Bill Esterson: To the voter turning away from Labour over immigration and the EU – we must give you a vision for the future

Bill Esterson

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An open letter to one of my constituents

Thank you for talking to me when I knocked on your door. And thank you for what you told me. That you’ve voted Labour all your life, as had your parents before you. That, for the first time, you’re having second thoughts. You’re concerned about immigration, about the benefits system, and about Europe. You told me that when you listen to politicians – including Labour politicians, you hear your concerns ignored, patronised, or filed under “Change subject when raised.”

You said you supposed I didn’t want to be having that conversation. That isn’t true. However, I will say that I found our conversation dispiriting. The fact that you feel so ignored has stuck with me.

On that point, you bet me I wouldn’t share your concerns with my colleagues in the Labour Party. I’ll take you up on that.

Our conversation made me think about the US elections. People didn’t feel like they were listened to there, either. When it came to election day, plenty of them went with Trump. They didn’t particularly like what he had to say about women, about Mexicans, about Muslims, or about his own tax record. But they really didn’t like what Hillary Clinton seemed to think about them. When Hillary spoke of Trump’s “basket of deplorables” it was an explicit description of how, they suspected, most politicians basically view them. They felt ignored, and disrespected, and that mattered more than policy detail when they reached the ballot box.

If your world has changed, you want the people who are asking for your support to show that they respect you. Keir Starmer, our shadow Brexit secretary has rightly said that Labour will respect the will of the British people and vote to trigger article 50, to start negotiations to leave the EU. Because, if you feel that those in authority do not respect you, then why should you respect them? You were very warm and respectful to me and I hope that I was to you. But it was pretty clear that you didn’t feel that respect from most politicians, including the Labour ones your family have always supported.

Yvette Cooper is chair of the home affairs select committee. With her committee colleagues, Yvette is going to travel around Britain to listen to the public about what immigration ought to mean for Britain. Labour should be doing the same thing; we have to give you and everyone else a way to forge a solution in partnership with us. A meaningful exchange of ideas; an agreement on the best outcome; and compromise, if necessary, to get there.

Yes, it is not easy to achieve this in the face of some unscrupulous media outlets, those with their own populist agenda and those who show intolerance and bigotry. But I think it’s possible to walk alongside you on common ground, while rejecting in the strongest terms elements in our society that would shatter our diversity and open-mindedness. In fact, it isn’t just possible: when we see the election of Trump and the rise of the far-right in Europe, it is absolutely essential that we offer you a convincing, alternative vision.

I said to you that I want Labour to offer you that compelling vision of the future. A starting point that you and I can both agree is right for our country. But before you are interested in listening to ideas about the future, about the detail, you need to be ready to give us a hearing. We can have the best ideas in the world: but until we genuinely share common ground with you, you’ll be sceptical. Until we walk alongside you instead of announcing to you that your concerns are just proxies for issues that we want to talk about, we can’t expect your permission to represent you and deliver our vision.

If Labour is serious about implementing our vision of what this country can be, we need to share common ground with you. If we want to head towards a destination of economic equality and social justice, we have to be with you in order to get there. And if we want to even start that journey we have to respect your concerns, and earn your respect in return, to even get a hearing.

Thank you again for being so honest with me. Speak soon and all the best,    

Bill.

Bill Esterson is MP for Sefton Central.

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