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Mike Gapes MP
Member of Parliament for Ilford South
A Local Man with a National and International Voice
My Article for Radix Following my Appearance at the Big Tent Ideas Festival
September 13, 2019
I spoke at the Big Tent Ideas Festival at Mudchute Farm on August 31. Here is an article which I wrote for the Radix think-tank based on my remarks: I joined the Labour Party over 50 years ago. I never thought I would leave. I was active at all levels. Chair of the Labour students, 15 years at party HQ, 27 years a Labour and Co-op MP. I told the Corbynista trolls the only way they would get me out was in a box. I was very tribal Labour. I remain Labour to my core. But after the 2017 election I realised that, to be true to my core Labour party values of solidarity, compassion, social justice, equality, internationalism and anti-racism, I could not stay in Corbyn’s Labour. I could not condone anti Jewish racism, or a pro-Putin, pro-Assad foreign policy. Nor could I accept his facilitation of Brexit. Corbyn is a threat to national security. He is unfit to be Prime Minister. I had avoided the question on the doorstep in 2017 by saying he cannot win, or his name is not on the ballot paper here. But I was no longer prepared to deceive myself. I could not fight another election if Corbyn was the Labour Leader. I made that decision in June 2017. I was in the Birthday Club Whats App group and in discussions with many other MPs. We had lots of meetings in Westminster and elsewhere including in homes and on a farm. Then some started to actively plan for departure. We were all in different positions. It is a very hard thing to do. There are always personal or political reasons to put it off. I vented my frustration in our Whats App group and it was leaked to the Times in August last year. Several people said don’t go on your own. And then a group of us started active plans to leave. Those involved were more than the seven who eventually left in February. After we left, we were soon joined by Joan Ryan and then three Conservative women MPs. Our Labour group had had a lot of discussions about values, and attitudes and also about timing. We delayed from going at the end of last year because of Brexit but eventually decided to go in the February half term recess – mainly because we could not delay any more as Luciana Berger wanted to move before she went on maternity leave. In the event, the recess was cancelled and we went on a Monday morning when Parliament was sitting. We had not intended to form a party immediately. We had intended to organise a series of events and listening exercises around the country over the summer and then develop towards a party in the autumn. But events took over. Brexit was delayed. And we then faced the decision whether we should fight the European elections. We thought we had to, but time was very tight. We had no membership, no infrastructure, no organisational network. We had just five staff. And the Electoral Commission rules did not make it easy. They rejected our first proposed name of The Independent Group. They rejected our logo with its hashtag and we had no time to register another one. They said we had to have one named leader, not a collective leadership. Chuka Umunna turned down the role of leader to remain as spokesperson and Heidi Allen became interim leader. We did just in time manage to get registered as Change UK The Independent Group. We selected 70 candidates out of 3,700 applicants. The MPs and others spent Good Friday and Easter weekend interviewing. We did employ a company to vet social media but they failed to do a good enough job and we had to remove some. We got out millions of leaflets. We organised rallies all over the country. We produced a party political broadcast. We built a core of dedicated activists. But we did not win any seats. I had hoped for 5-8 per cent overall and for perhaps one seat in London and one in the South East. But a combination of our own mistakes and events prevented that. The Lib Dems clearly had a boost from the local election campaign and they capitalised on that. We also suffered from Lib Dem dirty tricks. There was never any possibility that there could have been one Remain alliance list. The Greens had ruled it out last year. The D’Hondt electoral list system made a joint list impossible. And contrary to what they claimed the Liberal Democrats never proposed it to us. In fact, they set out to kill us. And by a combination of their efforts and serious errors by some of our leadership they were very successful. But despite our interim leader Heidi Allen calling for tactical voting for other parties and suppressing our vote, we still managed to get 3.4 per cent and almost 600,000 votes. There was inevitably a post mortem discussion. And our group of 11 MPs split in two. Five of us, Anna Soubry, Chris Leslie, Ann Coffey, Joan Ryan and myself, decided we were going on. As I said to Kay Burley on Sky TV,, Change UK was like an acorn and we need to give it time to grow into a tree. But the other six decided it was too difficult and they said at the time that they wished to cease being a party and preferred to return to being independents. Subsequently four of them have joined the Liberal Democrats. At the same time, we also had to comply with a legal agreement reached following threatened legal action brought by the American Change.org company. They had objected to our name. We had agreed to seek to change it after polling day. As a result, Change UK was renamed and is now registered at the electoral Commission as The Independent Group for Change. My overall conclusion is that our experience shows how hard it is to try to establish a new party from scratch. But it does not negate the need for new centre left, social democratic or centre right one nation Conservative traditions to work together. Our country is dangerously polarised and the Liberal Democrats are doing nowhere near well enough to challenge the old extremist led Johnson Conservative or Corbyn Labour parties. They would need to be consistently above 30 per cent, not around 20 per cent, to do that. There remain a significant number of people who, for good reasons, will not join the Liberal Democrats. I believe that there is space for sensible mainstream radical politics of the centre left and centre right. And it is vital that those of us from that tradition remain actively engaged and fight for a better way forward for our country....
