More in ‘conversation’ with my MP

So, in early December 2016, I finally got a reply from Paul Blomfield, my MP. (His full email is below)

While I was not at all surprised by its contents, given that they are official Labour Party policy, there is so much about this reply that doesn’t resonate with my idea of what democracy and the rule of law means. I’m saddened by the notion that our political process cannot be trusted, implied in the passage in the email to the effect that the most important consideration is that if we have a General Election, the Conservatives will be stronger. Leave/Remain wasn’t a Conservative/Labour issue. Some of the email I find downright disingenuous, such as the implication that the referendum is legally binding; and the implication in the statement “continue to hold … to account for … extra funding for the NHS” that such holding to account has already happened. Perhaps it has, but I don’t know anyone who works in the NHS who thinks it has the extra funding it needs.

Anyway, in the light of the Supreme Court hearing which was happening as I wrote (5 December 2016), rather than engaging with all those things (and more), I’ve sent a simple reply:

Dear Paul

Thank you for your email. I won’t engage with all the arguments you put in it, as I imagine that to do so would be fruitless.

But could you answer one question, which will help me to decide how to vote in the next General Election?

If the Supreme Court rules (with or without a ruling from the CJEU) that Article 50 is revocable, will you push for a further referendum on the terms of the deal that the government manages to negotiate, once we see that deal, and/or will you reject a deal that you judge to be worse for your constituents’ interests than remaining in the EU? (As argued here.)  It strikes me that this is consistent with everything you say in your long email, but I may have misunderstood your position.


It’s now 19 December, and I haven’t had a reply. So I’m going to email again, today, asking Paul to respond to the AC Grayling letter which has been sent to every MP.

Oh, I have donated to a Sheffield foodbank. As I do regularly.



On 05/12/2016 14:00, BLOMFIELD, Paul wrote:

Dear Tamara,

Thank you for your email about the UK’s vote to leave the European Union.

I campaigned relentlessly for the UK to stay in the EU, speaking at meetings across my constituency and knocking on doors to make the case every week over several months. In the year leading up to the vote I regularly invited constituents to join me in the campaign and we built a great team of volunteers. Together we spoke to almost 9,000 people across central Sheffield. I know that many others were active in the cross-party ‘Britain Stronger In Europe’ campaign. I was deeply disappointed by the decision made on 23rd June, but I accept it. Had Remain won the referendum and a pro-Leave Parliament voted to take us out of the EU regardless of the result, it would not have been acceptable. I don’t think the argument is any more persuasive the other way round.

I agree with the significant number of constituents who have written to me about the divisive nature of the campaign run by the Leave side, and the fact that their promises started to unravel from the moment the referendum result was known. I have challenged the Government over what it is doing about the spike in hate crime we have seen since the referendum, as well as pushing the Culture Secretary to ensure the press do not fuel hatred in our society. However, provided elections and referenda comply with the law, we must accept their result. To do otherwise sets us on a dangerous course. At the same time, together with my Labour colleagues in Parliament, I will certainly continue to hold Leave campaigners to account for their promises like extra funding for the NHS.

As you know, on 3 November the High Court ruled that the Government cannot trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and launch the formal process for leaving the EU without Parliament agreeing to undo the effect of the Act of Parliament that gave effect to us joining the EU in the first place. The Government is now appealing this decision, and the case will be heard in the Supreme Court this week. The attacks on our judiciary in some sections of the media, and the failure of the Lord Chancellor Liz Truss to defend their independence following the High Court case, have been wholly unacceptable. As well as urging Ministers to speak out against those criticising our judges for doing their job, Labour has been pushing the Government to accept that Parliament must have a say, and concentrate efforts on building a national consensus around getting the best possible terms for the country in our future relationship with the EU.

Therefore my work with Labour’s Shadow Brexit team has been focussed on holding the Government to account so that we get a Brexit that doesn’t crash our economy, tear apart our communities and cut us off from our closest allies. This kind of “hard Brexit” is exactly what we are fighting against in Parliament, as the Tory right, UKIP and sections of the tabloid press are trying to use the binary question of triggering Article 50 as a smokescreen while they press their aim of a hard Brexit.

The British people voted to leave on 23rd June, but were not given a choice on the terms by which Britain would leave. While I recognise that people voted to come out, I don’t believe that they voted to lose out. So far we know nothing about the Government’s plan for Brexit. They are refusing to disclose how they will approach the negotiations with the other 27 EU countries and what the red lines will be. In fact, there still appears to be disagreement between Cabinet Ministers about their approach. This is a serious problem, it creates uncertainty across the board – for the economy, for businesses, for British citizens living abroad and EU nationals residing in the UK, and the wealth of organisations such as the NHS that rely on these employees.

The terms upon which we exit the EU will determine the place of the UK not only in Europe but in the world for many years to come, as well as having a profound impact on our economy. It is vital all political parties, all areas of the country and representatives from across our economy and civil society are part of the most important conversation in a generation about the future of our country. Labour is leading calls for the Government to start that conversation.

On the specific question of a vote on triggering Article 50 – i.e. launching the process of leaving the EU – if Parliament were to block the result of the referendum and refuse to invoke Article 50, it would provoke a democratic crisis and, as importantly, would not result in us staying in the EU.  Faced with such an impasse, the Prime Minister would clearly go back to the country by calling a General Election, on the issue of Parliament trying to frustrate the will of the people. Ask yourself whether this would lead to anything other than a stronger Conservative and pro-Brexit majority in the House of Commons. I see no evidence to suggest a General Election wouldn’t get that result – and the flaws in our electoral system mean that no form of ‘progressive alliance’ could overcome this fact.

