A Silent Promotion For Pound
The usually vocal Ealing North Labour MP explains why he now has to shut up
My Parliamentary career can be described as, at best, utterly inglorious and whatever sterling qualities I can discern in myself are invisible to those whose opinions really count.
Admittedly I have been given preferment on three occasions but have felt the need to resign soon after in each case so I was not holding my breath when Ed Miliband drew up his Ministerial team over the weekend.
Having been a supporter of Ed’s from the very beginning and as one who genuinely believes that he has the very special qualities to both lead his Party and – ultimately – to serve our country as Prime Minister I may have been excused from a faint hope that I would finally get the nod but bitter experience has become etched deep into my soul.
Last Friday I was at the Holiday Inn in Brentford with the amazing Judith Finlay, Director of Children and Families at Ealing Council, on a warm Autumnal evening and I never suspected for a moment that the call might come.
I should, for the sake of Judith’s reputation, point out that there were several hundred other people present at the Holiday Inn as we were there for the annual foster carers’ awards where some of the most noble and selfless people in the borough were being formally recognised for their immense contribution to the betterment of so many young people!
Suddenly Ed called and offered me a shadow Ministerial position in the Whips’ Office and I felt as if I’d been knocked me cold with the traditional eel skin full of sand that is the long established weapon of choice along the banks of the Thames at Brentford.
I considered the offer at length and in depth for three seconds before I accepted and started on Monday.
The Whips are the people who are responsible for all Parliamentary business and have to organise debates in the chamber as well as in scores of standing committees, special committees and select committees.
They have to support Members by providing assistance and advice as well as sitting with the appropriate departmental ministers on the front bench.
On the down side – whips cannot speak on the floor of the House except when in opposition and in a very limited number of areas. They cannot sign Early Day Motions and cannot comment on policy issues publicly – again except in very non-political areas.
Life as a secular monk now beckons and my devoted admirers – both of them - in Ealing North will be seeing and hearing a lot less of me in the media (cheers echo from the heights of Horsenden Hill to the banks of the Brent) and I will have to rein in my exuberance in future.
I have responsibility for a group of MPs in the North West which apparently includes Manchester and Liverpool. As one who only knows these areas from miserable journeys to the wide range of teams who regularly beat Fulham (although we did once see off Man. United 1-3 at Old Trafford) I am having to come to terms with the idiosyncrasies and cultural challenges of the North West in a way that I can never have imagined.
Life in the office here at Westminster is going to have to change somewhat. I’m used to being pretty active on the “patch” and actually enjoy the constituency engagements more than almost any part of my job.
I’ll keep doing the Friday evening and Monday morning advice surgeries as well as the Saturday riving “surgeries “ but I now have to spend rather more time in the chamber and in committee than has been my way of working until now.
The only question that I seriously considered when the job was offered related to a possible diminution of my wholehearted commitment to the people – all the people – of Ealing North.
They will appreciate that Parliament has to function and that someone has to do the work but will they be OK with this when I have to decline some of the constituency engagements that I have never before missed, and would not want to be absent from?
I’ve concluded that the job of an opposition whip is always important to democracy but that it has never been so important as it is today in the context of the Liberal Democrat/Conservative coalition cuts and beneath the long shadows of a potentially lethal assault on public services and welfare provision in our part of the world.
If I have one single priority today it has to be the defence of those who face an assault by the heartless ideologues who are currently running the country.
All intelligent opinion now recognises that the pathetic proposal that the global financial crisis was all somehow the fault of the former Labour government is risible and doesn’t provide a fig-leaf to cover the cuts agenda which is actually more about a distrust of the state than a response to economic conditions. By making Her Majesty’s Opposition work better and more efficiently I will be doing my bit to confront and challenge the cuts that menace us all – especially those in most need.
I couldn’t face the stay-at-home mother who is to lose her child benefit or the pensioner whose winter fuel allowance is under threat or the person physically or mentally incapable of work who will be told to make their own way in the world from now on unless I was straining every sinew to protect them.
The fact that I’ll be doing some of this work from the whips’ office doesn’t mean that I’ll be giving it any less than my uttermost in the constituency and in confrontation with the coalition.
Dark days lie ahead and I weep for those who lack the comfortable cushion of inherited wealth and a personal fortune. Such people are not my people and I know that Ealing North is not a place where sacrifices are not already being made. I represent decent hard working people who deserve support not assault from their government and I want to see those who need help from the state receive it. That is the mark of a civilised society and I’ll go down fighting the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives if I must but I’ll never give up.
Reproduced with the kind permission of Stephen Pound from an original article published in the Ealing Gazette
October 21 2010