Why Labour must get its own house in order if it is to win a general election – Rachel Reeves

THE European election delivered a terrible set of results for Labour last week. While I was out campaigning across my constituency of Leeds West, several Labour voters told me they planned to switch their support to other parties.

Tony Blair's former spin doctor Alastair Campbell has been expelled by Labour after voting for the Lib Dems in last month's EU elections.
Tony Blair's former spin doctor Alastair Campbell has been expelled by Labour after voting for the Lib Dems in last month's EU elections.

So, the awful results were a bitter disappointment but not a surprise. Our party’s position on Brexit lacked clarity and that undoubtedly cost us votes.

According to one national survey of more than 10,000 voters, only 38 per cent of those who voted Labour at the 2017 general election stuck with us at the Euro elections.

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Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is facing mounting criticism over his party's stance on Brexit - and handling of anti-Semitism allegations.

More than one in five (22 per cent) Labour voters switched their support to the pro-Remain Liberal Democrats, while 17 per cent went to the pro-Remain Greens, with 13 per cent backing the Brexit Party.

Of course, there are many reasons why people’s political loyalties shift. But it was obvious that many people used the Euro elections to give their verdict on Brexit and it is vital that everyone in the party listens to the reasons why people in Yorkshire and across the country felt they could not vote Labour this time. If Labour wants to win again, it needs to keep all the voters we have – and find news ones.

The solution is not to resort to expelling Labour members for venting their feelings over our position on Brexit by supporting, hopefully only temporarily, another party.

Using expulsion – as in the case of Tony Blair’s former spin-doctor Alastair Campbell – to punish Labour voters whom we must persuade to return to the fold is spiteful and counterproductive.

He voted for the Liberal Democrats this time because of what he saw as Labour’s lack of commitment to a second Brexit referendum.

As I have written before in The Yorkshire Post, I strongly believe so much has changed since the 2016 referendum that any Brexit deal must be put to the people.

The decision to kick out Alastair Campbell also had the impact of overshadowing a much bigger issue – the continuing problem of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party.

The Equalities and Human Rights Commission announced this week that it is launching a formal investigation into the complaints.

I have been saying for months that the Labour leadership must do far more to combat the appalling discrimination faced by Jewish Labour MPs and members. The leadership should be kicking anti-Semitic thugs out of the party.

Complaints about anti-Semitism, sometimes coupled with violent threats, gather dust while the abuse of Jewish Labour MPs continues unpunished.

That has to change. Labour has to get much tougher on dealing with the problems that are causing such deep divisions in our ranks.

I desperately want to see us focusing on securing a Labour government, because only Labour can deliver the change we need to reverse the devastating impact of Tory austerity. But we cannot expect people to support us if we cannot get our own house in order.

But it is not just Labour that faces major problems that need swift solutions. The inevitable resignation of Theresa May and the leadership battle that has engulfed the Conservative Party means nothing will get done for weeks on Brexit or much else while Tory MPs focus on who will succeed May.

So far, not one of the 12 declared challengers is from our region. The frontrunners, like Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, represent seats in the South.

That means issues like greater investment in our region in public services and transport are likely to continue to languish at the very bottom of their list of concerns.

The next Prime Minister is likely to be a hardline Brexiteer chosen by Conservative members.

Apart from sorting out our future relationship with Europe, there is a huge in-tray for the incoming Tory Prime Minister.

Their priority must be to invest in our overstretched public services which are struggling and often at breaking point after nine years of Tory cuts.

The NHS is facing a crippling shortfall of doctors and nurses. According to one estimate, nursing shortages will double to 70,000 and GP shortages in England will triple to almost 7,000 by 2023 unless the Government acts.

In Yorkshire and the Humber, we see on a daily basis the need for greater investment in our transport system, while our schools struggle because of funding cuts. As a report just this week by former chief executive at Sheffield City Council said, London is ‘de-coupling’ from the rest of the UK, with damaging consequences for us all.

The new Prime Minister must do far more to narrow the gap between the North and South, tackle crime and anti-social behaviour and sort out the botched roll-out of Universal Credit.

But Labour has to be clearer about our plans. Just as we have done on the impact of Tory austerity cuts, we need to be painting in primary colours when it comes to fighting racism and dealing with Brexit.

Then we can take on the new Tory PM, win back the support of voters to govern and to take the issue of Brexit back to the people for a final decision.

Rachel Reeves is the Labour MP for Leeds West. She is also chair of Parliament’s Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee.