Why I'm boycotting parliament's Thatcher tribute

Towns like Rotherham have still not recovered from Thatcher's destruction of industry, says Labour MP Sarah Champion. Today's tribute is an inappropriately partisan use of parliament.

I would like to express my sympathy to the friends and relatives of Margaret Thatcher for their loss. My decision not to attend parliament today is not about disrespecting the woman, it is simply because I do not feel it is an appropriate use of parliamentary time. Personally, I feel that the Labour frontbench should attend to show their respect. Ed Miliband should read out a statement of condolence and that should be it. Otherwise, the Labour backbenchers that attend are placed in an impossible position. Do they praise a woman who attacked the foundations of our society, or do they use the platform to criticise her policies and be seen as disrespectful?

I moved to South Yorkshire in 1989. The area had been torn apart by Thatcher’s determination to break the trade unions over the miners' strike using vicious siege tactics. Recession, astronomical interest rates and her drive to break up state-owned industry hammered the steel industry into submission. Coal and steel were the principal industrial employers for Rotherham. Whole villages were reliant on their success and growth to prosper themselves. What Thatcher never seemed to understand was the importance of community and the integral role employers play within that. By destroying the coal mines, she ripped families apart and destroyed people's identities and self-esteem. Thirty years on we have still not recovered from that, and, to be honest, I don’t know if we ever will.

There is no way as the MP for Rotherham, as someone who went on the poll tax rallies, as a child that never became milk monitor, I could justify going down to Parliament today. I am not a hypocrite. It is an inappropriately partisan use of parliament and my time is much better used serving my constituents. I am actually speaking at a Community Union conference, and I appreciate the irony!

A card is left with flowers outside the central London home of Margaret Thatcher following her death. Photograph: Getty Images.

Sarah Champion is Labour MP for Rotherham and shadow minister for women and equalities. 

Photo: Getty
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Does her small majority mean Amber Rudd's hopes of becoming PM are already over?

The Home Secretary is well-liked at Westminster, but has a narrow hold on her seat.

Among Conservative MPs, there is only one politician at cabinet level who arouses any enthusiasm: the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd. As I wrote in my morning briefing yesterday, at present, she is in the box seat as far as first place among Tory MPs is concerned.

But Rudd has a problem: her wafer-thin majority. Her constituency of Hastings and Rye has gone with the national winner at every election since its creation, and appropriately in 2017 it was on a knife-edge: just 346 votes separated Rudd from her Labour challenger.

Although in some ways the problem is secondary – as if Rudd loses her seat, then Labour will be heading into power, whether in some form of minority government or as a majority one, at which point, the Conservatives would seek a new leader in any case. But as the Liberal Democrats have frequently found, the problem with having a leader in a marginal seat is it takes your biggest gun off the field of battle if they are continually having to pop back to their constituency to defend it.

At the last election, neither Theresa May nor Jeremy Corbyn had to campaign extensively in Maidenhead or Islington North, while Tim Farron had to fight a rearguard action to hold onto his seat, which was solidly Tory until he won it in 2005 and nearly flipped back to the Conservatives in 2017.

It also adds a note of soap opera to your general election campaign that no one wants or needs if your Prime Minister-designate is having to fend off questions about what happens in their own seat.

But there are two factors at play that are not commonly discussed. Firstly, it’s not as if Hastings (or Rye for that matter) are a particular part of the Rudd brand and she could very easily pop up in a safe seat elsewhere. Not least because you can easily finesse an argument about having been an MP in a marginal seat for seven years but now as Prime Minister you need to focus on the whole country, and so forth. Her supporters at Westminster are already discussing potential berths.

The second is the possibility of a wholesale boundary review on the basis of 650 seats not 600. Whatever happens, the current 600-seat review is dead in the water: neither the DUP, nor Conservative MPs who might lose out, will sign it off in its current form. But as the current constituency boundaries are so old and out-of-date, any review will be fairly destabilising, which would also allow Rudd to discreetly move to another, safer seat.

But as I've also said, the matter may not arise. Rudd’s pro-Europeanism and privately more liberal stance both mean that while she is well-placed to be the carrier of the Cameroon flame in the next Conservative leadership election, she faces an uphill battle to actually win.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.