Gloria De Piero tells Richard Angell and Conor Pope about her new justice campaign, winning back Labour heartlands, the need for a socialist brexit, and why talk of a People’s Vote gets in the way of dealing with the issues that led us to lose the referendum
There is a poster in Gloria De Piero’s office, replicating a banner of the National Federation of Women Workers from the 1910s. In it, a woman wearing an apron holds aloft a flag and a shield that reads: ‘To fight, to struggle, to right the wrong’.
De Piero’s latest campaign is about righting a very simple wrong. Worse, it is one that no one really realised had been happening, she explains. ‘Anybody else that I’ve told this to had absolutely no idea that this was the case. You just think it’s common sense.’ The principle is a basic one: ‘If you try and kill somebody … you’re not really entitled to any of their cash.’
Put as starkly as that, it is hard to believe that this is something that happens. De Piero, a shadow justice minister, could hardly believe it herself when she first heard about it a few months ago. Having seen a clip on Facebook of De Piero talking about domestic violence, a woman got in touch about her case.
‘She was stabbed 30 times by her husband. She was moments away from death, he thought he’d killed her. He is serving time for her attempted murder.’ The details of the case, De Piero explains, are ‘distressing … horrific’. But it was what she was told next that, in her own words, made her ‘nearly fall off my chair’.
‘She said, “In order to get the divorce decree absolute, it’s incumbent on me to offer him a settlement. Now, my barristers don’t think it has to be 50 per cent, but it should be tens of thousands of pounds.”’ This woman now faces selling her family home ‘in order to give somebody who attempted to kill her what he’s “entitled to”’.
Laws can be more complicated than they seem, but De Piero is confident that this can be fixed by changing the presumption of financial settlements in cases such as this. ‘I want the law to be changed so the presumption is that there is no financial entitlement if you have attempted to murder your spouse. There could be in very extreme cases be mitigating circumstances. … but I’m just changing the presumption. No financial entitlement without mitigating circumstances instead of a presumption of financial of entitlement.’ This, she says, ‘can be pretty easily done just adding a new clause’.
She also hopes that there can be cross-party consensus on the issue to get it resolved more quickly, describing it as a no-brainer’. ‘I’m hoping that this is one of these things where it’s not about party point scoring,’ she says. ‘Let’s work together to write it.’
Will there be blowback? ‘I don’t think there will be any resistance. I think even Phillip Davies must be able to see’, she argues, referencing the Conservative member of parliament for Shipley who has a long record of blocking private members’ bills and opposing legislation relating to gender equality.
The way this campaign came about, through someone reacting to a video posted on social media, has reaffirmed De Piero’s strong belief ‘that MPs are accessible to the public’. That so few people in politics had knowledge of the system working in this way reflects an oversight, and a disconnect. Surely if politicians had known about it, they would have sorted it sooner?
She is determined to be a politician who listens to her constituents. That is at the heart of the point where she breaks with the growing centre-left consensus: Brexit. ‘I think I’m being pragmatic on this. We had a vote, we lost it. However, genuinely, if I saw a big change, or if I could feel a big change over the last two years, I would back a People’s Vote. But I can’t.’
Back in her north Nottinghamshire seat of Ashfield – which voted heavily to ‘Leave’ – she finds that Brexit ‘doesn’t come up so much from the doorsteps – not like potholes, or something like that. But when I go to the pub or go to the supermarket, it happens every time I leave the house, they go “Oh, Gloria.” And I know the next sentence. “Bloody hell, have we not left yet, love?”’
The ‘Remain’ campaign in 2016, she says, ‘wasn’t great. But that is history’. What is a bigger problem for pro-Europeans, though, is that she does not detect a shift in the premise of the wider Remain arguments since then. ‘The same people have been making those arguments on telly. There’s been a lot of publicity for them and air time. There is virtually no movement in the polls.’ What if there were to be a People’s Vote, then? ‘Maybe it’s exactly the same … Maybe it goes a couple of points the other way.’ She detects a logical problem in the thinking ‘At some point you have to get over something that we deeply regret. All the energy that is spent – to argue for a rerun of a referendum when we are not in government so cannot deliver – is on stopping this thing.’
Her demand that the next question be answered will no doubt get some backs up: ‘What is a socialist Brexit? Some people will say there is no such thing as a socialist Brexit … That doesn’t help [my] constituents either.’
Why does it matter to try and formulate an answer to that question? Because in under 150 days, we could be out of the European Union, and a post-Brexit Britain would be the reality that a future Labour government would have to contend with.
‘Whether we were to remain or were to leave, the challenges in my constituency would not go away either way. While in the EU, my constituents have lower wages than the national and the regional average of weekly wages. My constituents’ chance of going to university is almost at the bottom of all the constituencies. Our national lottery funding is non-existent compared to big cities. The jobs that have replaced the jobs in the pits and the hosiery factories are not as secure, high status or well paid. Those challenges were not created by being in the EU and nor would they be solved. By leaving or by staying, those are things that will take a Labour government to solve. While we’re talking about trying to overturn the referendum we’re not talking enough about any of those things.’
That gap in priorities could begin to cause Labour real electoral problems; we are already seeing the seeds of it. ‘Ashfield and Bolsover had the highest swings to the Tories last election. We lost Mansfield. We lost North East Derbyshire. Never got Cannock Chase back when we lost that in 2010. These are all former mining seats. These are seats that were our heartlands and when I say that, it’s because they should be the lands of our hearts – the places which we had in mind over a hundred years ago when we founded the Labour party.’
This is the dilemma the centre-left now faces. The hundreds of thousands gathered on the streets of London last month to demand a People’s Vote can be a huge part of building a new progressive electoral coalition. But while the problem of Brexit dominates, the problems that caused Brexit deepen. What should come first?
Richard Angell is the director of Progress
Conor Pope is the deputy director of Progress
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