Tom Richmond: Brave MP shows spectre of Europe haunts Labour too

IF ONLY there were more independent-minded MPs like Kate Hoey who are prepared to put their personal convictions before the orders of party whips.

Not only was the one-time sports minister one of the few Labour MPs who voted against a ban on fox hunting, she wants the proposed “recall” legislation – where politicians can be voted out of office – to be applied to Sinn Fein members who still boycott Parliament, and now she has exposed Ed Miliband’s flawed position on the proposed referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union.

To many, this issue is a battle between the Tories and Ukip – even more so after David Cameron’s suggested cap on the number of migrants entering this country was slapped down as a non-starter by an intransigent Jose Manuel Barroso, the outgoing president of the European Commission.

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It is not. Many on the left of British politics also have deep misgivings about the cost and influence of the EU, not least those voters in the recent Heywood and Middleton by-election who gave Miliband such a bloody nose.

As Hoey was not afraid to point out during a backbench Commons debate which would enshrine Cameron’s promise of a post-election referendum into law, “the majority of Labour voters in the country want a referendum”.

She went further. She said this issue is “a question of trust” and that she “always feel confident” when she is in a minority on the Labour bunches.

This stems from Miliband’s decision to rule out a referendum unless Brussels demands more powers. His argument is that Britain’s exit from the EU would be disastrous for the economy.

But is Miliband beginning to wobble in the face of hostility from his own members – and fears that the previously safe Labour seats in Rotherham, and others in South Yorkshire, are vulnerable to the Ukip surge that is beginning to have the hallmarks of a protest movement?

Hoey does, and her words are worth repeating. “I am very confident that my party will have a change of mind on this issue, even between now and the general election,” she says.

The question for Ed Miliband could not be more simple. Will he commit to a referendum during the next Parliament on Britain’s continued membership of the European Union? A “yes” or “no” answer will suffice – but the electorate do have a right to know the answer following Kate Hoey’s tantalising remarks.

KEN Clarke, the “big beast” of the Tory party, intervened this week on the matter of the EU and used a radio interview to challenge David Cameron not to pander to “ignorance and bigotry” in a bid to win back Conservative voters who have defected to Ukip. Clarke, who left the Cabinet in the last reshuffle, also accused the media of giving preferential treatment to Eurosceptics at the expense of those like himself, who believe that Britain’s best interests are served by remaining in the European Union.

This is curious. The Yorkshire Post offered the former Chancellor the opportunity this week to expand on his views on on our opinion pages. His secretary said he was “too busy”. A follow-up email has not been answered.

It is disappointing. For, if Britain is to stay in the EU, the arguments need to be made far more clearly, concisely and coherently than at present.

I SEE Labour’s health spokesman Andy Burnham is not going to give up his “hypocrite of the year” award without a fight.

How dare he make unsubstantiated claims against Tory privatisation plans for the NHS when it was the last Labour government that encouraged the private sector to provide more treatment, and saddled the public purse with huge debts as a result of building new hospitals via the Private Finance Initiative?

It’s just a shame that Ed Miliband is too weak to bring his “attack dog” to heel, not least for Burnham’s complacent failure to acknowledge the shocking scale of the Mid Staffs scandal when Health Secretary or his inability to face up to his party’s shortcomings in Wales where the Labour-run NHS is in chaos and where patients are fleeing to coalition-run England for better treatment.

IT looks like Skipton and Ripon MP Julian Smith is out of step with the Tories over the promotion of women. He used question time in the Commons to ask for “more women chief executives in public sector roles” after Dr Ros Tolcher was appointed to head Harrogate’s hospital.

Two days later, Conservative activists in neighbouring Richmond chose to elect Hampshire-born Rishi Sunak – a former head boy at Winchester College, one-time Goldman Sachs analyst and collector of Coca-Cola memorabilia – as William Hague’s successor. With Anne McIntosh’s de-selection in Thirsk, Malton and Filey still a source of friction, there’s every chance the Conservatives won’t have a single female MP in Yorkshire after the next election.

Unless the Tories do the unthinkable and embrace all-women shortlists, I can’t see this state of affairs changing.

TO many in horse racing, Lady Jane Cecil is a heroine for showing remarkable resolution after the death of her husband Sir Henry, an unrivalled gentle giant of the turf, and then saddling Noble Mission to win the prestigious Qipco Champion Stakes at Ascot last weekend. Yet her own choice of role model is revealing – Yorkshire’s very own Paralympian Hannah Cockroft. She says of the wheelchair racer: “Attractive, bright, bubbly and totally inspirational.”

LIKE you, I was appalled to learn that Joyce Thacker, the director of children’s services in Rotherham who failed the town’s sex grooming victims and who was accused of giving totally unconvincing evidence to a Parliamentary inquiry, has been given a £40,000 pay-off after she came to a “mutual agreement” with her former employers.

Who authorised this? Taxpayers and abuse victims have a right to know. They also deserve an assurance from the Government that Thacker will not be entitled to seek future employment within the public sector until all outstanding matters relating to this scandal have been satisfied.

I’m afraid the public interest demands nothing less and it is high time that officials were held accountable for their actions.