The Labour MP for Vauxhall, Kate Hoey, has strongly defended herself after being told of threats of deselection from her local party and criticism from political opponents over her strong support for Brexit.
Several members of her local party have expressed their disapproval of Hoey's support for Brexit to BuzzFeed News, and all the individuals we spoke to said they felt she was likely to be deselected in 2018. The Liberal Democrats' prospective parliamentary candidate told us he has been contacted "every week" by lifelong Labour voters who are now considering switching to the Lib Dems.
However, Hoey has issued a firm rebuke to her critics, saying any opposition to the government's recent Brexit bill on her part would have been deeply hypocritical, and that the Lib Dems "will find that the majority of people, even if they voted Remain, have accepted the result and just want to move on".
Despite her support for issues like fox-hunting and grammar schools and a frosty relationship with the Labour council, Hoey was always well-liked by the local party until recently.
"Kate has always been a bit of an individual, a bit of a maverick; there’s always been rows within the party locally because she takes some very unusual positions ... but up until the referendum, she was relatively well-supported," a senior figure in the local party said.
He added: "I’ve never seen anything like this before, it really is unprecedented. She’s taken a position which is completely at odds with the local membership, but it’s not just that it’s completely at odds, it’s the fact that she’s been rubbing it in their faces."
Hoey has been an MP since winning a by-election in 1989, and was always Eurosceptic. "I have always made my anti-EU views completely clear to my constituents during all the general elections I have fought since being elected 28 years ago," she said. "My election address in 2015 was quite clear that I wanted a referendum and that I was anti the EU."
Her name was floated in early 2016 as a possible Leave campaign chief. It didn't end up happening, but she became a highly publicised figure in the movement, even joining then UKIP leader Nigel Farage on his Brexit flotilla down the Thames.
The stunt was clearly a sore point for Labour members in Vauxhall, which subsequently voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU – it was mentioned, unprompted, by everyone interviewed for this story.
"The issue is that she’s not just been Leave, but aggressively Leave, given her appearances with Nigel Farage," one activist said. "It’s the way she’s conducted herself more than anything else; Kelvin Hopkins and all the other Leave Labour MPs haven’t been on a boat with Farage."
The boat wasn't a one-off; in an interview with The Guardian in January 2016, Hoey defended Farage's party, saying the idea "that anybody in Ukip is a racist is just nonsense" and mentioning "the kind of Guardianista attitude to UKIP which has not done any good up in the northeast or northwest of England".
This may explain why she has been so unapologetic about her views. One Lambeth member complained that at the last local Labour party meeting Hoey attended, "she was asked repeatedly to apologise for her actions ... and she didn’t."
The main bone of contention for local members appears to be that many feel Hoey let them down over her stance on the rights of Europeans living in the UK when she didn't vote for an amendment to the Article 50 bill that would have clarified their legal status in the country.
"People were particularly outraged about that, because she has said quite explicitly in Labour party meeting[s] that she would seek to try and protect the rights of EU residents living in Vauxhall, of which there are a lot," a councillor said.
"There’s a big Portuguese population, a big Polish population, and people are very worried about their future and if they’re going to be able to stay, and all of that. People are very angry."
Hoey nevertheless stood by her decision, telling BuzzFeed News her decision had more to do with parliamentary process and the behaviour of other EU countries.
"This was a short bill and like others in Labour Leave I decided that the bill should not be amended," she said. "The amendment on EU citizens' rights to stay was not being tabled in the appropriate bill."
"It is a pity that other EU countries, notably Germany, were not prepared to agree [on] a mutual agreement on our British citizens in the EU before we even got to Article 50," she said, adding: "There is not a single MP in parliament who would ever support EU citizens being sent back but we need to protect British citizens in the rest of the EU."
However, the uneasiness also comes from just how pro-Remain Vauxhall is; a whopping 78.6% of EU referendum voters in Lambeth, the borough in which the seat is located, voted Remain – the highest proportion in London and one of the highest in the country.
