear we didn’t succeed in explaining why to leavers. As a result, and helped on by a hostile media, it was all too often seen as an attempt to “thwart the democratic will” rather than to protect jobs, our NHS and precious workers’ and environmental rights.
Three and a half years of Parliamentary stalemate and voter fatigue made Boris Johnson’s “Get Brexit done” slogan sound appealing to many, despite the fact it couldn’t be further from the truth. The mammoth job of negotiating the future relationship with the EU lies ahead coupled with years of complex trade deals. With the Scottish National Party’s landslide result north of the border, a second Scottish Independence referendum and the potential break-up of the union looks ever more likely. As we warned during the election campaign, our precious National Health Service is at risk in trade deals with Trump’s USA and US pharma giants may leave us paying more for the drugs that so many rely on.
The strength of the Conservative’s victory is particularly devastating because Boris Johnson ran a campaign based on stoking fear and division. He condemned the three million EU migrants who have made the UK their home, our friends, our neighbours for “treating the UK like it’s part of their own country”, refused to apologise for the shameful language he’s used in the past against Muslim women, black and gay people and was accused by the bereaved father of the London Bridge terror attack victim Jack Merritt of treating his son’s murder as a “political opportunity”. At the same time, he played fast and loose with the truth. Independent fact checker Full Fact found 88% of Conservative Facebook ad claims were “misleading” and repeated proclamations of the “40 hospitals” he was going to build, staffed by “50,000 new nurses” were both proven to be false. Johnson is Trumpian in his open disregard for the truth and it is a worrying sign of what a Johnson led Conservative Government may offer.
Tonight, the result is still raw. Excellent Labour colleagues and friends have lost their seats and there is real fear in our community about the election of the most right-wing Government for decades and what it will mean for their lives and their families. The Brexit I have fought so hard against will now happen – despite the fact that 52 per cent of the votes cast across the UK went to political parties backing a second referendum.
I don’t want to see Johnson turn Great Britain into Little Britain, no longer celebrating the huge contribution of the people from all around the world who have made the UK their home but instead trying to close the doors. In the months ahead I’ll keep fighting Johnson’s hard-right vision for Britain and standing up for a UK that is inclusive, welcoming and open.”