Gapes in 2017
|Change UK Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Defence|
1 March 2019 – 4 June 2019
|Leader||Heidi Allen (Acting)|
|Preceded by||Position established|
|Succeeded by||Position abolished|
|Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee|
19 July 2005 – 17 May 2010
|Preceded by||Donald Anderson|
|Succeeded by||Richard Ottaway|
|Member of Parliament |
for Ilford South
9 April 1992 – 6 November 2019
|Preceded by||Neil Thorne|
|Succeeded by||Sam Tarry|
Michael John Gapes
4 September 1952
Wanstead, Essex, England
|Political party||Independent (since 2019)|
|Change UK (2019)|
Labour and Co-operative (1968–2019)
(m. 1992; div. 2004)
|Alma mater||Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge|
Michael John Gapes (born 4 September 1952) is a British politician who served as Member of Parliament (MP) for Ilford South from 1992 to 2019. Originally elected as a Labour and Co-operative MP, Gapes defected to form Change UK in February 2019. He is now an Independent politician.
Born in Wanstead Hospital, Gapes attended Buckhurst Hill County High School. He studied economics at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, where he was Secretary of the Cambridge University Students' Union, and later studied industrial relations at Middlesex Polytechnic. He then served as chair of the National Organisation of Labour Students.
In February 2019, Gapes left Labour in protest at Jeremy Corbyn's leadership to form The Independent Group, later Change UK, along with six other Labour MPs. In the December 2019 election, Gapes was defeated by Momentum convenor and supporter of Jeremy Corbyn and left wing policies, Sam Tarry.
Early life and career
Mike Gapes was born in Wanstead Hospital, the son of postman Frank Gapes and shop assistant Emily Gapes. He was educated at Staples Road Infants' School in Loughton before attending Manford County Primary School and Buckhurst Hill County High School in Chigwell. He worked as a Voluntary Service Overseas teacher in Swaziland in a gap year before attending university in 1972.
Gapes studied economics at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, where he was awarded an Oxford and Cambridge Master of Arts in 1975. He also served as Secretary of the Cambridge Students Union in 1973. He completed his education at Middlesex Polytechnic in Enfield where he earned a diploma in industrial relations in 1976, after which he served as chair of the National Organisation of Labour Students before serving for three years as the student organiser for the Labour Party.
Gapes was a founder, member, and convenor of the Clause Four Group in 1974, and the sixth Chair of the National Organisation of Labour Students from 1976 to 1977, taking over following the defeat of the entryist Trotskyist Militant tendency. In 1977, he was appointed as the first National Student Organiser of the Labour Party.
Gapes worked at Labour Party Headquarters for 15 years from 1977 until 1992, including serving from 1988 to 1992 as International Secretary of the Labour Party, and prior to that as a Policy Research Officer. In 1981, he was a member of the anti-nuclear Labour Party Defence Study Group. He told The Guardian that working with Neil Kinnock "to bring the Labour Party back from the abyss of 1983" was most influential in his political thinking.
In his role as international secretary, in 1990 he (along with other MEPs associated with the Fabian Society) urged Kinnock and the Labour Party to be more pro-European, including full economic and monetary union, a common industrial policy, replacing the Common Agricultural Policy with a "good food policy" promoting healthier diets with fewer additives, pesticides, and diversified crops, as well as a European Security Organisation based on NATO and Warsaw Pact co-operation.
Gapes contested Ilford North at the 1983 general election but was defeated by the sitting Conservative MP Vivian Bendall by 11,201 votes. He unsuccessfully stood for election to Wandsworth Borough Council in the 1986 election for West Hill ward in Putney, losing by only 50 votes.
Gapes was a member of the Labour Party's National Policy Forum and Joint Policy Committee 1996–2005; Chair of the Co-operative Party's Parliamentary Group 2000–01, and Trade union liaison officer for the London Group of Labour MPs 2001–05.
Member of Parliament for Ilford South
He was elected to the House of Commons in the 1992 general election for Ilford South when he defeated the sitting Conservative MP Neil Thorne by just 402 votes. He made his maiden speech on 8 May 1992.
In Parliament he joined the Foreign Affairs Select Committee in 1992 and, after the 1997 General Election, he was appointed as the Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) to the Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office Paul Murphy; he also worked for the other Minister of State Adam Ingram until 1999 when he joined the Defence Select Committee. Following the 2001 General Election, he was again appointed a PPS to the Minister of State at the Home Office Jeff Rooker for a year. He rejoined the Defence Select Committee in 2003. Following the 2005 General Election he served as the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee until 2010.
In 2007 Mike Gapes was criticised for claiming £22,110 for a second home despite his constituency being only 39 minutes away from Westminster. Gapes responded to the critcism saying "It's perfectly allowed".
