The MP Bridging the Great Brexit Divide
Stephen Colegrave speaks to MP Geraint Davies whose support has increased amongst his predominantly Leave electorate, even though he strongly supported Remain.
Although a high-profile Remain supporter, Swansea West Labour MP, Geraint Davies, takes his role in representing Leave voters in his constituency very seriously.
At first sight, this seems to be a contradiction, but Davies must be doing something right. Despite being one of the most vociferous opponents of Brexit in Parliament, he managed to increase his majority by more than 50% in the 2017 General Election – from 40% to 60%. The Labour vote in Swansea West has never been so high, with Davies even topping Labour’s win in the area in 1945 and 1997.
But, how has he managed this?
From the beginning, Davies was keen to understand the reasons why the clear majority of people across Swansea voted for Brexit. “They voted in good faith for good things – more money, jobs and control,” says Davies. “These are certainly needed. But the big problem is that, in Swansea, like elsewhere, Brexit will bring less not more money and jobs.”
25,000 jobs across Swansea Bay have relied on exports to the EU. The fragility of jobs at a time of impending Brexit has already hit home with job losses at Ford in Bridgend, at the Tata steel works, as well as at Airbus. Wales will also lose money – in particular, the EU Convergence funding that doubled the size of Swansea University.
Even in the area of “control”, Davies is certain that Britain will just swap one set of rules which can be vetoed for another that can’t if the country is to create new trading agreements around the world, having turned its back on its biggest market. As for migration, Britain will end up with fewer EU migrants and more from further afield.
Since the 2016 referendum, Davies has been determined to make sure his constituency receives the Brexit it voted for. “When you order steak in a restaurant”, Davies says, “you don’t expect to get a burger.”
He is determined to address the key drivers that persuaded so many people to vote leave. Indeed, as a Labour MP, he believes his constituents deserve more jobs, less poverty and higher living standards, but the question is: how to best achieve this and how to ensure that Brexit is a positive not a negative factor?
In the 2017 election, he decided to make an offer to his leave constituents. “I put my money where my mouth was,” he says, recalling how he asked his constituents “to support me to ensure any Brexit deal keeps us in the single market to protect Swansea jobs and is put to a public vote so people can decide whether they are getting what they ordered – which was more money, jobs and control.”
The fact that so many entrusted their vote to Davies shows that, if MPs respect how their constituents voted and take the time to understand why, it is possible to have a discussion about how Brexit should be delivered, instead of a tribal stand-off.
Perhaps, Labour might have won a majority at the 2017 General Election if other Remain MPs in Leave constituencies had followed his lead. Davies is worried that there is still a disconnect in other areas of the country such as Sunderland, where people voted to leave the EU for more jobs, but now see manufacturing under threat from Brexit.
For him, the priority must be to go back to the root causes of the Leave vote and take a non-partisan look at whether these issues are being addressed. If Brexit is not helping, it is up to MPs to discuss this openly and persuasively with evidence and fact.
Davies is convinced that parliamentary democracy requires MPs to listen and discuss with their constituents but, above all, to represent their interests, taking into account the best information available. Referendums cannot replace this, and we should not remain shackled to the results of one three years ago when events have moved on and the consequences are now more obvious.
After all, Margaret Thatcher herself quoted Clement Attlee when she described the referendum as “a device of dictators and demagogues”. Chillingly, Attlee noticed that Hitler, Mussolini and Napoleon III all used referendums to legitimise decisions they took.
Let’s make sure that we don’t treat the referendum result as if it is sacred, but instead have an open and thoughtful discussion about the underling issues like Geraint Davies.