The people of Barnsley made their voices heard last week. 68% of those who voted said that they wanted the United Kingdom to leave the European Union.
Having talked to many Barnsley residents in the weeks leading up to the vote, I am aware of the frustration that so many people felt. Frustration about lack of good jobs; about public services that are being cut to the bone; about politics and politicians, who seem remote from their everyday lives.
Some people said they were voting leave to try and bring back control to their lives – control over our money, our borders, our public services.
Others said they couldn’t see the benefit of the EU – even when it was highlighted that the EU pumped significant amounts of money into our local area.
I completely recognise and acknowledge the strength of feeling in our town. The challenge for politicians now is to deliver change and to move forwards.
However, I can’t help but be concerned about what is happening now that the Leave politicians are back-peddling on their promises. This week they have said that they won’t be able to return £350 million a week to the NHS or reduce immigration. This is only going to add to the frustration felt by those who already feel let down by the political system.
What has also been unhelpful is the negative image some of the media have tried to portray of people in our town. It’s far too easy for journalists to arrive from London on the train and quickly grab a few controversial soundbites.
What is more challenging is to probe beneath the surface and find out what fuels people’s frustrations and anxieties.
Barnsley used to be a place with thriving mining villages, where people didn’t have to worry about getting a job, where their family’s future felt secure.
Now, with skilled jobs being taken elsewhere, and zero hours contracts the norm and, most importantly, a government that has stripped the life out of our public services – is it any wonder that people are demanding change?
The immediate priority must be for economic stability and to protect jobs and families’ finances. A rocky road undoubtedly lies ahead and that requires the government to now put the national interest first. It also demands that the Labour Party, as the official Opposition, effectively holds the government to account at this important time.
Today Britain stands deeply divided between generations, nations and regions. Our mission now must be to bring the country together.
The future may be challenging but my focus will be on ensuring that both our town and our country get the best deal from what lies ahead. This was a referendum on people’s lives, so they will expect to see a meaningful difference.
This article was first published in the Barnsley Chronicle on 1st July 2016