BIG GUNS LEAVING PARLIAMENT.
This Easter weekend may see a pause in this relentless and everlasting General Election campaign. So it seems an appropriate moment to reflect on the careers of those northern MPs for whom the dissolution of parliament on Monday meant the end of their Commons careers.
The three titans to call it a day are Jack Straw, William Hague and David Blunkett. Straw is the one I knew best. His Blackburn seat has had extraordinary continuity in its parliamentary representation. Barbara Castle was elected in 1945 with Jack replacing her in 1979. Leaving aside his recent fall from grace, Jack Straw has managed to hold the great offices of state whilst still identifying closely with his constituency.
Holding the offices of Home and Foreign Secretary didn’t stop him taking to his soapbox outside Blackburn Town Hall to keep in touch with voters’ views, although he admits to occasionally planting a Labour supporter as a supposed Tory to keep things lively!
His pride in his constituency led to a famous exchange of visits with Condoleezza Rice, the American Secretary of State. In return for Jack visiting Birmingham, Alabama; Ms Rice was introduced to the delights of the East Lancashire town. I interviewed them in a broom cupboard at a local school having told the heavily armed American security guards that there was no room for them too.
That son of Sheffield David Blunkett is also calling it a day. From radical city council leader to hard line Home Secretary, his career has been an inspiration for all disabled people. To read in braille the reams of paper needed to run the Home Office is truly remarkable.
The most surprising retirement to me is that of William Hague. He had politics running through his veins from an early age when as a teenager he reminded the aged representatives at a Tory conference in Blackpool that they wouldn’t be around for much longer. He entered parliament in an extraordinary by election in Richmond (Yorkshire) in 1989. His 19,000 votes were dwarfed by the 28,000 for the Liberals. However those votes were split between the new Lib Dems and the continuing SDP under David Owen which was enjoying its last hurrah. Hague led the Tory Party at its nadir but finished with a flourish as Foreign Secretary and witty Leader of the House.
Salford’s Hazel Blears is leaving parliament but have we heard the last of this flame haired dynamic politician who loves nothing more than getting on her leathers for a bike ride? She unnecessarily split Cheshire in two when she was Communities Secretary and helped destabilise Gordon Brown’s government by her sudden resignation. Nevertheless she has been a force for good and may yet be a candidate for elected mayor for Greater Manchester.
Two leading northern Liberals are also leaving the House. I use the old title because Alan Beith (Berwick) and Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove) were part of the Liberal revival in the 1970s. Beith was one of a number of Liberal by election winners in the early seventies whilst Stunell served on Cheshire County Council before finally taking Hazel Grove in 1997. He was part of the Lib Dem team that negotiated the Coalition and it will be tough for the party to hold the seat following his departure.
St Helens is losing both its MPs. The contrast couldn’t be greater between Dave Watts, heavily identified with the town as council leader, then MP and Shaun Woodward. The latter was a Tory defector parachuted in from Witney who went on to serve as Northern Ireland Secretary.
Two hard working MPs that I’m sorry to see go are Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port) who’s done great work for science and Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton).
Two great champions of devolution for the North, Linda Riordan (Halifax) and Austen Mitchell (Grimsby) won’t be returning to parliament just at a time when more power for our regions might be realised.
Council leaders (Blunkett excepted) often find it difficult to shine at Westminster. That’s been the case with George Mudie. A former leader of Leeds Council, he succeeded the great Denis Healey as MP for Leeds East but only held junior office.
BUT SOME GO ON AND ON.
Michael Meacher(Oldham West) and Gerald Kaufman (Gorton) have already served 45 years each but plan to make it half a century. Kaufman will become Father of the House because he signed the oath of allegiance ahead of Meacher and Denis Skinner when they were new MPs in 1970.
Kaufman will succeed Sir Peter Tapsell who first entered parliament in 1959 when Harold Macmillan was Prime Minister, Hugh Gaitskill led the Labour Party and Winston Churchill was elected for the last time.
CONSTITUENCY FOCUS: PUDSEY.
One of the most marginal seats in Yorkshire, this residential area near Leeds just returned Tory Stuart Andrew in 2010 with a majority of 1659. Fighting the constituency for a second time is Pudsey Town councillor Jamie Hanley. He needs to win to give Ed Miliband any chance of getting into government.