My Recent Interview on Sky News
September 5, 2019
My Comments on the Prime Minister’s Suspension of Parliament
August 29, 2019
As @BorisJohnson is accused of a coup by suspending Parliament, Ilford South MP @MikeGapes tells @BenFryer & @sonwatson it’s an attack on democracy at a time when MPs need to make big decisions on #Brexit. pic.twitter.com/TFsBO1Gklc— BBC Essex (@BBCEssex) August 29, 2019...
My Statement on the Potential Development of Goodmayes Tesco
August 21, 2019
In light of a number of messages I have received on this subject I feel it is necessary to provide the following statement: I would like to start by highlighting that planning issues are the responsibility of local government, not Members of Parliament. All decisions on this application will be taken by the 63 Councillors of the London Borough of Redbridge. As the local Member of Parliament, I have no say at all in this decision. However, in view of the concerns expressed by some constituents, I have taken an interest in this proposal. I have visited the exhibition at the public consultation held recently. I noted that this large planned development makes better use of the current Tesco car park and includes a new school, a possible doctor’s surgery and other community facilities, as well as 1,300 much needed high-quality homes for purchase, for part-ownership and for rent. I hope you would agree that we have a desperate shortage of homes in Redbridge. I have been told that 35% of these homes will be “affordable”. There are of course concerns expressed by some existing residents about increased traffic and population growth. But the location of this development is close to Goodmayes station which means that many residents will be able to travel in work in London by Crossrail and other trains. I understand that the final full planning application has not yet been submitted to Redbridge Council by the developer, Weston Homes. I can assure you that I will continue to take an interest in this matter. I must reiterate that that the decision on the planning application will be a matter for Redbridge Council, not for me....
My Statement on the Ongoing Situation in Kashmir
August 9, 2019
The recent events in Kashmir are of great concern. They pose a risk of further inflaming the already tense relationship between two nuclear armed neighbouring states and also increasing tensions between Hindu and Muslim communities in India and Pakistan and in the global diaspora. The origins of the Kashmir dispute go back to the original decision by the Attlee Government to partition India and establish two countries, India and Pakistan in 1947. Jammu and Kashmir was a former independent Dogra Kingdom. In 1947 the ruler of the princely majority Muslim state opted to join the secular Union of India, rather than new Muslim state of Pakistan. Since then, and following several wars between India and Pakistan, Kashmir has been divided by a Line of Control separating Pakistani administered Kashmir, Azad Kashmir, and Indian administered Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh. There is also a part of Kashmir which was ceded to China by Pakistan. Following the first war between India and Pakistan the United Nations adopted resolutions upholding Kashmir’s right to self determination. Both the governments of India and Pakistan have opposed the idea of an independent Kashmir. India also argues that the UN resolutions were superseded by the bilateral 1972 Simla agreement which brought to an end the third India – Pakistan war which had been fought over the independence of Bangladesh, There has been serious conflict and social and political violence since 1989 when many Pandit Hindu communities were forced from their homes and serious damage was done to the once vibrant tourist industry in Srinagar and the Valley. However an elected government was restored in 1996 and despite difficulties there had been improvements to the security situation. There has been an upsurge in protest and violence in Indian-administered Kashmir since July 2016. The trigger was the killing of Burhan Wani, the leader of the armed group Hizbul Mujahedin by the security forces in that month. There have been numerous clashes between the Indian and Pakistani military across the Line of Control. Incursions by armed terrorist groups into Indian-administered Kashmir from Pakistan-administered Kashmir have also continued. In February 2019, more than 40 Indian soldiers were killed in an attack in Pulwama. The disintegration of the broad based and ostensibly secular Congress as India’s premier party, at both national and state level over the last thirty years, and its more recent replacement by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has significantly changed the situation nationally and in Kashmir. The BJP’s policies on Jammu and Kashmir have been perceived by many as strident and chauvinist, based on Hindutva, the concept of a Hindu nation. The BJP had long called for abolition of the special provisions for Jammu and Kashmir which had been in existence since 1949 under Article 370 of the Indian constitution. It allows Jammu and Kashmir to have its own constitution, a separate flag and independence over all matters except foreign affairs, defence and communications. Although this autonomy has been greatly eroded in practice over recent decades. The BJP criticised previous Congress governments for what it regarded as a form of Muslim appeasement. But until recently it had adopted a more pragmatic approach in office compared to that it had espoused in opposition. However following the recent national elections, which it won decisively, the Bharatiya Janata Party has changed its approach. During