Labour MP Kate Hoey attends the State Opening of Parliament on May 27, 2015. Photograph: Getty
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Kate Hoey: Labour has become an “extremely unpatriotic” party

The Eurosceptic MP says her party's ambiguity towards Britain has alienated working class voters. 

It was once Labour that was the Eurosceptic party of British politics - Harold Wilson staged the 1975 referendum in an attempt to heal the divide on his front bench and Labour went on to advocate withdrawal from the EC under Michael Foot in 1983. It wasonly  during Neil Kinnock’s leadership that the party and the trade union movement embraced the EU as a bulwark against Thatcherism.

Eurosceptics have been increasingly rare in Labour ever since; Kate Hoey is one of those who endures. The Vauxhall MP and former sports minister has established a new group, Labour For Britain, to lead the drive for renegotiation and, should that fail, to campaign for withdrawal.

“I don’t like the word ‘Britain’ because that excludes Northern Ireland,” says Hoey, who was born in County Antrim, when I meet her in her parliamentary office. “I like ‘UK’. But if you look at ‘Labour FUK’ it doesn’t exactly do very well, so we have to stick with Britain.”

She excoriates her party for failing to publish a set of renegotiation demands. “All the leadership candidates have said that they want to see reform but I haven’t heard any of them spell out in any way what they think needs to be reformed. They talk about it in a way that shows they haven’t really given it any thought because it’s not been necessary. Because there’s been an agreement that the party is pro-EU, none of them can see any possibility of us leaving, so they don’t need to think about it and I think that’s very lazy politics and needs to be changed.”

What Hoey wants, she tells me, is: “To get back to our parliament the right to make its own laws, the right to have complete control of our economy, to decide everything that relates to our own country ... and of course that is fundamentally opposed to what the original aims of the Common Market were”. She also calls for an end to the free movement of people (“People from the Commonwealth are completely penalised when it comes to getting their families in to visit them and yet somebody can walk in from Romania or Latvia with no history of involvement in this country whatsoever”) and the abolition of the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy. “That’s what the Labour Party should be doing instead of going off into a little corner and saying ‘No, no it’s all wonderful and we might want to tinker around a little bit’. We are letting down millions of our own supporters, many of whom voted Ukip and will continue to do so until this is treated in a serious way.”

Even more strikingly, Hoey blames her party’s “extremely unpatriotic” outlook for its increasing alienation from its traditional working class supporters. “They feel very strongly about their country and we have been extremely unpatriotic as a party to our country. There’s just a feeling that we’re half-hearted about being British, we’re half-hearted about the monarchy, we’re half-hearted about the way we see our country in the world. I’m very proud of being British and I think the United Kingdom is a force for good in the world and we seem to feel all the time that we have to put ourselves down because somehow that might upset people”.

She continues: “We’ve moved away from the basic decency and values that working class people had and the way that I and others were brought up ... All of that seems to be ridiculed now by some of the people in leadership positions and not necessarily because they’ve really believed that but because we’ve been taken over by this kind of London, intellectual, academic-y, liberal-y people who feel that, really, if only we just got rid of all those people out there who ask awkward questions about immigration and ask awkward questions about people living off benefits when they shouldn’t be, that Labour would somehow be wonderful.”

Hoey concedes that she does not expect significant changes from David Cameron’s renegotiation and that “she won’t be satisfied with tinkering”. But while she promises to be involved in the Out campaign, she rejects the calls for her to lead it. “I’m not going to be the leader, I would not want to be the leader of the No campaign. I’m going to be involved and see how things evolve.”

Hoey was proposed to serve as a leader by those Eurosceptics who fear that a Ukip-dominated Out campaign will guarantee defeat. But she defends Nigel Farage’s party against its detractors on left and right. “I don’t have this obsession that Ukip is somehow this absolutely dreadful thing that we must all unite to have a go at. Ukip get nearly four million votes, they come second in all those seats, they’re going to have a part to play in a leave campaign, everybody will have their part to play, everybody’s got different strengths.” She has never been invited to defect to Ukip but praises Farage as “a brilliant communicator when he’s on form”.

On Hoey’s wall are photos of her with former Labour leaders - Foot, Kinnock, John Smith - and one of her at Wimbledon with Margaret Thatcher. As in 2010, Hoey has nominated Andy Burnham for the leadership (though adds that she was prepared to lend her vote to Jeremy Corbyn). “I think he’s matured a lot, he’s learned a lot, I think he’s tougher than he was ... Andy is the one who would have the confidence to break out of the mould in lots of areas”.

However, she acknowledges that, given the electoral arithmetic, Labour will struggle to form a government in 2020. “In fact, a nameless person, when I was sitting besides him last week, said he thought we should have a woman leader and I said, I won’t name the person, ‘Well I can’t see so-and-so being prime minister and he said to me: ‘Oh, don’t be so stupid, Kate. We’re not electing a prime minister, we’re electing a leader of the opposition for 10 years’. And that was a fairly senior person.”

 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 19 June 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Mini Mao

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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