Election campaign in great britain: among europhiles

Kate Hoey is running in the London constituency of Vauxhall, a Labour stronghold. The Brexit enthusiast must fear for her seat.

Kate Hoey is not adapting Photo: Daniel Zylberstajn

"The last of the old set, original 1989," says the old lady in the black business suit. She means her wine-red mini. She could have meant herself. In 1989, Kate Hoey became the Member of Parliament for the Vauxhall constituency, which stretches from London’s Giant Wheel on the south bank of the Thames to Brixton. Vauxhall, for decades, has been a Labour stronghold.

"My commitment is primarily to the poor," explains the 70-year-old Labour politician. Naturally, she is against tuition fees or in favor of gay marriage. At the same time, she is a passionate advocate of English liberalism: "I don’t like the state telling people how to live." She doesn’t let anyone dictate to her, either.

In her 28-year career as an MP, Hoey repeatedly rubbed her party the wrong way: she voted against tougher gun controls, against smoking bans, in favor of fox hunting and against the war in Iraq, which cost her the post of sports minister in Tony Blair’s government in 2003. Hoey has also long been a critic of the EU. During last year’s Brexit election campaign, she joined the most radical Brexit campaign: "Leave EU" by then-Ukip leader Nigel Farage. She even campaigned with him.

But in her Vauxhall constituency, 78.6 percent of voters voted to remain in the EU, the highest percentage in the country except for Gibraltar. Some of these EU supporters want Kate Hoey to stand in the general election on the 8th. June to punish them for it. They are rallying around the opposition Liberal Democrats, who are running with 34-year-old investigative journalist George Turner. Lib Dem leaflets feature a photomontage: a face, half Hoey, half Farage. If you vote Labour in Vauxhall, you might as well vote Ukip, the message goes.

Widespread skepticism

Lib Dem candidate Turner sports a full beard and a neat pageboy cut. With his friendly voice, usually appearing casually in a jacket, Turner makes a confident impression. In his small polling station on Market Street Low Marsh, about 25 people crowd around and enthusiastically stuff envelopes. The fact that Turner equates her with Farage on leaflets and basically portrays her as a racist is seen by Hoey, a Labour opponent, as an impertinence. "I voted in parliament to take in more child refugees. Why should we only let in white Europeans from Romania and Bulgaria and not more residents of the Commonwealth?" says Hoey.

In an interview with the taz, Turner rejects the accusation that he called Hoey racist. Hoey himself had posed together with Farage, the liberal recalls. "On top of that, Ukip in Vauxhall is not putting up its own candidate for her sake." Hoey’s problem, however, is not only her pro-Brexit stance but also the fact that families dependent on welfare rarely participate in elections, also a reason for anti-Brexit sentiment in Vauxhall, she believes.

Bus driver Terry Williams, 65

"It’s always like that, they promise a lot, deliver very little"

Skepticism is rife. Bus driver Terry Williams, 65, who suffers from diabetes, says: "It’s always like this, they promise a lot, deliver little. It’s all a waste of time." Mark Delaney, 52, has a severely disabled daughter and a son and grandson with mental health problems. He believes that Europeans working for less money, or not at all, have made the situation worse. Because of Corbyn, "the supporter of the IRA," as the right-wing press dubs him because he met with Sinn Fein years ago, he, an old Labour voter, wants to give his vote to Theresa May this time. That became even clearer to him, from a Protestant Northern Irish family, after the terrorist attack in Manchester, he said.

Brexit no longer important?

But his neighbor, Tom Guha, 25, still wants to win him over to Labour. No one else stands up for the interests of the working class, Guha tries, without success. The financial expert Waqqas Ahmed, 34, who lives in a luxury apartment on the Thames, where the Liberal Democrats advertised heavily, also prefers to vote Conservative, even though he sees Brexit as wrong. Even more uncertainty is bad for the economy, he believes.

After all, the Conservatives were the second strongest party in Vauxhall at the last election. If the Lib Dems take enough votes away from Labour, even the Tories could win the Vauxhall constituency. In Fetiman Road, a street of wickedly expensive detached houses, all you see are Lib Dem election posters in front gardens and windows. Helena Gaynor, 53, has also put one up, for the first time in her life. As a former Labour voter, she feels guilty, she admits, because her grown-up children are all explicitly pro-Labour and think she’s crazy. But as an EU supporter, she wants to settle a score with Hoey.

According to Hoey, things have been looking up for Labour since the election platform was published. Brexit is no longer the decisive issue, he says. On the lawn in front of a two-story public housing building from the 1960s, Joanne Murphy, 59, sits in the sun with her children and grandchildren. Murphy is unemployed. "Hoey has always stood up for us," she says. Bookseller Charlie Unsworth, 60, also plans to vote Labour. He has been waiting decades for Corbyn’s progressive party platform, he enthuses. Kate Hoey’s stance on Brexit bothers him, he says, but the party’s success is more important now. Many share this view.

Only Joseph Coleman, 50, who lives in a council apartment in Battersea, wants to buck the trend of electoral apathy and Labour enthusiasm by voting for the Liberal Democrats. He spent 15 years behind bars, he says. When inmates broke both his arms at one point, it was only the appeal to human rights that helped him, he says. "I didn’t want to vote, politicians are all the same, but European human rights are important to me."

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