Tired and emotional Lilian
Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn continually undermined Lilian Greenwood in the job she loved, apparently.
[Extracts from speech by Lilian Greenwood MP, published by the New Statesman, 18 July 2016]
HS2 has always been controversial, including in our Party, but it is something that I believe is vital for the future of our country. It has the support of all the rail unions. It has the support of Labour leaders in the great cities like Birmingham and Manchester and Leeds and Nottingham. It is important for jobs and skills in Derby and Doncaster and across the country and it is our official policy to support it, as agreed by the Shadow Cabinet and our National Policy Forum. I’ve been one of HS2’s strongest supporters, so I when I took up the job in Jeremy [Corbyn]’s Shadow Cabinet I wanted to be absolutely sure we were on the same page.
I met his Director of Policy to talk it through. We talked about the most difficult parts of the project, the impact at Euston in London. I’d been working with Councillor Sarah Hayward and her colleagues at Camden for more than two years to try and help them get what they wanted for their local residents. It had been very difficult. I’d been to visit several times, meeting residents and businesses and dealing with some hostile media. But we secured real concessions – changes that will make a difference to local residents. It didn’t matter that it was in a nominally safe seat. It was the right thing to do.
Despite our agreed policy, despite Jeremy’s Director of Policy and I agreeing our position, without saying anything to me, Jeremy gave a press interview in which he suggested he could drop Labour’s support for HS2 altogether. He told a journalist on a local Camden newspaper that perhaps the HS2 line shouldn’t go to Euston at all but stop at Old Oak Common in West London – but he never discussed any of this with the Shadow Cabinet, or me, beforehand. I felt totally undermined on a really difficult issue. And when two frontbenchers voted against the three-line whip at 3rd Reading in March he did nothing, telling one of them: “well I’ve done it enough times myself.” Breaking the principles of collective responsibility and discipline without which effective Parliamentary opposition is not possible.
When I raised my concerns it was simply shrugged off. It undermined me in front of colleagues and made me look weak. It made me feel like I was wasting my time. That my opinion didn’t matter. And it made me miserable.
The EU 4th Rail Package is a bit complex to explain here and now, but it had the potential to make it difficult to implement our new rail policy. I’d been working with MEPs to ensure it was amended or blocked for the last 3 years. We felt we could live with the final draft issued in April but it was a very sensitive issue. ASLEF and the RMT were on the Leave side in the referendum because of their concerns. So when Jeremy talked about it in a speech, in very Euro-sceptic terms, without giving me any warning let alone discussing it with me, I was concerned and asked to meet him. Our frontbenchers were being challenged on the issue in the media, but there was no common position.
I asked and asked. After my staff chasing virtually every day for a month, we got a meeting. We put together a briefing paper in advance. We drafted some lines to take in any press interviews for us to give to all Labour MPs. We discussed the lines with his Policy staff and made some changes in response to comments. We agreed a final version. We sat down together and discussed what was in the 4th Rail Package, how we were ensuring it didn’t stop our policy, how we’d been working with our MEPs and the Socialist Group and we agreed the lines to take.
The lines were circulated to all frontbenchers, to all MPs, to ensure they knew what our policy was and how to deal with difficult questions. But Jeremy went on SkyNews and took a completely different, eurosceptic line. Not what we’d agreed. With the potential to make us look divided. It undermined me, my staff and his staff. I wondered why I was bothering to put in the hard work.
You’ve all heard stories about pro-European speeches being downgraded, events, being cancelled, and Jeremy and his staff privately subscribing to Eurosceptic views. And I felt that I was watching my leader deliberately sabotage the campaign on an issue on which he and I had a personal agreement.
When I saw that [David] Cameron had resigned, I felt like I was looking into the abyss. Towards a General Election in which dozens of my colleagues would lose their seats. And I already know what that is like and I was in despair.
But at that moment I knew that I didn’t have to put up with it. I could leave the Shadow Cabinet and return to the backbenches and focus on Nottingham South.
I was tired and emotional, so I wasn’t going to do anything hasty. So I talked to some of my closest colleagues. I discussed it with my staff. And I told Ravi. And decided to raise my concerns at Shadow Cabinet on the Monday. I arranged to meet my agent and several CLP officers on the Sunday afternoon to explain what I had decided to do.
But was Ms Greenwood also tired and emotional when she decided HS2 was a good idea?
As Professor John Tomaney has pointed out, there is ‘not a shred of evidence’ for claims such as ‘HS2 would rebalance the economy’.