In 2007, the committee reported that it was "unlikely" any abuse was continuing at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp since 2004, calling the facilities "broadly comparable" to HM Prison Belmarsh (despite a basic failure of legal representation, recreation and education). Gapes said: "I thought that we would see detainees in orange overalls kept in cages, but they are now in modern blocks. The images from 2002 were of Camp X-Ray and that is now shut", adding that an immediate shutdown of Guantanamo Bay would lead to a release of individuals back into society who were "dangerous". Andrew Tyrie, chair of the all-party group on extraordinary rendition said the report was a "deep disappointment" and did not acknowledge the moral responsibility to British residents in Guantanamo; Clive Stafford Smith, who represented prisoners at the base, said the report was "full of factual errors" and based on a "show tour" and Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International, called the report "a missed opportunity".
He was re-elected at the 2010 General election but could not continue as Chair of the Select Committee because Labour lost the election. He was, however, re-elected to serve as a Labour member of the committee from 2010 to 2015, 2015–17, and after the 2017 General Election.
He has been an officer of many all-party Parliamentary Groups: he is currently Chair of the All-Party Crossrail Group, Chair of the All-Party Global Security and non Proliferation Group and Chair of the All-Party United Nations Group. He was part of the Northern Ireland team which negotiated the Belfast Agreement in Belfast in 1998. He has travelled widely on parliamentary business including to Egypt, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kuwait, Bahrain, Iran, China, Japan, Korea, Russia, India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Angola, and Sierra Leone.
During the 2001 and 2005 General Election campaigns, he was the target of Muslim groups, including the Association of Ilford Muslims, Islamic Society of Britain (Ilford Branch) and the Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK, who sought to unseat him because of his alleged pro-Israel and anti-Muslim bias. He is a member of Labour Friends of Israel.
On 18 February 2019, Gapes and six other MPs—Chuka Umunna, Chris Leslie, Angela Smith, Luciana Berger, Gavin Shuker, and Ann Coffey—quit Labour in protest at Jeremy Corbyn's leadership to form Change UK. It cited disagreements over the handling of Brexit and mishandling of anti-Semitism within the Labour party as key reasons for leaving. For Gapes foreign policy differences were the major factor, accusing Corbyn in his resignation letter of taking the "wrong side on so many international issues from Russia, to Syria, to Venezuela."
Gapes and his party came under fire after he described those who criticised them as Islamophobic based on those selected to fight for the party in the European Elections 2019, including the Muslim Council of Britain and anti-racism charity Tell MAMA, as "far left trot trolls" and "cultists."
During the 2019 general election campaign, Gapes contacted the Metropolitan Police and electoral authorities after he was targeted by a Twitter troll known as 'Mr Richard Miller', who posed as Gapes' campaign manager and said he was fired for losing Mike Gapes' shoes. Gapes was also threatened with a cease and desist letter from lawyers representing Labour after his campaign leaflets featured the party's red and yellow colours and a slogan reading: “Real Labour Values, Independent Mind”. On election night, he lost his seat to Labour's Sam Tarry.
Regarding the Iraq War of 2003, Gapes voted in favour of the Blair government for the invasion of Iraq. He called the Chilcot Inquiry into the causes of the war a waste of public money, saying that it was a result of "hysterical" anti-Blair prejudice. He criticised Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn for apologising "on behalf of [the Labour Party] for the disastrous decision to go to war in Iraq", and argued in 2016 and 2019 that the Middle East (especially Iraq and Syria) were better off following the British and American intervention.
While under the presidency of Bill Clinton, Gapes asserted in 1998 that "... the United States Administration want[s] Europe to play a greater role in the Atlantic alliance—so do I—but that must happen incrementally; it must not be based on grand rhetoric. I want a stronger Euro-Atlantic partnership—a form of left Atlanticism in which Europe has a stronger voice". However, the Foreign Affairs Committee under his chairmanship argued for a re-evaluation of the so-called "special relationship", saying that "the use of the phrase" is "potentially misleading, and we recommend that its use should be avoided". Criticising Blair's closeness to Bush after 9/11, the committee said: "The perception that the British government was a subservient 'poodle' to the US administration leading up to the period of the invasion of Iraq and its aftermath is widespread both among the British public and overseas", saying such a perception was "deeply damaging to the reputation and interests of the UK". Gapes argued that Britain ought to take a more pragmatic approach to the US than it has previously.
House of Lords
In 2005, Gapes said he favoured abolishing the House of Lords and replacing it with "a strong committee system in the House of Commons and a small indirectly elected second chamber to represent the nations and regions of the UK". He voted against the House of Lords Reform Bill 2012.
