Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Streatham MP Chuka Umunna 'breaks election pledge' on EU referendum

The Labour rebels in last night's House of Commons vote on whether there should be a EU referendum have received less attention than the Conservative ones in the national press and media. But how Lambeth's three Labour MPs voted will be of interest to local people.

Among the small number of Labour rebels was Kate Hoey, MP for Vauxhall, who voted in favour of a referendum. Tessa Jowell, MP for Dulwich and West Norwood however voted with the Prime Minister and the majority of the Labour party, against a referendum.

Perhaps of greatest interest though is that Chuka Umunna, MP for Streatham, also toed his party's - and the Conservative - line, and voted against a referendum. This appears to contradict a pledge he made during the election campaign last year.

There didn't appear to be anything in his election literature about the issue one way or another. But like all candidates, it is likely that he was asked questions on the doorstep about it. And a promise was apparently made on the subject to Mark Wallace, a campaigner and blogger.

Through the medium of Twitter, in recent days Wallace has been asking Umunna publicly if he would honour what he said to him during the election - or at least clarify where he stands.

I asked Wallace what Umunna had actually said to him. He replied that Umunna had made a pledge to back an EU referendum face to face with him, on the doorstep. Umunna, he said, stated that he preferred an in/out referendum to settle the issue once and for all. In addition, Umunna had even promised to write to Gordon Brown on the matter.

This appears to contradict how Umunna voted last night.

In the end, in the absence of any written evidence, it may come down to one person's word against another's. But there are some big issues of concern here. The first is that Umunna has failed to make clear what his position is on a referendum. His constituents should know, and they should have been told long before last night's vote. It is not as if this is a minor issue.

The second is that even when asked publicly, he has failed to respond. There is an issue of accountability here. Umunna has voluntarily chosen to use social media to communicate with constituents and others. He has fallen silent on this issue. Why? Is it because he believes one thing, but has voted another for reasons of advancement within his own party? These are the kinds of questions that will now be asked.

Even at this point it would have been very quick and easy to make his position clear. He has not done so.

It should be noted too, that Umunna had the opportunity to express support for a progressive amendment to last night's House of Commons motion, tabled by Green MP Caroline Lucas. This backed a referendum on the basis of democracy and that it is right for people to be given a choice. He did not take that either.

You can read the full debate and the way all MPs voted in Hansard here

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