What Labour must learn from the European election

3 Jun 2019

I am not an established name in the Labour Party like Andrew Adonis, nor am I a sitting MEP like Seb Dance. But when I was selected to be second on the list for the Eastern region in the recent European elections, it was an honour to be standing alongside such recognisable members of the Labour family. For me, the opportunity to stand for the Labour Party for the first time, with a realistic chance of winning, was a dream come true – or so I thought. I was in Liverpool for the NEU conference when I was told, and I walked out of the conference centre feeling about seven foot tall.

Sadly my desired result wasn’t to be, and despite campaigning everyday not only was I not elected but our wonderful existing MEP Alex Mayer also lost her seat. I’d like to take a moment to pay tribute to what a wonderful representative of our region Alex was, caring a great deal about every community in it. I know we haven’t seen the last of her.

However, the point of my letter is not the result of the European elections. Rather, it’s the fact that I came face to face on a number of occasions with Labour members who were seriously considering voting for other parties like the Lib Dems and the Greens – and it seems many of them did. There is of course the high-profile case of Alistair Campbell who has been expelled from the party for admitting that he voted Lib Dem. However, I also know friends and comrades in the Eastern region who did the same: frustrated, it seems, by what they saw as an unclear message from Labour about its position on Brexit.

It’s hard not to take this personally, even with the electoral list system in which people can say they’re not voting Labour rather than not voting for you as an individual. Plus, it’s hard not to be angry with Labour members who directly led to a wonderful MEP like Alex, who has a track record of working for them, losing her seat. It’s hard when people who are pro-European didn’t vote Labour because they felt Labour was a Brexit party, when I personally broke cover and signed the Labour Remain pledge, something that will damage my electability in the area I live who voted predominantly to leave. I felt I had to do what I thought was right, but apparently this still wasn’t enough for some, who wanted to ‘send a message’ to the Labour leadership. The only message I got was that you don’t want Labour MEPs.

However, if this party is to move forward, and I am to move forward in it, I need to try and forgive those people who didn’t vote Labour and understand their decision. My initial plan to screenshot everyone who admitted not voting Labour and sending it to compliance has been scrapped, you’ll be pleased to know. Bitterness and resentment isn’t me, it isn’t healthy and it doesn’t help anyone – not least the Labour Party.

Above all, I believe we need Labour representation at all levels. Now these European elections are over we must move forward, together as one, and prepare for a general election which could be sooner than we think. This election has hit those who stood, and lost, hard. But we will all need to play an integral part in building a campaign which will put Labour into government, for which the support of those who did not vote Labour in the European elections is essential.

The results of the European elections seem to prove whatever point of view you have on Brexit. Remain voters have claimed it shows remain won (notice how Labour is now considered a remain party), while leave voters claim it shows the mandate for Brexit.

The reality is, all these elections show for sure is that our country is divided. Sadly, this divide is going to benefit people like Nigel Farage but be terrible for the most vulnerable in our society, those who the next Labour government will seek to represent. Labour’s message of bringing the country together didn’t work in the European elections – but that doesn’t mean it isn’t the right one moving forward.

Chris Vince
Former Labour MEP candidate

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