JOHN HUMPHRYS, the rottweiler of the radio, may have retired this week, but you can imagine his early morning voice drifting across the airwaves setting up an interview: “Jenny Chapman, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Exiting the European Union, joins us from the heart of her Darlington constituency.

“Ms Chapman, your party begins its conference this weekend in a bit of a Brexit mess: you wanted a general election but voted against one, you seemed to be adopting a remain stance but now the LibDems have pulled that rug away from you, and your leader this week said he would be neutral in any referendum. So what are you: are you in or are you out?”

She begins her reply: “I respect the result of the referendum and I could leave with a good deal, but I cannot leave without a deal. I cannot vote for that.”

The Northern Echo: Jenny Chapman in Darlington Town Centre. Picture: Sarah CaldecottJenny Chapman in Darlington Town Centre. Picture: Sarah Caldecott

That has been Labour’s number one priority recently: avoiding a no-deal exit.

The borough of Darlington voted 56 per cent to leave, but Ms Chapman’s constituency is smaller, shorn of the more Conservative-minded villages, so she feels her town electorate could have voted 52 to per cent to leave.

“Darlington is divided,” she says. “Many people say they want to leave yesterday without a deal, and I understand why they say that. I had a very interesting conversation last weekend with a woman in Harrowgate Hill who said that. I explained that if I voted for no-deal and thousands of my constituents lost their jobs that would be on my conscience for life, and I’m not prepared to do that.

“That conversation with her ended well.

“Anyone who tells you no-deal is going to be a clean break is lying to you or is seriously misguided. Immediately, we leave with no-deal we would have to negotiate on issues such as security, intelligence sharing, data, ports, agriculture, chemicals.

“And the idea that we are ready to leave without a deal in six weeks is insane. We don’t have the infrastructure, the IT, the trained people. It would be catastrophic.”

So when the Prime Minister offered Jeremy Corbyn the election he had been demanding for months, Labour voted against it.

“I do want a general election, but not at any cost,” says Ms Chapman. “Had we allowed that election to take place, I believe Boris Johnson would have manipulated the timetable, which he has the power to do, in order to leave without a deal without democratic consent. The danger was he would have pushed the date back to after October 31 – look at what he has done over prorogation.”

At least people understand what Mr Johnson is driving at, even if they don’t admire his kamikaze steering. What is Labour driving at if the leader wants to take his hands off the wheel and be neutral in a second referendum.

“We are not neutral,” says the shadow minister who, with the Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer, is charged with establishing the party’s position. “Jeremy Corbyn wants to remain neutral is very different from the Labour Party remaining neutral.”

The party’s position is offering a second referendum, in which a “credible leave option” will be pitted against remain.

“I would vote remain,” she says. “I find it very difficult to contemplate a deal that is negotiable now that would be better than remaining.

“Not everyone agrees with that – one of my best friends voted leave, my stepdad voted leave, so I’m not someone who lives in a remain bubble – and I would go with whatever the outcome of the referendum was.”

You can hear Humphrys’ voice becoming exasperated: if you want to remain why not go the whole hog with the LibDems and revoke Article 50?

“To revoke would be an insult to the 17.4m people who voted to leave,” says Ms Chapman. “There’s a large number of people who voted remain who would also find revoking a problem – I couldn’t support it and I voted remain.

“We got here through a democratic vote and the only way to proceed is through another democratic vote.”

She shares people’s exasperation with the time Brexit is taking to resolve. “This issue is not what brought anyone that I know into Labour politics,” she says. “We came in to eradicate poverty, provide opportunity, invest in public services not to spend three years rowing about a trade deal.”

And she becomes most passionate – outspoken even – when talking about the day-to-day local issues that she helps her constituents with: the move of the cattle mart from Bank Top, and the 4,500 over-75s in Darlington who are about to lose their free TV licence – “this is a massive issue”.

She is really seeing red over mental health provision. “I’m on the warpath,” she says. “We have children waiting 18 months for an autism diagnosis. If you are eight and waiting that long without support, you will never get that time back – it is outrageous.

“I’ve had a girl in my office who had been cutting herself, she had cuts up her arm, and she had been turned away by CAMS (child and adolescent mental health service) because her problems are not severe enough!

“I’ve visited a school in Murton where their Place2Be scheme is the best example of a preventative approach (to mental health) and the fact that that is not available in any school in Darlington is a real shame. Darlington has not been anywhere near ambitious enough in what it provides, and I don’t see a sense of urgency.”

Of course, such issues do not make an entertainingly combative interview on national breakfast radio as Brexit gobbles up the broadcasters’ bandwidth and bogs down the government.

“We’ve seen cuts in virtually every service and that’s now starting to show,” she concludes. “You can feel the fabric of the town is going in the wrong direction, and the only way I know to change that is to get a change in government.”