Gapes has a high regard for the European Union, once declaring that he would prefer closer ties, rather than Britain becoming an amusement park for American and Japanese tourists. He introduced 36 amendments to the EU Referendum Bill of 2013. The bill's proposer, James Wharton, alleged that the amendments were an attempt to use up the Parliamentary time allocated to the bill and prevent its being passed. Gapes responded to allegations of filibustering by saying: "The important point is this: my amendments expose the Bill's inadequacy and need for proper consideration and scrutiny". He voted against triggering Article 50. Gapes said on Twitter that in his election address in 2017, he pledged to be "a strong pro European Labour voice in Parliament and fight [for the UK] to stay in the Single Market and Customs Union".
In December 2017, Gapes delivered a speech to the House of Commons in which he warned that Brexit would put the production of Baileys Irish Cream, the milky whiskey liqueur, "in jeopardy". The speech, in which he explained how Baileys is produced – that "And you have the milk that is taken from cows in the south, and taken from cows in the north, put together in the same factory, and then it is mixed together with whiskey, and it comes out as Baileys..." – was described by Patrick Maguire in the New Statesman as "infinitely memeable and arguably made a punchline of one of the Independent Group's (TIG) most senior parliamentarians" when it was parodied by "the anarchic left podcast" Reel Politik.
Gapes is a long-standing advocate of Kurdish human rights. In the 2012–13 session of Parliament he signed an early day motion (EDM) for the Recognition of the Kurdish Genocide. In November 2013, Gapes visited the Kurdistan region with the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Kurdistan. In June 2014, he defended the policy of humanitarian intervention to protect the Kurdish people in Iraq pursued by successive governments and called for the coalition government to support Kurdistan Region of Iraq. In August he called for a recall of Parliament to authorise military support for Iraq. In November that year, Gapes co-wrote an open letter to the Labour Party's base urging a significant increase in its support to the Kurds to defend themselves against the Islamic State (ISIL).
Gapes intended to vote for the UK becoming involved with the bombing of ISIL in Syria on 2 December 2015, but was in hospital after suffering chest pains at the time of the vote. In 2018 Gapes supported a call by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee for an independent inquiry into "the consequences of non-intervention" by Britain in the Syrian civil war.
In April 2018 Gapes visited Saudi Arabia: "To deepen understanding of Saudi Arabia and discuss issues of mutual concern". The visit, which cost £8,762, was paid in full by Saudi Arabia's Shura Council. According to Channel 4, Gapes is one of only five Labour MPs who have been on a fully paid visit to Saudi Arabia since March 2015, compared to 28 Conservative Party MPs.
In 2018, Mike Gapes stated: "Given the clear inability of this new Pakistani government of Imran Khan to stop these mobs from intimidating and killing Christians in Pakistan, is it not time to reassess our relations with Pakistan? There are big concerns if religious minorities in Pakistan are not safe".
An outspoken critic of the Russian state, Gapes has spoken out against allegations of Russian interference several times in Parliament, including against the actions of the Russian state funded media outlets RT and Sputnik. He also claims that Russian trolls have specifically targeted him on social media. He has also called for the resignation of Jeremy Corbyn's director of communications Seumas Milne following comments Milne made doubting Russian state involvement in the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal.
Gapes is a critic of the UK Independence Party. In April 2010, he responded to news that Paul Wiffen—the then London Chairman of UKIP, and a parliamentary candidate for Ilford South—had been reinstated after posting racist remarks on a social care website by saying, "There is an unpleasant whiff about Mr Wiffen". He further criticised the conduct of Mr. Wiffen, saying, "Ilford did not need BNP-style extremism". In April 2014, Gapes said on his website that UKIP's posters were racist.
Gapes is a long-time critic of former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, and has called him "the racist antisemite". He has also criticised Corbyn's supporters, including the prominent group Momentum. Gapes cites Corbyn's political views on issues such as foreign policy and Brexit. In December 2015, he criticised the Labour Party on Twitter for a U-turn on whether to run a budget surplus in 'normal' economic conditions, saying, "There is now no collective Shadow cabinet responsibility in our Party, no clarity on economic policy and no credible leadership". This led to him being trolled by supporters of Corbyn online – many of whom told him to leave the party. In the summer of 2018, there was speculation that Gapes might resign over allegations of antisemitism in the party, which he did in 2019.
He married Frances Smith in 1992 and they divorced in 2004. Their daughter Rebecca Gapes died of sudden arrhythmic death syndrome in 2012, at the age of 19. He has two adult stepdaughters. He is a keen supporter of West Ham United.
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- Mike Gapes MP Official website
- TheyWorkForYou.com – Mike Gapes MP
- Profile at Parliament of the United Kingdom
- Contributions in Parliament at Hansard
- Voting record at Public Whip
|Parliament of the United Kingdom|
| Member of Parliament
for Ilford South