I also don’t think we can have a re-run of the referendum. Asking people to vote on the same proposition in the hope of getting a different answer would be to question their judgement.  A second referendum after a deal is reached would depend on the legal question of whether or not the two year negotiating period is fixed and or/our decision to leave is irrevocable. If the period is fixed and/or the decision is irrevocable, a referendum on a ‘take it or leave it’ deal would be pointless. The question of the revocability of a decision to trigger Article 50 may be considered by the Supreme Court as part of the appeal on the High Court decision, and may therefore clarify what options are available in the longer term.

Labour has been clear from the start that in order to get the best deal for Britain, the country must see the basis on which the Government intends to proceed and their plans must be subject to scrutiny by the House of Commons. Our focus, therefore, is on the substance of the Government’s Brexit plans, given so much is at stake. We are pushing for the best deal across the board, from allowing EU nationals already living here the right to stay (see my speech here), to getting guarantees on investment in our universities (see my speech on that here). You can read more about Labour’s stance on the issue in this debate, led by Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the EU Keir Starmer.

Thanks again for contacting me about this important issue on which I feel every bit as strongly as you.

Best wishes,


P.S. I’m fundraising for foodbanks in Sheffield. Please donate here if you can.

Have Some Optimism for Christmas (Guest blog by Alex Brianson)

This was originally posted on Facebook 12 December 2016. So much of it resonates with how I feel that I asked Alex if I could host it here. He has kindly agreed.candle

Some of my fb friends know I have led services in Unitarian places of worship. It’s nothing special – my fb friends include many qualified Ministers, and the odd priestess, as well as others who are amateurs like me. I haven’t been at a service for a while because I haven’t found a local place yet, and I haven’t given a service for some time thanks to illness and two relocations.

This week I’ve been wondering what I’d say if I had to lead one this week or in the run-up to Christmas. It’s a tricky one, because many Unitarians are like me – not Christian, maybe not even theists. And some Unitarians are Christian. In the congregations I know, you can’t just do a standard Christmas service and expect everyone to be happy. But at the same time most people want to mark the occasion for a whole host of personal reasons.

Like many people, I struggled to make Christmas meaningful for a long time. I’m a sentimental softie, so weeping at “Mary’s Boy Child” has never been a problem, but it took me ages to see anything particular in the shlock that I found spiritually meaningful. I’ve done a fair amount of reading on Christianity, some of it by authors who identify as Christian, some by authors who don’t; some of it is personal and/or devotional, some of it is academic. And although in my head I no longer find much of what used to appal me about Christianity offensive because I have learnt to understand it contextually or metaphorically (e.g. the claim to be the unique way to salvation, the hideous contradictions of the bible, and the monstrosities committed by Yahweh throughout the Old Testament), I’m still not Christian.

So why do I even want to find meaning in the festivals of Christmas? And why am I bothering to post about it on fb of all places? Why not just enjoy the pagan parts of the celebration that persist in the UK and elsewhere, such as the mistletoe (form an orderly queue please boys), the eponymous plant celebrating the Holly King’s victory and the turn of the wheel of the year, the solstice and its marking of the return of the light (and Light), and the feasting?

For some years I did that, and actually I will this year too. I find paganism much more nourishing than Christianity. But this year I want to use Christmas as a receptacle into which we can all, if we so choose, sink our fears and our cynicism, and celebrate the possibilities of renewal and social progress.

Yes, Christmas is about the birth of a baby – THE baby, if you’re Christian – born to save our species from sin. And yes, this fits a pattern of virgin births of demi-gods and heroes in ‘Middle Eastern’ and Mediterranean mythologies. But what I have come to see in this story is the thing that many religions point to – the divine (or dharma, or tao, or awen) is inherent in the world that we inhabit, and we can, indeed should, use it to help make our world better. We can do that. We have that power.

2016 has been a dreadful year, for me personally and also of course at the macro level. So many deaths of cherished people, so many awful political choices and events, so many signs of impending eco-tastrophe. It is easy to feel bludgeoned into submission, to feel that there is no possibility that right (or good, if you like) will prevail. For those who suffer depression, this is even more true; there have been times this year when I have wondered whether it’s worth bothering with recovery.

But here’s the thing: even if, as is likely, things get worse in the world, and even if, as is likely, there will always be those who are prepared to do absolutely anything to achieve their goals, there is always also the rest of us. And we have to make sure we use our power.

At one of my school assemblies the Headmaster told a parable about how the devil’s best line was that ‘there’s plenty of time’ – he could stop people bothering to do good by convincing them to come over all ‘maňana’. It’s not a story I liked. But I can see the wisdom of a re-imagined version: the best tool of those who seek to control and oppress is to convince the rest of us that we can’t do anything about things that matter.

We can. I do. We all, I’m sure, do.

So this year, I’m celebrating Christmas as a political act. I celebrate the reminder to be active in pursuit of social justice. I celebrate the time of re-birth, of potential, of hope blossoming lotus-like in the most unlikely places. And I celebrate the gift of optimism. It is this that I hope in some small way to give to all my fb friends.

Merry Christmas.