Fabian Hamilton: 'I think it's a disaster the way the Tories have handled Brexit'

Fabian Hamilton’s interest in politics started when he was just a boy, taking to the doorsteps with his father Mario and mother Adrianne as they campaigned for council seats for the Liberal Party.

By Geraldine Scott
Saturday, 12th October 2019, 6:45 am
Fabian Hamilton, Leeds North East MP pictured by the Oakwood Clock. Photo: Tony Johnson
Fabian Hamilton, Leeds North East MP pictured by the Oakwood Clock. Photo: Tony Johnson

Now, as politics has changed dramatically, the Labour MP for Leeds North East speaks about how his parents convictions made his thirst for fairness the driver in his career.

“I grew up in northwest London,” said Mr Hamitlon, 64. “My dad was a real Liberal in every sense. And very pro-Europe, this was long before we joined the Common Market.

“And the Liberals never won anything, they had six seats in Parliament and London wasn't any of them, it was the fringes of the country, bits of rural Wales and Scotland.

Fabian Hamilton, Leeds North East MP pictured by the Oakwood Clock. Photo: Tony Johnson

“But he really believed in Liberal values and a liberal society. He'd been a refugee from Nazi Europe, my dad was an immigrant, and it's very odd people look at me, and they say, well, you might have some foreign blood in you - and when I was younger, I had a black beard, lots of black hairs - but you know, you're not brown or black so you can't be an immigrant.

“But actually, my dad was an immigrant. He couldn't speak English until he was 12.”

A Sephardic Jew, Mr Hamilton’s father was born in Vienna, grew up in The Hague, Tangier, and Seville, and finally settled in Paris, where his mother lived during the Second World War.

Mr Hamilton said: “I grew up in a French-speaking household, so that was the backdrop if you like. He took me, he wanted me to see what it was like as an 11-year-old boy, and I absolutely loved it. I was hooked from that moment.”

Fabian Hamilton, Leeds North East MP pictured by the Oakwood Clock. Photo: Tony Johnson

Both Mr Hamilton’s parents stood for the council in Willesden, and he said: “I just loved all the mechanics of elections. And then the excitement at the end when you have the results coming through.”

By 1974, Mr Hamilton was old enough to vote and when his father stood for election in the London constituency of Ealing and Acton, he became a sub-agent.

“I really got the feel for it,” he said.

Mr Hamilton went to York University and became involved in student union politics, where he met fellow MPs and friends Richard Burden and Paul Blomfield.

“I really loved being in York, learnt a lot about the working class North,” he said. “Then never really left the North.

“I think the other thing that influenced my political views was the trouble my mother had trying to become a barrister, and succeed as a barrister at a time when only three per cent of new barristers were women. And if you were a woman barrister you were expected to do family law, my mum was only interested in crime.”

Mr Hamilton recalled how many of his mother’s colleagues were Freemasons, but because the organisation did not allow women she found herself ostracised.

“She would come home in tears because she was so frustrated. She went on, in fact, to become a head of chambers and then a judge.”

“So forget about Brenda Hale,” he joked. “Actually my mum probably knew Brenda.”

Although supportive of leader Jeremy Corbyn, Mr Hamilton said he had not always been sure of his leadership credentials, and initially felt the next leader of the Labour Party had to be a woman and worked for Yvette Cooper’s leadership bid.

“She is one of the brightest women of her generation, and she’s superb, but she didn’t quite cut it, she didn’t capture the mood of the party.

“I wasn’t against Jeremy I just didn’t think he was the right person for the job and I told him that. I love the man, we’ve done the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament together, we’re both cyclists, we were both on the Inter-Parliamentary Union executive together, so I got to know him for 22 years and I do love him, he’s a great man, but was he going to be a good leader? I wasn’t sure.

“I think it’s turned out a lot better than I thought.”

His views on private school also put him at odds with recent Labour policy to abandon the institutions.

Mr Hamilton, who was sent to boarding school and said he hated the experience, said: I don’t see a problem with creating a level playing field. I think there's a problem saying to parents, you can't send your child to a private school, there’s got to be parental choice.

“However what I want to see is a system where nobody wants to send their child to private school, because local schools are so good, now we’ve got a bit of that in Leeds.”

He also backs remaining in the EU, calls himself “passionately pro-Remain”, and points out his constituency - and every ward in it - voted to remain, by varying amounts.

Mr Hamilton said he “became a victim of what’s happened to everybody, which is polarisation”. He said: “So my view became, we have to stay. But we can’t just do what the Lib Dems want to do, we can’t just revoke Article 50 unilaterally, that would be entirely wrong.

“So in my opinion I think the party’s policies are very good, but nobody seems to understand it.”

He added: “What upsets me is that the 60 or 80 years old generation, or people who are 60, evoke the spirit of Churchill and the war, but they don’t remember the war.

“Even if you’re 80 in 2016 you don’t remember much about that, you might remember a little bit of rationing, but if you’re 75 you won’t remember anything - you were born in 1941 and you’d be four at the end of the war. So it’s a nonsense but yet they’re the group that voted in massive numbers like I’ve never seen before.”

Now Mr Hamilton holds a post not reflected in the Conservative Party - Shadow Minister for Peace and Disarmament - which he admitted some people may see as “hippie-ish”.

But he said: “Look, unless you start somewhere you are never going to achieve that. And do we want a better world? Do we want to decrease tensions between nations, between regions, between warring factions and tribes? Yes, of course. Don’t we as a country have a place in doing that? Absolutely. That’s what I’m developing at the moment, a policy that will put the United Kingdom on the forefront of peacemaking.”

And he felt there was a bright future for the Labour Party. He said although the referendum had exposed fault lines in both parties, the Tories had taken a harder hit.

“I think it’s a disaster [the way the Tories have handled Brexit], to be honest.”

He said he “spoke from experience” when dealing with Boris Johnson, having had an office opposite his at one point and said he was “the biggest narcissistic and egocentric politician I have ever met”.

He said: “I just feel intensely angry that this man has pulled the wool over so many people’s eyes.”

He added although Mr Corbyn “may not be the most effective leader ever” he was “a truly sincere man, he’s not a communist, he abhors violence” and he felt when Mr Johnson was compared to him, Labour would win out.