Leyton and Wanstead MP John Cryer talks to Shelly Berry about austerity, Jeremy Corbyn, and why he voted for Brexit
Recent stories about Leyton and Wanstead MP John Cryer’s vote for Brexit and a reported feud with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn sparked my curiosity, and a request for an interview.
When I finally pinned John down for a chat in the Horizon Café in Leytonstone I was struck by how normal he was – with his unmistakably Northern accent and a schedule which necessitated a 3pm lunch for our meeting. But what I really wanted to know about was his concerns for the local area, and indeed the country.
“My priorities at the moment are defending public services,” he told me. “For example, there’s a 50 percent cut in fire pumps in this area and a number of firefighters have been lost.
“Then you have mental health services being cut. Even at the underground station, there will be times at night when there will be only one member of staff on duty. When I do my surgeries, a lot of the cases that I’ve dealt with are the result of cuts to public services. It’s the same story again and again and again.”
He is quick to dismiss the notion that these cuts are needed to ‘save’ the economy – and instead slates the government which imposed them.
“In 2010, before the general election and before the cuts, the deficit had fallen already. Since then… the economy has been going in the wrong direction.”
When I ask him about proposed changes to constituency boundaries, he is quite clear that he believes this is one of many underhand tactics deployed by the government to increase the Tories’ chances of winning the next election, along with attempts to restrict campaigning by other political parties and organisations.
“If you gerrymander the boundaries of Labour MPs, restrict the rights of third party organisations to campaign, and interfere with the finances of your major opponent, then you’ve got a fairly potent pot which gives you an enormous advantage in the following election.”
While John has strong opinions about the current government, a lot of voters question whether the Labour Party can do better to oppose it. When I ask him if he thinks Jeremy Corbyn is up to the job, he tells me that the newly re-elected leader should be given a chance – but that the party has to work to get voters on side.
“We’ve got to develop policies that chime with people. That’s the golden rule. It should be things like housing, health, transport, schools; those sorts of issues. When you address those concerns, that’s when you win.”
He admits Labour’s persistent infighting also needs to stop.
“Everyone needs to calm down a bit. There’s been a lot of friction in the Labour Party from all sides, and a lot of it’s been quite personal. People need to move to a position where they accept their differences and stop engaging in personal attacks. There’s been far too much of that.”
This is a reflection, no doubt, based on his own experience – following the attention he received after his questioning of the recent shadow cabinet reshuffle. When I ask him, he explains his concerns were not about the reshuffle itself, but lack of consultation with the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) despite negotiations to reintroduce shadow cabinet elections.
“I felt to some extent that we had been led up the garden path. That’s why I wrote an email to Jeremy, and I was told I’d get a response that afternoon. I waited until 6pm and no reply was evident so I emailed MPs. And then… I got a bit of stick.”
John laughs, but his frustration about the lack of cohesion within the party is evident. “You’ve got to feel like you’re pulling in the same direction, and when something like that happens it’s disappointing.”
Moving on to John’s Brexit vote, he is quick to defend himself – and point out his vote in favour of giving EU nationals already in the country the right to remain. He argues that immigration will still be possible post-Brexit, despite concerns to the contrary, and explains that his vote to leave was chiefly about the political functioning of the EU. He said: “The European Commission aren’t elected, they aren’t accountable to the people that they supposedly serve, it’s not a democracy.”
John gives an example which he suggests puts the European Union’s (EU) record into question on workers’ rights to a ‘living wage’.
“The European Court of Justice, ruling after ruling after ruling, has come down on the side of big companies. If you’re employing people from the Czech Republic and you want to pay them the minimum wage in the Czech Republic rather than the British minimum wage, you’re allowed to do it. And that’s because of a series of cases where the European Court of Justice ruled that employers were legally allowed to be undercut.”
John acknowledges that his vote to leave the EU has upset many of his constituents, but tells me that others were in favour of Brexit. “I think there are communities who feel that there are double standards in migration policy because of free movement within the EU, whereas if you come from one of the Commonwealth countries, you don’t have that free movement. I’ve spoken to second and third generation immigrants who voted for Brexit because they felt this was unfair.”
No matter what Leyton and Leytonstone constituents think of John, his loyalty to the area appears to remain strong, despite a recent move away from the area to live south of the river. “I loved living here,” he enthuses. “It’s a really interesting part of London because it’s an area of very rapid change. The story of East London is the story of migration. You get this constant changing story. If you drive along any of the main streets you see the changes constantly, the languages that are spoken. I think it’s fascinating. That’s what I like about around here.”
Whether or not his Brexit vote will cost him his seat at the next election, however, remains to be seen.