Dan Jarvis: The Remain MP and his Eurosceptic town

By Sima Kotecha
Today programme

Image caption,
Labour MP Dan Jarvis wants to stay in the EU while many of his constituents want to leave

Members of Parliament have passionate views - that's why they go into politics. But what happens when their views - or at least some of them - differ from their constituents?

The Labour MP for Barnsley Central, Dan Jarvis, is dealing with that scenario. The former Army major wants the UK to stay in the European Union while many of his constituents want it to leave.

Over the next few weeks, the MP will be knocking on doors to try and convince people to side with him on 23 June. "This is such a big decision," he says.

"The implications of it are so momentous for every aspect of our lives. In terms of our economy, in terms of our ability to keep ourselves safe - what is required is a hard-headed judgement about what is in our national interest and for me that's staying in the EU."

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Opinion polls suggest Barnsley is the 11th most Eurosceptic town in Britain

The South Yorkshire constituency of Barnsley Central has a population of 85,000 people.

In the town centre, its cute market sells a variety of goods from freshly baked bread to electronics and clothing.

There is banter among the traders - the customers pitch in with jokes about who's doing better business on a crisp, cold day. It is like something out of EastEnders.

'Too many immigrants'

According to a recent YouGov poll, Barnsley is the 11th most Eurosceptic place in Britain.

Speaking to locals as they meander through the colourful stalls, it is clear there are many here who want to get out of the EU as quickly as possible.

"Too much red tape", "far too many immigrants", "we're more vulnerable to extremism" - some of the reasons they present me with as I walk along the back of the market.

Image caption,
Resident Ian Sawyer is keen for the UK to leave the EU

Ian Sawyer is a former policeman. He was born and raised in Barnsley and relishes its history and development.

He wants the future here to prosper, and for the younger generation to get the best out of Britain and its resources. For that to happen, he tells Dan Jarvis, the UK has to leave the EU.

"I think our country would be safer. We would have more control over people coming into the country and people going out of the country.

"I think we would have better control over our borders and immigration. These people who come in for financial immigration, I have a real problem with them."

Talking to the undecided

Dan Jarvis knows he is not winning here. Mr Sawyer tells him he is not switching sides no matter what the MP says.

I challenge Mr Jarvis: "People don't want to listen to you, do they?"

"I don't take that personally," he replies. "Look, I suspect there are some people who have made their minds up.

"The reality is, as we've experienced today, there are a number of people who haven't made their minds up - who are undecided.

"And it's those people that I need to be talking to."

In 2011, there was a by-election in Barnsley Central triggered by the former MP Eric Illsley being convicted for expenses fraud.

The safe Labour seat was won by Dan Jarvis - but UKIP came second while the Liberal Democrats were pushed into sixth place. Arguably these results were a strong indication of how people were feeling about the EU.

In the 2015 general election, the results put the two parties in the same positions: Labour came out top with UKIP in second.


Local resident Anne Robey quickly tells me she will vote to leave the EU in the referendum but she says she is willing to listen to Dan Jarvis's argument.

"I just think we'll be so much better off if we go... and everyone you speak to here says the same," she says.

Image caption,
Jobs and immigration appear crucial for the EU referendum

Dan Jarvis is patient - he listens attentively. Then his words fill the short silence: "There are a quarter of a million jobs directly connected to our ability to export goods and products to the EU. If we come out, a quarter of a million jobs just in Yorkshire will be at risk."

Ms Robey nods. "No - you're convincing me," she says. "But as I said, it's just that everyone I've spoken to says we want to be out."

For journalists and politicians there is no getting away from the EU referendum, but amongst the public here, many are not thinking about it just yet. After all there are seven weeks to go before voting day.

Most of Barnsley's people are on low to middle incomes. Unsurprisingly, jobs and immigration seem to be the key issues.

The most popular question being asked here is: what will be more beneficial financially - In or Out?