I have been touched by the nice things that people have said about me (those that think otherwise have mercifully remained silent) since my announcement that I was not standing for re-election. But it does feel like having your obituary written whilst still fully conscious. I am in fact very much alive and kicking and, contrary to some expectations, remain a loyal member of the Labour Party. The whips can be assured that I do not intend to be “demob” happy and over the next one, two or three years, I will be expressing my loyalty in exactly the same way as I have since first being elected as a Labour councillor in 1980!
Being typecast as a rebel was never what I wanted but the inevitable consequence of short-sighted policies like cutting lone parent benefits to save £65million on a budget that ended up £1billion underspent or, worst still, following Bush to war in Iraq. Though I have occasionally been given the chance to actually defend Government policy (usually in a science related area) and was even once praised by Alastair Campbell for my performance, sadly, I see no likelihood that the expected change in the top job will increase the receptiveness to my sort of friendly scrutiny and help reduce the hard slog of being a backbench critic. After 15 years in Parliament and being nearer 60 than 50, it felt like time for a change. I definitely fancy working less than 75 hours a week, something I know I would not be able to do whilst retaining this job.
It has been a real privilege to represent the wonderfully diverse constituency of Selly Oak for so long and I have been greatly enriched by the experience. Both the ward I represented as a councillor and the constituency were hard-won from the Tories and I am particularly proud of hanging on to my council seat in the year of the Falklands war, when so many safer seats were lost – I have never felt new Labour had much to teach me about winning elections. The boundary changes left new constituencies that have less appeal and, to put it mildly, the Blair inheritance is a weakened Party devoid of so many of its most committed and active former members. I am especially grateful to those that remained and have been such a support to me in my present constituency and to those in the new constituency who told me they were looking forward to having a “real” Labour MP. I know some feel let down by my decision but they are the reason I have remained in the Labour Party too. Despite efforts to woo me away, I still feel that the Labour Party is the only party that can achieve the fairer and more equal society that I long for and I am encouraged by the commitment being shown by some of the next generation of Labour politicians. I sincerely hope we see a Labour Government after the next election but one that can restore trust in our Party and faith in our democratic institutions. I stand ready to help!