Sophy Ridge on Sunday Interview with Barry Gardiner Labour MP

Sunday 24 February 2019


SOPHY RIDGE: Well nine MPs quit the Labour party this week and there are rumours that more could follow including some Labour Lords and councillors, so how should the party react? Well joining us now is the Shadow International Trade Secretary, Barry Gardiner. Thank you for being on the programme this morning.


SR: You listened to the Chuka Umunna interview laying out his reasons for resigning from the Labour party, how do you think Labour now needs to react to these nine MPs leaving?

BARRY GARDINER: Well look, I did listen to that interview very carefully and I’m really confused because Chuka on the one hand says that over the past two years things on Brexit have changed, the facts have changed, the context has changed and therefore we need people to have a second vote on it and yet when it comes to his own constituency where the facts have certainly changed, he is no longer a Labour party member of Parliament but an Independent, he says the people in his constituency don’t have to have a new vote on it so there is a real inconsistency there but quite honestly, what I felt really came across most out of that particular interview was here was somebody who had no great policy difference, it was all about personality and when it came to that bit where you asked him did he want to become the leader of the party, it was fairly clear to me that in effect the reason that he wanted to leave the Labour party was because he knew he could never be the leader of the Labour party and this is about personality. Let’s focus in politics on policies. If you look at what’s happened in the last week alone and we see three and a half thousand jobs going in Honda under this government because of a trade deal that they concluded with Japan without thinking that if Japan was able to produce cars in Japan and import them into Europe without tariffs then actually there may not be a point in having those jobs in the UK but they could reimport those jobs into Japan.

SR: Now we on the show are very, very keen to talk about policy a lot of the time and last week we did a whole report on the car industry. This week however …

BARRY GARDINER: It’s more personality.

SR: It is about personality, if you will forgive me and for this one week only we are going to focus on Westminster and I know that we hate doing it on this programme but I just feel that this is the week, if any week, to actually do that.

BARRY GARDINER: I’ll answer your questions.

SR: Let’s talk about the fact that you said earlier that Chuka Umunna should face a by-election because he would argue that people vote for their MP, something that Jeremy Corbyn himself tweeted in 2010, in our electoral system you vote for your MP rather than a party leader and he’s right, isn’t he?

BARRY GARDINER: We do but you gave Chuka the perfect answer to that when you said yes, well that’s the technicalities of it. Listen to what the people on the streets of Streatham were saying, they were saying actually they don’t think he would get back in if he were re-elected and listen to what Heidi Allen, one of the Tory defectors said, she herself said that the reason that they didn’t want now to conduct by-elections was because they would be crushed, that was her words. So they know if they went back to the electorate, the electorate would not re-endorse them. But look, the point is that they have left the Labour party and each one of those Labour MPs who left the Labour party actually found that at the last election their votes went up enormously.

SR: Not Ian Austin.

BARRY GARDINER: Indeed, I was talking about the ones who formed the Independent Group. Their votes went up enormously and actually they as a result of the manifesto that we had, as a result of the campaign that Jeremy Corbyn won and the manifesto that he put together which is a radical progressive manifesto – I know you don’t want to talk about policies but it was the policies that gave them the increase in their votes that most of them saw so I really don’t think it’s right for them simply to say, oh well that had nothing to do with it. Most MPs recognise that yes of course, we’re all egotistical to want to say it’s all down to me being such a wonderful person that my constituents elect me, but no, we stand on a manifesto, we stand on policies and the policies that Jeremy put forward were the ones that the people of this country actually said yes, that meets the need.

SR: One reason that many of the MPs gave for leaving the party was anti-Semitism. We often talk about anti-Semitism in very general terms but I just want to focus a little bit on some of the things that Luciana Berger has said she has experienced because I think it’s important to talk about what we’re talking about here. This is a woman who lost over a hundred members of her mother’s family in the Holocaust including someone as young as four years old and she said that she has been called a traitor to her country, that she’s a Mossad agent, that she’s a Zionist pig, her face has been imposed on a rat or Nazi inspired images. I mean six people have been convicted of anti-Semitic hate crime and death threats against her. Now it is important to say that some of these people are from the right but some are from the left as well. Has Labour let her down?

BARRY GARDINER: Look, you will have heard the remarks that I made in Parliament on Wednesday. I have very little time for the others in that Independent Group but actually for Luciana I was deeply saddened that she felt that she had no alternative but to leave the party because of the racist anti-Semitic abuse that she had suffered but let’s talk about what we in the party are doing about it and have been doing for the past 18 months, okay. Over that period, since the new General Secretary came in, 1106 complaints have been lodged, 443 of those complaints were not about members of the Labour party therefore we could take no action about them. Of the remaining, 220 were found to have no evidence backing them up, okay.

SR: So there is no problem?

BARRY GARDINER: No, no, no. No, no, no, there is a problem, there is a problem but I want to quantify that problem in terms of the complaints that have been made. You then had 146 of those which were then taken to the first stage and they were deemed to be people who had used a trope without realising how offensive it was and they were given a warning, okay. We then went on to people who actually left the party, there were 44 people who left the party before their case could be heard because they knew they were going to be expelled. We then expelled twelve people whose cases went to the final disciplinary stage in the party.

SR: Has Labour done enough do you think?

BARRY GARDINER: Look, we have changed the way in which we deal with these to deal with them faster. We weren’t dealing with them fast enough, we have changed the way we are dealing with them to make sure it is faster and I want to make sure the outcomes, not just the speed by which we process but the outcomes are the right ones but we have expelled now or people have gone because they thought they were going to be expelled, 61 people from the party.

