Aileen Quinton: My friend Kate Hoey has been a champion of victims of terrorism

I wondered ‘Hmm I wonder what that one will be like’ as the late great BBC politics editor John Cole announced that his wife’s cousin had just been elected Labour MP for Vauxhall.

Friday, 22nd November 2019, 5:04 pm
Aileen Quinton (left) and Kate Hoey, then the MP for Vauxhall, campaigning for Brexit in London on the eve of the EU referendum, on June 22 2016

I had little thought that ‘that one’ would end up as a close friend and champion of victims of terrorism.

As a unionist from Northern Ireland, we had tended to expect more support from Tories and for them to mind more about the IRA trying to bomb us into a united Ireland.

Although my father used to say, the Tories are never as bad in opposition as they are in power and Labour is never as bad in power as in opposition (he didn’t live to see what Blair would do).

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

It was years later that I met Kate at a Friends of the Union (Pro Union organisation in London) conference at Cambridge. When she realised I was living in London, she said ‘we’ll have to get you involved in some things’ and it all took off from there.

Kate is a great mentor and is generous in her support of people new to the game. I have come across others that she has encouraged and we share notes about how she likes to keep us busy.

This was the era of New Labour and I am ashamed to say, that I fell for the Blair spin and joined. I saw a Labour Party that I thought wanted to let the poor get richer as opposed to obsession with getting the rich poorer. Labour also dropped the Irish unity policy.

I think Kate gave up on me becoming an MP years ago. I can hold my own in terms of writing and can see myself holding forth on the green benches but knowing the importance Kate puts on helping her constituents and local organisations, I would be useless.

On many occasions in her company someone would approach shyly to thank her for helping them with something. Once we were having lunch at New Scotland Yard and one of the catering staff said Kate had helped her sister with a housing problem.

Kate has also been a go to MP for South East Fermanagh Foundation (Seff), which supports victims across the UK and beyond. She got to the Seff Border Trail in the summer.

Another issue where Kate and I have common cause is Brexit. I went to Grassroots Out rallies with her. I designated myself as Lady in Waiting and looked after her phone etc. and it was fun. People were grateful to her.

It was special when the tour came to Belfast. Kate assumed that Nigel Farage would be the star attraction but she was a big draw. A lady in the loos said ‘It’s Kate Hoey I have come to hear.’

At many events in England people came up to Labour leavers, on the verge of tears, thanking them for standing up for ‘Old Labour values’. One of the last rallies was Stoke. The audience loved her. There was a large contingent of what seemed to be Labour supporters. Afterwards, I said to her: ‘That was great. We were all saying was your best yet’. Her response, ‘Oh were there rest was awful.’

On the night of the referendum Kate, who turned 70 days before, was briefly at the Leave party but was then in demand in College Green, in the early morning for interviews.

It was amazing to be in on a moment of history as the results were coming through and things were looking up. Kate was the only Leave campaigner I could see. There were quite a few worried looking Remain MPs. Kate decided to go home for a rest. She has the energy of a woman half her age but it had been a long day and she was going to be heading off to support Northern Ireland football team in the Euros. She is one of their most loyal fans.

As well as being one of the most admired politicians the country, she is one of the ones that gets the most abuse, which tends to be water off a duck’s back.

I caved in to pressure from Kate over the years to start on Twitter. I would say to her that many Twitter users are vile and other IRA victims received abuse, as did she. She would say ‘Oh I don’t pay any attention to that’.

I think even in the 2015 general election Kate had been thinking about whether she wanted to stand. She was saying privately it would be the last time. When Theresa May called the 2017 election, I believe that the deciding factor on her having another crack at it was that her enemies were licking their lips enthusiastically and it was delicious to disappoint them.

The Lib Dems threw everything but the kitchen sink to try to unseat her. One night she was followed round by a camera crew who wanted to find someone who would say to her on the doors that they were Labour voters but going LibDem because of her Brexit stance.

They had a hell of a job finding one. Most people had either voted Leave, not voted at all or voted Remain but accepted the result. Ada, one of her loyal staff, was unimpressed at how fake it was. It was extra sweet when Kate was returned with an increased majority.

Kate’s reputation for honesty extends to friends as well as foes.

When Ben Habib MEP was in Fermanagh he tweeted a picture after his dinner with Kate and Arlene Foster. The broadcaster Julia Hartley Brewer asked Kate about the meal, but what listeners never knew was that my raspberry hair had been as much part of the dinner conversation as Brexit. Kate asked me ‘Why did you do it?’ and ‘will it wash out?’. We all laughed and someone said ‘Oh Kate please don’t ever change’.

I toned down to a more subdued plum by the time the Seff’s annual victims service at Pettigo and someone mentioned my hair. Kate’s contribution was ‘it used to be a lot worse’.

At a London rally I met a hard left leaver and mentioned Labour politicians I had admired. He shook his head until I mentioned Kate. He said ‘I know Kate isn’t hard left but you respect her because you know where she stands’.

Kate’s support has also been shown in her work on the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee. When Tony Blair gave evidence re the On the Runs, Kate booked a room for victims and spent the morning with us.

Kate was close to her mum. I never met her, but know she kept hard copies of News Letter articles for Kate.

At a rally Kate recounted her mum saying that she didn’t understand why David Cameron was prime minister if he didn’t want to be able to govern the UK. She got a mention in the House of Commons when MPs heard that after the 2016 vote she told Kate: ‘Catherine, they’ll never let us leave’ and how Kate disagreed with her at the time.

Kate was an ambassador for Northern Ireland and spoke about NI at Brexit rallies that weren’t about the Union.

She championed other issues, including Zimbabwe and sport and has earned some down time (although I can’t see her being idle for long).

As someone whose mother was murdered by the IRA I don’t want to think of a Commons without ‘thon one’ there. Who will speak for victims after Dec 12?