the campaign Prime Minister Narendra Modi, had promised to Revoke Article 370. Except for one clause to which the Government does not object, this happened by presidential order on 5 August. A Bill has also been rapidly approved by both Houses of Parliament splitting the state of Jammu and Kashmir into two new Federal Union territories. One will be called Jammu and Kashmir, which will have a state legislature. The other is Ladakh, which will be ruled directly from New Delhi. The revocation of Article 370 extends to a key provision added under it, known as Article 35A. This gives special privileges to permanent residents, including state government jobs and the exclusive right to own property in Jammu and Kashmir. It is intended to protect the state’s distinct demographic character as the only Muslim-majority state in India. It has long been controversial with many in India including the BJP, viewing it as discriminatory against non-Muslims and women and harming development. It was introduced in its current form in 1954 but a similar law was in place prior to Indian independence in 1947. Thousands of additional soldiers were sent to Jammu and Kashmir prior to the 5 August announcement. A curfew is still in force. At least two senior Kashmir opposition politicians and former Chief Ministers, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, have been detained and there is a communications ‘lockdown’. It is hard to find out what is happening on the ground. The Indian Supreme Court will very likely be asked to rule on the constitutionality of the BJP-led government’s latest actions. But this could take some time. Many critics of revocation regard it as breaching the contract upon which the Maharaja of Kashmir decided to join India in 1947. Some lawyers think that this means there could be an international law dimension too. The reaction to these events in Pakistan has been robust. The foreign ministry said India is in breach of UN resolutions and Prime Minister Imran Khan said “…incidents like Pulwama are bound to happen again… I can already predict this will happen. They will attempt to place the blame on us again. They may strike us again, and we will strike back.” On 7 August, Pakistan expelled India’s High Commissioner and recalled its own top diplomat from New Delhi. It also announced the suspension of bilateral trade. China has said it supports Pakistan’s stance, highlighting its opposition to the establishment of Ladakh as a separate territory ruled from New Delhi. China currently controls territory which India claims as an extension of Ladakh. It has been the longstanding view of the United Kingdom and other Western governments, since the 1950s, not to get involved in discussions of sovereignty and international law, but simply to urge all parties to resolve the Kashmir dispute peacefully. There is serious international anxiety that the revocation of Article 370 could trigger another full-blown conflict between India and Pakistan, both of which are nuclear weapon states. The US has called on all parties to “maintain peace and stability along the line of control”. The UN Secretary-General has called for restraint. In 2018 the UN called for the establishment of an international commission of inquiry into human rights abuses since 2016 on both sides of the Line of Control. India rejected this call. In view of the importance of the relations between the United Kingdom and both these significant Commonwealth countries it is vital that the UK Government uses its good relations and contacts to urge both India and Pakistan to act responsibly and deescalate tensions. The government should also be active with international partners in the European union, the Commonwealth and the United Nations, to seek to reduce tensions and the danger of conflict in the region. The government must also act to ensure that events in Kashmir do not cause tensions within diaspora communities in this country. It must act strongly against any extremist groups which seek to exploit these events....
Mike Gapes Ilford Recorder Column – August 2019
August 9, 2019
I Will Continue to Fight to Stay in the EU In our Parliamentary democracy we often change Prime Minister without a General Election. In 1976 Harold Wilson retired. Labour MPs elected James Callaghan. In 1990 Margaret Thatcher was forced out. Conservative MPs elected John Major. In 2007 Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair stood down and was replaced by Gordon Brown. In 2016 Conservative David Cameron ran away after losing his EU referendum gamble. Theresa May took over. Boris Johnson already had support of most Conservative MPs before his emphatic victory over Jeremy Hunt amongst individual party members. But the Parliamentary arithmetic has not changed. Johnson is a Prime Minister without a majority, dependent, like Theresa May, on ten Northern Irish Democratic Unionist votes. He may be determined to leave the European Union on 31 October, with or without an agreement, and regardless of the huge economic and political damage to our country. But there is no majority in Parliament to crash out with No Deal. The House of Commons is determined to assert control and stop Johnson pursuing his No Deal Brexit. His hard right government is focused entirely on winning back Tory support lost to the Brexit Party. His early bounce in the opinion polls is not yet enough. It will be a huge gamble for him to risk everything on a General Election. As long as I am in Parliament, I will continue to vote in the national interest and support the wishes and interests of my constituents to Stop Brexit and Remain in the European Union. ...
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