I Tried to Do The Intelligent Thing, Not The Obvious Or Easy Thing.
’What’s your most memorable moment as a Member of Parliament?’ A year 3 pupil from Bishop Hedley School asked me this on their visit to Parliament this month. What did I answer? As I retire as an MP; that will be one of them. There are many over 14 years but the 2001 General Election count and declaration has to be the first. It was then that the realisation of, not just the honour and privilege of representing the communities into which I was born and bred, really strikes. The responsibilities are heavy.
If like me you see politics as a collective matter and any promotion of individual interests as secondary; the hard truth is individuals do matter in the processes. Being an MP challenges your abilities to represent all of the communities and all individuals, whether people vote for you or not. MP’s are often vilified and the political process itself often derided; the result being that if you are not interested in individual preferment, interested more in collective advancement and are independent of thought, it can be an emotionally exposed experience. In Westminster I am often regarded as a tribal politician, overly loyal to the Labour Party’s traditions. True I am loyal to the Party and sometimes not convinced by the plans of Parliamentary Party Managers, Whips and the commentariat and media. I make no apology for that even though at times that means working with me can bring its own challenges. Constituents say they want independently minded representatives but with experience, good judgment and decision making skills. I tried to follow a Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney tradition of that. I tried to do the intelligent thing, not the obvious or easy thing.
To do any and all of these things, I needed support and I have to thank the whole of the local Labour Party past and present and particularly my staff who have worked for me and our communities throughout my service as an MP. It has been a roller coaster ride at times but their loyalty and commitment and roots in our communities have made a real difference to many, of which I am only one.
Exercising the judgment to select good people to help me was crucial. Like Kate, Mervyn, Denise and lately Carl and many of the best people I have worked with were and are from our own communities, not the ‘bubble’ of Westminster where there is no monopoly of wisdom. I have been lucky in being able to work in concert with our AM and local Councillors, in Merthyr Tydfil and Caerphilly Councils. In the centenary year of the death of Keir Hardie, John Meredith, who many knew from his local community work, passed away. John was an example from whom I learned and support I valued. There were and are many others from Bill King of the NUM who often acted as a local political conscience to many others from my trade union involvement.
One of the most satisfying experience of working with excellent local people are those individuals who resurrected Cancer Aid Merthyr Tydfil. Everyone needs a little luck at times and as the charity collapsed in 2002 I was able to support them and with some luck found others who, financially, would and could help. Tracey, Doug and their team of professionals and volunteers were the real drivers to build a service to help so many people and opening a purpose built Centre in Dowlais in 2007; making it the best of the best at what it does, shows the quality of our local people.
Many others acted as touchstones and anchors. The primary influence and touchstone was of course my Mam. Mam died in 2006 having seen me elected twice as her MP. In the same way my maternal Grandfather, Aunties and Uncles and my Dad all lived through a different and socially less developed past and still provide me with those touchstones that give a moral compass and political context. In his own way, unknowingly, throughout most of my service so does my (almost 12 year old) God Son Tomos Moran and his sister. So at difficult times you ask; what would they do? What will this do for Tomos’s future?
My period as our MP was in many ways defined by the insecurity of a world which changed dramatically in 2001. Elected in the June many said; with the Assembly in place and the cold-war over, MPs would have little to do. Three months later, September 11th, the Twin Towers and other atrocities saw the political world go upside down. I eventually found a way past the Whips onto the House of Commons Defence Select Committee (HCDC) and that has taken most of my Westminster time and effort. As part of my work on the HCDC, I journeyed to many troubled places but the memories are of the great people I met. The standing joke on the HCDC was that wherever we visited, no matter how remote or risky, I could/would always find a constituent! Our people working to help others is what I found; military and civilian, making a difference not in any narrow nationalist way but applying many of our socialist and internationalist values. No room to list them all here but I thank them all for their comradeship and service; for us and from us to others.
My political contribution in Westminster extended in 2011 when I became a member of Mr Speaker’s Panel of Chairs. Chairing Bills, Westminster Hall Debates, Statutory Instruments and even Primary legislation and the Chamber on one occasion. My interest was to be a custodian of clear good quality legislation in operation; even when I do not agree with its content. That independent application of rigour is not favoured by many with privilege and patronage but necessary for a healthy process of Parliamentary democracy.
Another Bishop Hedley School pupil asked; what now when you retire? The answer is I worked for many years as a Trade Union Official to drive retirement ages down so people could do the things work gets in the way of. No patronage coming my way for certain and no desire to take on another political post. I will retain my interests in defence and play what’s in front of me.
My final political comment and advice is; our politics and elections in Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney have often been almost visceral, refusing to be shaped by others. Electors vote for a Member of the Parliament; it is the Parliament, through the votes of individual MP’s which validates any Government the Monarch asks any party to form. The trend of ‘personality’ politics and ‘Presidential’ Prime Ministerships is a recent, unhealthy construct. Individuals are important but that should be in the context of collective politics and political will. You can’t vote for any individual for Prime Minister – they are not on your ballot paper - and your vote can’t ‘second guess’ the overall results. Vote for a/your Member of the Parliament, their politics and what you think is right. It is for those Representatives then to do the other things. I was honoured and privileged that I was trusted with those responsibilities and I thank you for your forbearance, tolerance and support.