Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

If the left wants to stop losing, we'll have to do a lot more listening

Labour is in danger, and the problem didn't start with Jeremy Corbyn.

An awful lot of tripe is written about Labour's disconnection with voters in our traditional heartlands. According to a lazy and insulting caricature, these are industrial cities and towns where Labour votes were once weighed, instead of counted, or where a donkey with a red rosette would always win.

The reality is more complex.  Take the two places that formed my politics more than anywhere else: Bradford, where I grew up, and the former coal mining seat of Ashfield which I am so proud to represent in Parliament. Both of them would fit a stereotype of the “Labour heartlands”. But when I was studying for my A-Levels in Bradford, the council was run by the Tories’ Eric Pickles and when I first got elected in Ashfield in 2010 my majority was just 192 votes.

I’m glad to say that the people of my constituency gave me a better margin of victory in the last election but we had disappointing results elsewhere in 2015, not least in other seats nearby - former mining seats, former Labour seats like Broxtowe, Sherwood and Amber Valley - where tiny Tory majorities in 2010 became big ones in 2015.

Labour’s difficulties in our heartlands did not begin with Jeremy Corbyn because the truth is that our support in places like these have been eroding for a long time. It’s a key reason we haven't won a general election for over a decade. And nor is this just a British problem. Across the developed world, the left and centre-left is in retreat with social democrats in the European Union losing 26 out of 33 national elections since the financial crisis in 2008.

So I have never taken Labour voters or Labour heartlands for granted. And that is why I want to begin a formal project to listen to voters in my constituency. I will give them the chance to tell me what they want from politics and, crucially for me and for the party I love so much, what they want from Labour. I want them to tell me what they worry about and what kind of future they hope can be built for their children. I want them to explain to me why so many voted to leave the European Union. And I want people who took part in that referendum but not the general election to make me understand why.

It’s what I’m going to do non-stop for the next 10 weeks. I know not everyone is as interested in this as I am and if I called a public meeting in Ashfield, I wouldn’t hear from anyone who had anything better to do. That’s why I am going out to meet as many of my constituents face-to-face where they live and work. I am starting on Friday with male construction workers followed by women admin workers at a successful Ashfield engineering company. Between now and mid-March I will listen to teachers, ex-miners, hairdressers, 6th form students, pensioners, small business owners, mums with toddlers, golf club members, non voters, ex-voters and people who would never vote for me.

But I also know this: the Labour Party is not like some dodgy business trying to sell people stuff they don’t want. People share our values: they need an NHS that serves their children as well as it as served us; they don’t want to see neighbours living on handouts from foodbanks; and they believe a fair day’s work should result in a fair day’s pay.

If we are honest with ourselves, we are still working on the concrete policies to make these things a reality. If we don't have a practical vision of a better country which people believe and buy into we will fail again and again. The ideas we need to rebuild that vision won’t just come from think-tanks in Westminster and Whitehall – or they won’t work if they do. Any project to create a better future for the people had better begin with the people themselves.

But winning their trust and their votes also requires us to address the doubts so many people have about us. It's dead simple: we will lose again if we don’t do this.

And Labour losing means kids losing chances in life or even going without food. The work that the last Labour government did to lift children out of poverty is all set to be undone by this government. As someone who grew up in pretty tough circumstances in the 1980s, that progress came too late for me. I believe that I – and all of us in the Labour Party - have a responsibility to stop the same happening to any more children. I’m calling my tour “Gloria Listens in Ashfield”. It is what I can do right now to make sure I don’t shirk my responsibility.

I look forward to sharing the results.

Gloria De Piero is Labour MP for Ashfield. 

Show Hide image

The Brexit Beartraps, #2: Could dropping out of the open skies agreement cancel your holiday?

Flying to Europe is about to get a lot more difficult.

So what is it this time, eh? Brexit is going to wipe out every banana planet on the entire planet? Brexit will get the Last Night of the Proms cancelled? Brexit will bring about World War Three?

To be honest, I think we’re pretty well covered already on that last score, but no, this week it’s nothing so terrifying. It’s just that Brexit might get your holiday cancelled.

What are you blithering about now?

Well, only if you want to holiday in Europe, I suppose. If you’re going to Blackpool you’ll be fine. Or Pakistan, according to some people...

You’re making this up.

I’m honestly not, though we can’t entirely rule out the possibility somebody is. Last month Michael O’Leary, the Ryanair boss who attracts headlines the way certain other things attract flies, warned that, “There is a real prospect... that there are going to be no flights between the UK and Europe for a period of weeks, months beyond March 2019... We will be cancelling people’s holidays for summer of 2019.”

He’s just trying to block Brexit, the bloody saboteur.