SR: Should Jeremy Corbyn have met Luciana Berger…?

BARRY GARDINER: One more point, please, Sophy, if I may and that is if you look at this as a percentage of the Labour membership, remember we have almost 600,000 members of our party, if you look it is 0.01% of our members who have been expelled and even the totality of the complaints that we received, even those that had nothing backing them up, 0.1%. So we are talking about a very tiny minority of the party who are causing huge distress by the appalling way in which they are behaving.

SR: Should Jeremy Corbyn have met Luciana Berger more recently than last year? This is a woman who is receiving some absolutely vile abuse.

BARRY GARDINER: Look, I don’t know the details of meetings or anything like that. I have certainly met with Luciana, I’ve spoken to Luciana …

SR: When was that?

BARRY GARDINER: Well three, two weeks ago, just after the PLP meeting actually, the Parliamentary Labour Party meeting but that’s not the issue here. The issue here is are we tackling … Is there a problem? Yes, there is. How large is that problem in terms of numbers? It’s tiny. Are we dealing with it? We didn’t deal with it fast enough but we now are and we are getting on top of it and that’s the assurance that I really want to give because I want everybody whether they are from a Jewish background, from any other faith background or any ethnicity, I want them to feel at home and secure in the Labour party and so doesn’t Jeremy.

SR: Now I want to just ask you about a tweet that you put out this week if I may, this was in response to someone who suggested you said that the seven MPs who quit Labour were forced out. You said, “Just to be clear, I did not talk about the seven MPs, I was referred to Luciana Berger, I have absolutely no time for the others at all.” What I don’t understand is if you acknowledge that Luciana Berger, if you understand her reasons for leaving the party over anti-Semitism, why don’t you understand that some other people in Labour feel so strongly about it that they want to stand with Jews like Luciana Berger. This is not just an issue for Jewish people is it?

BARRY GARDINER: No, it’s not and that’s why I am dedicated in the Labour party to defeating the evil of anti-Semitism that has that hold, right. But I have no time for the others at all because actually their reasons are varied but different, many of them personal reasons, many of them …

SR: So you don’t believe there are worried about anti-Semitism, you think they are not being sincere?

BARRY GARDINER: No, but what I’m clear about is I don’t believe that is the sole focus of why they have left the Labour party, right.

SR: Okay and I also wanted to ask you about something that Chuka Umunna said. He said in the interview that I did with him earlier, he said “I blame Jeremy Corbyn but I do blame other people who have acted as bystanders. It’s disgraceful that the Shadow Cabinet has not done more, has not been more vocal, has not threatened to resign over what’s been going on over anti-Semitism.” I mean are you a bystander, according to Chuka Umunna?

BARRY GARDINER: I think anybody who knows what I’ve been doing within the party, within the Shadow Cabinet, knows I am not a bystander.

SR: Okay, now I’m keen to talk about Brexit, moving on to policies, and thank you very much for talking to me about anti-Semitism, another split. Now pressure is building on the Labour party to back a referendum so I am just trying to get my head around what the latest policy is. Is the policy to have an election, for a Labour government to renegotiate a deal and to put that deal back to the British people, is that the policy?

BARRY GARDINER: Well look, it certainly was our policy but we’re running out of time is the obvious riposte to that. So you are right in articulating that had it all been within our hands, had we been able to programme it as we wanted, what we would have done is said the deal doesn’t match up, we need a general election. We would then have a general election, we would have conducted negotiations and I think the interesting thing is that you saw this last week when Jeremy went to Brussels, the way in which the proposals that he had given to Theresa May, five proposals that we had put in that letter, that actually gained real traction in Brussels and they said look, on this basis it would be possible to have better future political relationships, that a future political relationship that still needs to be negotiated – not the Withdrawal Agreement but a future political agreement – could be changed on the basis of that offer. Now that’s why we made it because we believe it is not right to offer the people of this country a false prospectus between no-deal and her deal, remembering that her deal lost by the largest margin ever government has ever lost a debate in a thousand years of Parliament’s history! So given that that’s where we are with this, it’s ridiculous that we are going on and she is trying to wind down the clock so that she can still say you have now got to vote for the deal that even most of my own party didn’t want because the alternative is no-deal.

SR: It’s interesting that you said at the beginning that the clock’s running down, it certainly is. Realistically do you think a second referendum is going to happen?

BARRY GARDINER: Well I think it’s … Look, we’ve always said, since the composite motion at party conference, that we would not exclude a second referendum precisely because we cannot risk no deal. The closer we get to no-deal, the more important that safety net of a second referendum comes and what I think we’re seeing in this coming week is the movement towards that as that safety net against no-deal but what we want to do in the party is not have that to be a forced position which is it’s instead of it being her deal or no-deal, it’s her no deal or a second referendum or her deal and a second referendum versus remain. If we’re going to the people it has to be on a real choice of something that is credible, her deal is not credible and that’s why we put forward our proposals, that’s why given how they have been received in Europe we believe there is the possibility of a consensus in Parliament around that which then, yes, could be put to the people in a public vote. I think actually if you think back to a couple of times ago when I was on your programme, I think I said something quite similar then.

SR: You did.

BARRY GARDINER: It was my personal view at that stage. I don't know whether we’ll get there, we’ve still got to decide the amendments that are going to be put down and of course there has been a helpful amendment from Phil Wilson and Peter Kyle but actually unfortunately that would mean focusing on support for the Prime Minister’s deal. So there are talks going on with them, I hope we’ll find a way through.

SR: Barry Gardiner, we’re out of time, thank you very much.