This, members feel, was at least partly due to their campaigning. "A lot of volunteers who’ve got full-time jobs and don’t do it for a living were working themselves into the ground to try and keep us in Europe," a councillor said.
He added: "I’ve been copied into emails from residents attacking her over Europe, which I’d never had before, and a lot of councillors are getting the same thing at the moment."
Others mentioned that active party members weren't the only ones getting frustrated with the MP. According to another councillor, "A lot of people who aren’t politically active have started posting on things like residence groups about how angry they are."
If the trend continues, Hoey may lose her main line of defence against Labour members who want her gone, which is that she is popular in the constituency – she won in 2015 with a majority of over 10,000.
Her favourable status among the community can be explained by the circumstances in which she was elected; the Labour party was bitterly divided in the late '80s, with the hard left seeking to take control wherever it could.
Lambeth was a hard left stronghold and, a councillor said, "She got her original support in the constituency for taking on the council when the council was run by the loony left; she was imposed centrally in a by-election as a moderate figure."
Those days are long gone and the Labour council is much more centrist than it used to be, but "she never really moved on from that", the councillor said.
The electoral threat now comes from outside the party, and from the Liberal Democrats in particular. The Lib Dems are fiercely pro-European and have decided to focus on appealing to people who voted to remain in the EU.
Naturally, Vauxhall has become a target. The Lib Dems have been inundating residents with leaflets, including some showing a picture of Hoey on a boat with Farage. Some Labour councillors are worried they might lose their seats, while others think that by 2020, the Lib Dems may even win the seat in parliament.
"Ms Hoey is a politician who chose to campaign alongside Nigel Farage and who has refused to condemn his racist and divisive style of campaigning," said George Turner, the Lib Dems' prospective candidate for Vauxhall, adding that he intends to "hold Kate Hoey to account over the contempt with which she has treated her constituents over the biggest political issue of our time".
But Hoey does not feel threatened. "If they [the Lib Dems] would put their energy into for example fighting the libraries closures and the shortage of affordable housing and the potential closure of the local bus station at Vauxhall, that might help them win more votes than Brexit," she said.
Turner isn't the only one plotting, however. In the background, Labour members have started organising to get rid of Hoey in 2018, when the local party is due to pick its candidate for the next general election.
Though there have been unsuccessful attempts at deselecting her in the past, these members now feel that a line has been crossed and she won't be able to get the support of a majority within the local party.
"Kate has always had a contingent of people, and that’s why she’s survived deselection attempts before and she’s managed to hold them off," a member said, "but this is has annoyed a lot of people – everyone’s had enough."
In order to select another candidate, all the wards in the constituency will need a trigger ballot, which is effectively a vote of no confidence in the MP. If over 50% of those voting are in favour of opening the selection process, there will be an open race.
Unions are also given a vote and could theoretically stop her deselection, but according to a senior source with knowledge of the situation, "She's quite well-liked by the CWU, the communications union, but the rest of the unions don’t have anything to do with her – I don’t think the unions will ride to her rescue."
The other issue could be that like the party nationally, Vauxhall Labour is very divided, even beyond Hoey. The local party backed centrist Liz Kendall in the 2015 leadership contest and Corbyn challenger Owen Smith in 2016, but also includes figures from Labour's left like Laura Parker, Corbyn's political secretary.
"There’s a lot of talk in the Labour party about Momentum being the stir behind deselections, but I don’t think that’s going to happen in this case – the right and the left want to get rid of her," a councillor said. "I hope, for the good of the party, that she stands down, because she will be deselected without a shadow of a doubt."
Everyone BuzzFeed News spoke to agreed that a deselection in 2018 is very likely, even if the local party's different wings can't agree on a candidate before then. "It’s a broad church, but it’s pretty much the one thing that’s united us," one person said.
It's unlikely, however, that Hoey will go down without a fight. "I believe in democracy so anyone who wants to challenge me has the right to do so," she said. "I look forward to the next general election."