Well, yes, he’s been quite explicit about that, and says we should just ignore the referendum result. Honestly, he’s so Remainiac he makes me look like Dan Hannan.

But he’s not wrong that there are issues: please fasten your seatbelt, and brace yourself for some turbulence.

Not so long ago, aviation was a very national sort of a business: many of the big airports were owned by nation states, and the airline industry was dominated by the state-backed national flag carriers (British Airways, Air France and so on). Since governments set airline regulations too, that meant those airlines were given all sorts of competitive advantages in their own country, and pretty much everyone faced barriers to entry in others. 

The EU changed all that. Since 1994, the European Single Aviation Market (ESAM) has allowed free movement of people and cargo; established common rules over safety, security, the environment and so on; and ensured fair competition between European airlines. It also means that an AOC – an Air Operator Certificate, the bit of paper an airline needs to fly – from any European country would be enough to operate in all of them. 

Do we really need all these acronyms?

No, alas, we need more of them. There’s also ECAA, the European Common Aviation Area – that’s the area ESAM covers; basically, ESAM is the aviation bit of the single market, and ECAA the aviation bit of the European Economic Area, or EEA. Then there’s ESAA, the European Aviation Safety Agency, which regulates, well, you can probably guess what it regulates to be honest.

All this may sound a bit dry-

It is.

-it is a bit dry, yes. But it’s also the thing that made it much easier to travel around Europe. It made the European aviation industry much more competitive, which is where the whole cheap flights thing came from.

In a speech last December, Andrew Haines, the boss of Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority said that, since 2000, the number of destinations served from UK airports has doubled; since 1993, fares have dropped by a third. Which is brilliant.

Brexit, though, means we’re probably going to have to pull out of these arrangements.

Stop talking Britain down.

Don’t tell me, tell Brexit secretary David Davis. To monitor and enforce all these international agreements, you need an international court system. That’s the European Court of Justice, which ministers have repeatedly made clear that we’re leaving.

So: last March, when Davis was asked by a select committee whether the open skies system would persist, he replied: “One would presume that would not apply to us” – although he promised he’d fight for a successor, which is very reassuring. 

We can always holiday elsewhere. 

Perhaps you can – O’Leary also claimed (I’m still not making this up) that a senior Brexit minister had told him that lost European airline traffic could be made up for through a bilateral agreement with Pakistan. Which seems a bit optimistic to me, but what do I know.

Intercontinental flights are still likely to be more difficult, though. Since 2007, flights between Europe and the US have operated under a separate open skies agreement, and leaving the EU means we’re we’re about to fall out of that, too.  

Surely we’ll just revert to whatever rules there were before.

Apparently not. Airlines for America – a trade body for... well, you can probably guess that, too – has pointed out that, if we do, there are no historic rules to fall back on: there’s no aviation equivalent of the WTO.

The claim that flights are going to just stop is definitely a worst case scenario: in practice, we can probably negotiate a bunch of new agreements. But we’re already negotiating a lot of other things, and we’re on a deadline, so we’re tight for time.

In fact, we’re really tight for time. Airlines for America has also argued that – because so many tickets are sold a year or more in advance – airlines really need a new deal in place by March 2018, if they’re to have faith they can keep flying. So it’s asking for aviation to be prioritised in negotiations.

The only problem is, we can’t negotiate anything else until the EU decides we’ve made enough progress on the divorce bill and the rights of EU nationals. And the clock’s ticking.

This is just remoaning. Brexit will set us free.

A little bit, maybe. CAA’s Haines has also said he believes “talk of significant retrenchment is very much over-stated, and Brexit offers potential opportunities in other areas”. Falling out of Europe means falling out of European ownership rules, so itcould bring foreign capital into the UK aviation industry (assuming anyone still wants to invest, of course). It would also mean more flexibility on “slot rules”, by which airports have to hand out landing times, and which are I gather a source of some contention at the moment.

But Haines also pointed out that the UK has been one of the most influential contributors to European aviation regulations: leaving the European system will mean we lose that influence. And let’s not forget that it was European law that gave passengers the right to redress when things go wrong: if you’ve ever had a refund after long delays, you’ve got the EU to thank.

So: the planes may not stop flying. But the UK will have less influence over the future of aviation; passengers might have fewer consumer rights; and while it’s not clear that Brexit will mean vastly fewer flights, it’s hard to see how it will mean more, so between that and the slide in sterling, prices are likely to rise, too.

It’s not that Brexit is inevitably going to mean disaster. It’s just that it’ll take a lot of effort for very little obvious reward. Which is becoming something of a theme.

Still, we’ll be free of those bureaucrats at the ECJ, won’t be?

This’ll be a great comfort when we’re all holidaying in Grimsby.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Brexit. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.