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

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“Rhodes must fall,” chants the crowd. But bringing down an imperialist’s statue won’t change the past

“Rhodes is a metaphor for the fact that the university is not a fully inclusive space,” says Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh.

You’ve got to look quite hard to spot it: a statue four feet high, rather attractive and informal, way above street level, on the façade of Oriel College on the High Street in Oxford. The only way you would know that it was Cecil John Rhodes, apart from the Latin inscription beneath the figure, is that he is wearing a three-piece suit and holding his familiar slouch hat in his right hand. Around this manikin a row of surprising proportions has arisen.

It is a by-blow of the much greater and far more serious dispute in South Africa, in the course of which Rhodes’s statue at the university he helped found in Cape Town has been hustled out of sight after being smeared with paint and excrement and surrounded time and again by angry, chanting students. Now the slogan “Rhodes must fall” has been picked up in the quieter atmosphere of Oxford. Oriel, which Rhodes briefly attended, is the centre of the fuss because it commemorates him with the statue in question. All this has given rise to an air of nervousness among some elements of the university hierarchy. But is it justified?

In the street outside the college, as many as 300 people gathered in the intermittent rain one recent Friday to listen to speeches, be taught some of the old liberation chants from Southern Africa and watch a bit of toyi-toying – of the kind we used to see in the days of the anti-apartheid demonstrations. A second-year history student told the crowd, “There’s a violence to having to walk past the statue every day on the way to your lectures.” Although most of us need to have the statue pointed out to us, that was greeted by applause. People often rather like the idea that they’re the victims of violence when there are no other signs of it.

Rhodes was an extraordinary man: a country clergyman’s sickly fifth son from Bishop’s Stortford who by sheer drive became one of the richest people on Earth, the founder of De Beers, the prime minister of the Cape Colony and the carver-out of two territories that eventually became Zambia and Zimbabwe. He also created one of the most effective and beneficial educational exchanges in the modern world – the Rhodes scholarships – and all this before his death at the age of 48.

He wasn’t a nice man, even by the standards of the time. Outspokenly racist and imperialist, he could sometimes sound Hitlerian: “Just fancy those parts [of Africa] that are at present inhabited by the most despicable specimens of human beings – what an alteration there would be if they were brought under Anglo-Saxon influence!” One of his personal secretaries turned against him when he talked with apparent relish about slaughtering black people. Still, Rhodes was complex: almost certainly gay, a supporter of Irish home rule and a Liberal. Although he helped to provoke the Boer War, he was a friend to the Cape Afrikaners and supported their language and culture.

The leading figure behind the “Rhodes must fall” campaign in Oxford is Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh, a South African doctoral student of philosophy whose teachers regard him with affection and respect. There is nothing about him of the menace of some of the protesters in Cape Town, who have chanted “One settler, one bullet” and, it is alleged, “Kill the whites” at demonstrations.

Mpofu-Walsh’s father is the national chairman of Julius Malema’s fiery Economic Freedom Fighters in South Africa but Sizwe follows a more sophisticated brand of protest, better adapted to the atmosphere of Oxford. “Rhodes is a metaphor for the fact that the university is not a fully inclusive space,” he says. He maintains that the curriculum at Oxford concentrates on Europe and the US rather than on the wider world, though that may be news to all those Rhodes scholars from Africa who have studied at Oxford and returned home to enrich the medical, philosophical and political lives of their countries. But Mpofu-Walsh touches a genuinely sensitive point when he points out that the university accepted only 24 black British undergraduates last year. “We want Oxford to improve its representation of black voices.”

You might think that Nelson Mandela’s decision to allow his name to be associated with that of Rhodes in South Africa, in forming the Mandela Rhodes Foundation, would give some protection to the old white supremacist. Not so. One of the more melancholy things that have happened in South Africa in recent years has been that Mandela, by taking his stand for reconciliation, has increasingly been seen as an Uncle Tom by many black people there – and the link with Rhodes hasn’t helped.

The desire to cleanse history of its unattractive sides isn’t restricted to Southern Africa. But the past is the past; it can’t be changed. Charles Conn, Warden of Rhodes House, Oxford, who oversees the Rhodes scholarships, says: “We should interrogate history, of course, and learn its lessons. Nearly all historical figures held views at odds with our perspectives today. Rhodes, Jowett, Jefferson, even Gandhi, had beliefs that we find out of touch and even abhorrent. But we don’t serve the pursuit of knowledge if we agree to airbrush or bulldoze history.”

Will Rhodes’s statue in Oxford be taken down, like the one outside Cape Town University? Surely not, if only for the prosaic reason that the Oriel building it stands on is listed and it will take a lot more than the shouted slogans of a few hundred students to get rid of it. For many, attacking the symbols that some minority happens to dislike smacks a bit too much of Islamic State blasting away the incomparable reliefs of Nimrud. But the demonstrators have a point. Oxford University ought to try to be less white, less Eurocentric, less everything that Cecil Rhodes once wanted it to be.

John Simpson is the world affairs editor of BBC News

John Simpson is World Affairs Editor of BBC News, having worked for the corporation since the beginning of his career in 1970. He has reported from more than 120 countries, including 30 war zones, and interviewed many world leaders.

This article first appeared in the 19 November 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The age of terror