The issues in this election are vital to all Londoners, and especially those living in our two boroughs.
The acute shortage of affordable housing, the state of public transport – especially the delays in the tube modernisation, reductions in bus services and high fares, cuts in policing and the state of the London economy all amount to a damning indictment of the Conservative administration at City Hall under Boris Johnson. It is appalling that unemployment is above the national average with so many young people without work and with little hope for the future, often saddled with debt.
The May 2012 elections will be the opportunity for Londoners to express their frustration with Boris Johnson and the London Assembly member for Barnet & Camden, Brian Coleman. These elections will also give Londoners their first chance to respond in the ballot box to the broken promises of the Conservative and Lib Dem coalition Government and their policy of draconian cuts which have hit people in both boroughs hard. It will be the chance to stand up for the NHS against wholesale Conservative privatisation too. So I will be standing in this election to expose the record of the Conservatives and to advance Labour’s positive message for London.
Now a few words about me and my background. Many people throughout the two Boroughs know of me and my record as MP for Hendon for 13 years from 1997 to 2010, but my personal history explains where my beliefs, values and political enthusiasms originate.
I grew up by the seaside in Bridlington, East Yorkshire. My family were all in politics – my grandfather, father and mother were all town councillors – my father had a fatal accident on Council business when I was 11. My mother was Mayor. I became the first in my family to go to university – Warwick – to study law. I came to London in 1975 as a post-graduate law student at the LSE. I’ve been in London ever since.
With two law degrees, I decided the last thing I wanted to become was a lawyer! I worked for what is now the GMB trade union. But eventually, I went back to law school at Guilford and qualified as a solicitor. I specialised in representing injured workers (and their unions). My most ‘famous’ cases included the Kings Cross Fire and the Zeebrugge Ferry Disaster.
In 1982 I was living in Paddington and won my first election, to be a local Councillor in Westminster. Little did I realise that this would lead to me playing my part, as Leader of the Council’s Labour Group, in exposing the biggest act of corruption in local government’s history: the Conservatives’ ‘Homes for Votes’ scandal, under their infamous leader Dame Shirley Porter.
In 1997, I became the first Labour MP in Hendon since 1945. I was re-elected in 2001 and in 2005, and narrowly lost in 2010 by a mere 106 votes out of over 48,000.
Much of my first two terms were taken up with health campaigns, especially to rebuild Edgware Hospital which had been closed by the Conservatives just before the 1997 election. This was completed in 2005, with the £40million opening of the new flagship building and the creation of the very popular new hospital..
I developed a reputation as a private members’ Bill expert, too. My first, Holocaust Memorial Day, was taken up by the Government, and is now part of the national calendar. I introduced a Corporate Manslaughter Bill, which helped push the Government into promoting their own Bill, now law. My third, the Divorce (Religious Marriages) Bill became law, helping resolve problems concerning Jewish divorce. I also promoted a Bill to clarify the Human Rights Act, so as to apply it to private care homes.
In 2005, I was appointed Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. For far too long, human rights had been the preserve of the lawyers and got a bad reputation as a result. As a ‘reformed’ lawyer, I worked to change this approach, to show that human rights are for all, especially the vulnerable. This was shown by our controversial but very effective inquiries into the treatment of the elderly in hospitals and the care system, on services for adults with learning disabilities, and on people trafficking for example.
I also served on the Standards and Privileges Committee – our way of policing the activities of MPs: and on the powerful Liaison Committee, the committee of committee chairs – who question the Prime Minister at length, twice a year.
Since leaving Westminster, I have been spearheading a campaign on access to justice, against some of the changes the coalition government are planning to introduce which will make it much harder for ordinary people to defend their rights.
Now I have moved on from Parliament, I am looking forward to winning the election for Labour next year, and playing a full role on the GLA, to fight for the people of Barnet and Camden and for Londoners as a whole.
Labour’s candidate for the London Assembly for Barnet & Camden