Labour needs to select Brexit candidates to win

Labour needs to select Brexit candidates to win

The General Election caught everyone off-guard. The Prime Minister had repeatedly ruled out an early election, claiming it would cause instability at a crucial period for the Brexit negotiations. However, her huge lead in the opinion polls was too delicious to resist and now parties are scrambling to prepare for what looks set to be one of the most gruelling election campaigns to date.

The Labour Party is imposing candidates on constituencies after its National Executive determined there was not enough time to undergo full selection processes. All Labour MPs who are seeking re-election have been automatically approved. However, a number of Labour Members of Parliament have announced their intention to stand down. I wish those Members of Parliament well in their own future, and thank them for their service to our democracy and to our nation.

The Prime Minister has placed her tanks on Labour’s lawn, focusing her attacks on Labour’s traditional heartlands in the Midlands and the North, and presenting the Conservatives as the party that will deliver Brexit, which many of those Labour heartlands voted for. If Labour is to survive this onslaught then it must confidently and carefully select the right candidates to face down the Tories and not simply select those who have been part of the Party apparatus and machine with all the right connections and friends.

While the Labour Party remains an overwhelmingly pro-EU party, it has accepted the outcome of the referendum. However, the British public is sceptical about the extent to which Labour really has embraced Brexit. This weakness could be Labour’s Achilles’ heel in this General Election. Given that 70% of Labour’s constituencies voted to leave the EU, if the Leave vote in those constituencies rallies round a (non-Labour) Brexit candidate, Labour would be in a perilous position.

Those making the decisions as to who can stand in which seat need to carefully consider this factor. If Labour places strong Remain-supporting candidates in seats that have overwhelmingly rejected EU membership then we may find the electorate in those traditional seats turning, for the first time, against the Labour Party. People are fed up of politics as usual and they want a Labour Party that selects authentic individuals who stand as the voice of ordinary working people. Labour needs to select Brexit candidates in its Brexit seats to win.

After the General Election is concluded and the next Parliament assembles, the dominating issue is going to be the Government’s negotiations with the European Union. Whoever becomes Prime Minister – Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn – their first task will be to begin the negotiations and secure the best deal for the United Kingdom. To do this, Parliament must have Brexit-backing MPs on all sides who are supporting and – more importantly – scrutinising the Government on its progress.

Around three million traditional Labour voters voted to leave the European Union in the 2016 referendum. The proportion of those Labour voters who supported Leave were relatively higher and more greatly concentrated in the North, Midlands and North West. The polls are showing that a considerable number of those three million Labour Leave voters are now thinking of voting for the Conservatives or UKIP.  If Labour is to hold those marginal seats and prevent traditional seats from falling then it must select candidates who represent those voters.

While UKIP continues to fall in the polls, they still remain a considerable threat to Labour in a number of seats in the North East. It has been suggested that UKIP will not run candidates against Brexit-supporting candidates. In seats like Hartlepool this could provide Labour with significant assistance and could see off a Tory challenge, with many of those ‘Red Kippers’ returning to Labour, as has been suggested by the latest Fabian Society report.

Labour must begin to talk positively about the opportunities Brexit will provide to the next Labour government and the people of this nation. A future Labour government will be able to support industries and sectors to protect jobs without the fear of facing the European Court for breaking state aid laws. This will enable a future Labour government to work to revive our manufacturing sector and traditional industries.

The next Labour government will be able to provide a tremendous boost to developing countries, by offering good trade deals that are fair to producers in emerging economies. Outside of the EU’s Single Market and Customs Union, developing countries will not have to face large tariffs on their goods, meaning their own economies will grow while prices fall in the UK.

British opposition to EU membership came from the Labour Party. Clement Attlee was Labour’s first great sceptic of European integration, harmonisation and erosion of national sovereignty. Hugh Gaitskell strongly opposed the UK’s entry into the Common Market. Harold Wilson’s Labour Government gave the British people a referendum on membership of the EEC. Great Labour figures such as Tony Benn, Barbara Castle, Peter Shore, Michael Foot – and more recently Gisela Stuart and Kate Hoey – have represented that proud tradition of Labour Euroscepticism.

In the next Parliament, Labour must ensure its traditional voice on these matters is represented by selecting Labour Brexit candidates to represent Labour Brexit constituencies.