Since Jeremy Corbyn became Labour leader, resignations from the shadow cabinet have been ten-a-penny. The latest Labour MP to quit hasn’t done so over Brexit or Corbyn though – and the reason for her departure doesn’t bode well for the state of debate within the top ranks of the party.
Sarah Champion has stepped down as the shadow women and equalities minister as a result of an authored piece which appeared in the Sun last week, following the conviction of a grooming gang in Newcastle. The passage which appears to have landed Champion in hot water came right at the start of the article:
Britain has a problem with British Pakistani men raping and exploiting white girls.
There. I said it. Does that make me a racist? Or am I just prepared to call out this horrifying problem for what it is?
The Labour MP spent today trying to row back from her comments, saying that her piece should ‘not have gone out in my name’. This seemed like an unlikely excuse: a national newspaper wouldn’t publish an authored piece without the person’s say-so. It’s also likely that the article – if not the headline – would have been approved by Champion or someone in her office before it was published (Guido Fawkes have published an email suggesting this was the case, and a spokesman for the Sun is saying the same).
Now, Champion is gone from the shadow cabinet. She said in her statement:
I apologise for the offence caused by the extremely poor choice of words in The Sun article on Friday. I am concerned that my continued position in the Shadow Cabinet would distract from the crucial issues around child protection which I have campaigned on my entire political career. It is therefore with regret that I tender my resignation as Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities.
Given that the article appeared almost a week ago, it is somewhat surprising that it has taken so long for the backlash to blow up. One likely reason is that Champion appears to have become a target following the publication of a Sun piece by Trevor Kavanagh, in which he spoke of a ‘Muslim problem’ in Britain. This piece generated widespread condemnation on Twitter and also resulted in a number of complaints to the press regulator. Champion appears to have become an unfortunate – and somewhat belated – victim of this backlash. In her article, Champion said that:
‘For too long we have ignored the race of these abusers and, worse, tried to cover it up. No more. These people are predators and the common denominator is their ethnic heritage.’
Whether they believe it or not, other Labour MPs are now unlikely to make a similar point again.