Borough’s Labour vote in the EU elections ‘shows you’re allowed to change your mind about Brexit’
PUBLISHED: 17:59 29 May 2019 | UPDATED: 17:59 29 May 2019
The council leader of the only leave-voting borough to back Labour in the EU elections said democracy means “you’re allowed to change your mind”.
Labour topped the poll, ahead of the Brexit party, in Barking and Dagenham last Thursday - despite being the most pro-Leave borough in London at the 2016 referendum.
Barking and Dagenham Council leader Darren Rodwell said the shift was an "endorsement" of the party's work within the borough in "delivering what matters to the community".
Labour received 40.7 per cent of the vote (15,449) - which, despite dropping 8.6 per cent from the last poll, was the second largest Labour vote across London - while The Brexit Party won 29 per cent (11,014) of the 38,244 ballots cast in the borough.
Three years ago, Barking and Dagenham was among only five boroughs in London that voted leave, with 62.4 per cent (46,130) voting in favour of Brexit.
The four others are Bexley, Havering, Hillingdon and Sutton.
"I've always been of the opinion that most people voted not on the issue of Europe, but because of what was happening in their life and the situations they found themselves in and the support that they have or don't have for them or their families," councillor Rodwell said.
"There was a perception of unfairness."
Cllr Rodwell added last week's vote showed that the council was "going in right direction" as representatives of the community.
He cited the recently-opened Future Youth Zone, the proposed film and TV studios in Dagenham, and 93 per cent of schools in the borough being rated 'good' or 'outstanding'.
"The local Labour council is delivering what matters to our community," Cllr Rodwell said.
"So, everyone can talk about the big picture, the national or even international picture with Europe, but it really starts on the streets of Barking and Dagenham.
"As local leaders in Labour movement, that's what we have to concentrate ourselves on."
Despite the strong local support, Labour won just two of eight seats for the London region and had only 10 MEPs elected across the UK - a loss of 10 - after their vote share plummeted from 25.4 per cent to 11.3 per cent.
Cllr Rodwell said Labour's messaging about Brexit had not been direct enough.
"I have a saying that if you can't make it simple, and you can't make it direct, you spend too long trying to explain," he said.
"I think what happened with our messaging, was we were trying to spend too long explaining that the Tories' approach wasn't right for our country and the Lib-Dems' approach was too simple.
"What we needed to be saying - and I think it was the right messaging - is that we want to honour what people have said, but actually it's not as simple and clear cut...
"My biggest problem with that (referendum) vote was both sides lied to my community.
"I think if the Labour movement can be at the heart of the community and build the hope that we build in Barking and Dagenham into the community, the community will respond."
Cllr Rodwell added that councils everywhere were trying to manage "the worst financial position this country, in local government, has ever found itself in."
He said: "Truthfully, the only reason we have the issues we have today is because of austerity and until we can start articulating that in a way that connects with people in a direct way, I think we're always going to struggle to win an argument that is so complex."
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