THE COMING 12 months will be a crucial year for Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and for the future of Labour as a whole, one of his former rivals has warned, as the party struggles to heal the divisions laid bare by the European Union referendum.
Following June’s dramatic vote to leave the EU, Wakefield MP Mary Creagh says Labour finds itself “split” between a traditional Brexit-backing core in the North and a metropolitan support base in the South.
And speaking to The Yorkshire Post, she warns the party must now find a way to reunite this “electoral coalition”, or risk finding itself in the position of being “the party of the zero per cent”.
The stark message follows a difficult year for Labour, that began with a disappointing performance in May’s local elections and culminated in a failed leadership coup.
The last 12 months have also brought their share of tragedy, following the brutal murder of the Batley and Spen MP Jo Cox.
In more recent weeks, the party has faced fresh turmoil over its position on Brexit policies, including its stance on immigration and access to the single market.
And while European tribalism may not run as deeply among Labour members as it does Tories, Mrs Creagh suggests the damage these divisions have inflicted on the party remains to be seen.
“I don’t particularly like referenda as a tool or an instrument and I think (the EU referendum) will be seen to be a huge strategic error by David Cameron,” she says.
“It was a self-inflicted wound but what it’s done is bring the divisions of the Conservative Party and it’s now laid them across the Labour Party as well.
“Labour’s voters are split between Northern towns and cities who voted mostly to leave (and) the London and southern seats where people voted overwhelmingly to Remain. We are losing the core voters who wanted to remain, we’re losing the core in Northern towns and cities that wanted to leave – we cannot be in a position where we’re the party of the zero per cent.”
Like many of her fellow Labour MPs, Mrs Creagh says she was disappointed by Jeremy Corbyn’s “lacklustre” performance in the referendum campaign. The 2015 leadership contender is also open about the fact she signed the vote of no confidence against him at the end of June.
If he is to win back the support of MPs, she says he must use the coming months to develop policies that appeal to people “outside of the Westminster bubble and outside of the Labour Party bubble”.
“I think it’s going to be a very important year for the party and for Jeremy’s leadership,” she states.
Reflecting on another landmark vote this year, Mrs Creagh expresses serious concerns about the election of the new US President Donald Trump.
She describes his victory as “deeply unfortunate”, adding: “I think it’s going to make life a lot more difficult for Americans and those of us who are America’s allies over the next four years.”
Like many, she fears the implications Trump’s election could have for Russia’s influence on the international stage.
She says she is “worried” by CIA revelations that there was Russian interference in the US election and that Vladimir Putin “got the result he wanted”.
“There have been worrying noises from the Trump camp about funding Nato, about Article 5 – that’s music to Putin’s ears,” she says.
“His strategy is to weaken the West – to weaken the Nato alliance.
“Having already annexed Crimea and started a proxy war in Ukraine... I don’t think we want to do anything to encourage further Russian adventurism in Eastern Europe.”
This year has not been all doom and gloom, however, as Mrs Creagh celebrates her first year as the Environmental Audit Committee’s chairwoman. Under her leadership, the group of MPs has undertaken an inquiry into the environmental impact of plastic microbeads, which has helped to bring about a ban on their use in cosmetics.
She has also played a part in persuading the Turkish government to abandon its plans to curb prison sentences for convicted rapists if they agree to marry their victims. During a visit to the country with the Nato Parliamentary Assembly she met with the Turkish Justice Minister and female MPs from the ruling AKP party, and claims the following day the Bill was dropped.
“That was a little bit of unseen work – that was a good moment for me,” she says.