Friends, and when I say friends I mean it from the bottom of my heart. You are the greatest local Party any MP could ask for.
Mary Rutter gave me the keys to her home while I was waiting for my house sale to complete.
Tracy Hovell gave me a puppy.
Dick Starr turned up at my house to give me vegetables from his allotment.
We got our wedding rings from Bud and Steve Pella.
Jim Aspinall became my best friend and best source of advice.
I’ve even been on holiday with my party members. No Tuscan retreats though. Skegness with our chair Julia Long and Torremolinos with our vice chair Natalie Fleet.
I’ve made lifelong friends in this Party.
I’ve been inspired by our new and young members like Bea Evans-Braddow, Bryony Toon, Josh Keeling, Marty Everett, Matthew Bullock, Kerry Evans, Andrew Dobb and the Lowes family.
And I’ve learned so much from our veteran members – Margaret Young, Anne Eyres, Joan Taylor, Alan Simms, Tom Mcdowell, David Griffiths, Brian Helliwell and Donald Grundy – thank for you all the wisdom and advice you have shared with me.
I thank Keith Stanley for his help and advice on writing the historic wrong that is the mineworkers pension scheme.
Our local trade unions – USDAW, the CWU, Unison, Unite and in particular the GMB – you have been incredible. In particular Martin Allen, Dorothy and Keith Mills and Richard Oliver, from the GMB.
So I’ve been thinking a lot since I put in my papers to say that I intended to restand and I’ve had time to think about whether I can continue to give you all the energy and personal sacrifices that you need as a Labour champion for this constituency. You deserve the absolute best.
And while I’ve given the people in this room and this constituency everything I have for the last 9 years, I question whether I can give you the commitment you deserve for what could be a further 8 years.
So tonight I am announcing that I will not be re-standing as the Labour candidate in Ashfield at the next election.
Because of the love and respect I have for each and every one of you and the firm belief that this must be a full and fair selection, where members decide my replacement, I wanted to let you know as soon as possible.
When you selected me, it was a very quick process because we were weeks away from a General Election, so it was an NEC shortlist rather than a local shortlist.
I don’t want that to happen again. I want all of you to choose who will fight Ashfield for Labour at the next election. I urge the NEC to crack on with that selection as soon as possible. Our opponents have selected candidates. We have not a day to waste. Let’s get on with it.
I know that this will again be a women only shortlist because the number of Labour women MPs in the East Midlands is too low. But I also hope it will be a local woman, and I look around and I see some incredible women here, so I think you will be spoilt for choice.
This is a marginal seat and whoever you select as your candidate needs time to work and become established. Since I was selected by you 9 and a half years ago it’s always been a fight to hold this seat. But if I didn’t believe we could win it, and win it well, with a new candidate I promise you I would not leave. Your next candidate will have my 100% support and I’m looking forward to seeing her become the next MP for Ashfield.
I would like to thank everyone who has ever worked for me. The people who work for me in the constituency Rachel Bissett, Helen Faccio, Josh Hales, Jenny Richards and in Parliament, Rob Bates, are all my firm friends and I adore them and if I could just thank other outstandingly loyal people who have worked for me in the past and that is Nick Paget, Jayne Mortimer and the legend that is Jim Aspinall.
I have had the privilege of serving in the shadow cabinet where I was helped by two incredible women – Beth Gardiner-Smith and Heather Vernon.
No MP could do the job they do without the people they work most closely with and the truth is they all make us look much better than we actually are.
And that brings me to Labour Party staff is the region who go above and beyond for all of us. Neil Rayner, Finbar Bowie and Adam Nundy – you go above and beyond every day.
Those personal friends of mine who helped me in my selection contest – Vicky Foxcroft and James Grugeon. Vicky is still my best friend in Parliament. But there are others in Parliament who have always been there for me like Jonathan Ashworth, Steph Peacock, Lisa Nandy, Lou Haigh, Rachel and Ellie Reeves, Lucy Powell, Tom Watson and Harriet Harman.
But my most sincere thanks are to the people of Ashfield who have taught me so much about the country we live in – all that is right with it in our incredible community spirit and all that is wrong with it in terms of the inequality we know.
Over 30 per cent of children in Ashfield are living in poverty.
When Labour was in Government, 25 people were homeless in Ashfield. This year it’s 123.
Ashfield workers are working for wages that are below the national average and the regional average.
Just 16.5 per cent of 18-year-olds from Ashfield went to university last year – just about the lowest in the country.
Ashfield needs a Labour Government.
There is one thing that I have hated about my time as an MP and that is that I’ve spent that whole time serving on the Opposition Benches.
Friends, there is one thing I can’t stand about the Labour Party and that is how much time it spends in opposition. Every day we spend there is a betrayal of the people we came into politics to represent. Labour Governments don’t betray people but Labour Oppositions do.
Tonight I will be writing to Jeremy Corbyn and Richard Burgon to step down from the front bench – I thank both of them for giving me the opportunity to serve but I want to spend the limited time I have left as an MP focussing on what brought me to this Party – to fight for opportunities in life that people from backgrounds like mine rarely have.
I have jumped many social classes in my life but my story is too rare and that is what makes me so angry about the country we all love.
The Labour Party has been through a turbulent time in the last 3 years. I want more than anything to get a Labour Government and I’ll be campaigning for that Labour Government.
The Labour Party is made up of mostly good people who sometimes disagree on how to achieve good. There is nothing wrong with that. It’s good and its healthy and it should be welcomed.
The lack of tolerance for different viewpoints in the Labour Party frankly worries me.
We have to have respect for each other, even if we disagree, because we are all part of this Party.
Richard Burgon campaigned for Jeremy to be leader. I campaigned for Liz Kendall, but Richard and I have spent the last 2 years working together to hold the Tories to account on access to justice.
If me and Richard can do it, surely it’s not beyond the rest of the Party to try.
In all my years in this Party my choice of leader has never been elected, I voted for Margaret Beckett, David Miliband, Liz Kendall and Owen Smith but I have worked for every Labour leader as hard as the last.
This party is about a set of values not any individual and we would all do well to remember that. And while I’m at it, and it doesn’t happen in Ashfield, but when I hear people being called right wing in the Labour Party I find it utterly offensive . We are all left wingers in this Party – that is why we joined the Labour Party.
People in this local Party have respected my position over respecting the referendum result – in fact Ashfield delegates voted against a second referendum at last year’s conference. It’s a democracy we live in after all, but the abuse I’ve had on social media from some who want to overturn the referendum has been pretty grim – so to all those who have said that I only hold the position I do because I want to hold my seat, I’m afraid it’s much worse than that – I actually believe it and I’ll keep fighting for a Brexit with the closest possible trading ties with the EU.
But I stand before you tonight with such happy memories and such firm friends.
Thank you Ashfield. You have given me the greatest honour of my life – the opportunity to serve the place that I love. As our most famous son, DH Lawrence born in the town we meet in tonight, said, this is the country of my heart.
Well let me tell you my friends that Ashfield will always have a place in my heart.
So whether it’s for 3 more months or 3 more years that I am your MP, I will continue to give you my all.
Now I will take questions and if you will permit me to leave the meeting after that, as I know many of you are coming back to mine and whatever talents I have, cooking isn’t amongst them, so I’m off to put the beer and wine on ice and to put the oven chips and frozen pizza in the oven.