He is one of Britain’s oldest serving politicians...but not for much longer. With his 80th birthday approaching, Austin Mitchell pens his farewell letter as MP for Great Grimsby.
It’s time for me to retire. I’ve served Grimsby for 37 years. That’s longer than any previous MP, and a greater privilege than any Member is really entitled to. So I’ve decided I’m going when this Parliament comes to an end next year to allow the proceedings to select a new Labour candidate to begin. I hope they will hold the Grimsby seat for Labour and continue the fight for a better deal for our town.
I’m not standing down because of any dissatisfaction with the Labour party. I’ve always been pretty independently minded and prepared to vote against my party. MPs should decide things for themselves and not become sheep to be driven through lobbies, but Grimsby and the country need a Labour government to repair the damage done to society by excessive austerity and the unnecessary cuts imposed by a coalition government whose aim is to roll back the state and outsource government functions to agencies.
More than half government spending now goes through private sector bodies like Serco, A4E, S4C and horrible ATOS which take too big a cut for themselves to provide a less efficient service than the state would.
Nor am I in any way discontented with Ed Milliband’s leadership .His strength is that he’s open to new ideas not fixed in a Blairite mould. He’s good on the bread and butter issues which hit ordinary people so hard. He wants to provide a more honest and honourable capitalism than the predatory greedy capitalism we’ve developed in these tax avoiding, accountancy fiddling self enriching days where directors are being paid millions per anum for turning us into a low wage high uncertainty economy with too much production outsourced.
I’m standing down because I’m old and for no other reason. To be honest I’d like to carry on but I’ll be 80 this year and am already the sixth oldest MP in a parliament where the premium is on youth and the average age goes down every election.
I love my ring side seat in the power struggle but I don’t want to fall apart and die in it. A new MP for Grimsby can bring new ideas and a new drive to the tough job of representing the best constituency in the country. Grimsby is a community within a constituency not a slice of somewhere else like most seats
So I’ll carry on until the next election but allowing the party to start selecting now will allow the new Labour candidate, who I hope will become the MP, to bed in and get to know the town and its problems and lead the drive to developing the Humber as the alternative energy focus . If there is a flood of candidates to represent Grimsby (and 600 applied when I was chosen) it might do wonders for the tourist industry.
I’ll be sad to go. Enoch Powell said all political careers end in failure and looking back on the bright hopes of my first election in 1977 in a by-election triggered by the death of former foreign secretary Tony Crosland, I can see that most of my life has been devoted to a rear guard action. Mine failed to stop the Common Fisheries Policy destroying the English fishing industry and has failed, so far, to give the people a vote on coming out of the EU. Membership has been too expensive and too damaging to our industrial and manufacturing base.
My other rearguard action also failed to stop the souring of politics as social democratic norms and Labour’s efforts to build a fairer more equal society were succeeded by Thatcherism, Neo Liberalism, and free market economics which have made society harsher rather than kinder, cut down the role of the state, led to greater unfairness and inequality, and hit the North far harder than the South
I’ve had a few successes, like bringing down the cost of conveyancing by ending the solicitors monopoly, or getting first redundancy and then compensation for the thousands of fishermen who lost their jobs when we stopped fishing in Iceland. I might even have reconciled Grimsby and Yorkshire and ended the old fishing rivalry .
When I was first elected there were friendly signs saying ‘Death to all Yorkies’ and ‘Yorkies prepare your coffins’ and there were loud objections when Yorkshire Forward became our development agency. Hopefully those days are gone and people recognise that our economic interests and future lie with the North and the West not south though I can never be quite sure because we’ve stayed with the Lincolnshire Local Enterprise Partnership as well as being part of the Hull and Humber’s
What we need now is a reversal of the massive process of centralisation and to give the north the structures, the money, and the power to improve its own fortunes rather than having everything dictated from London by the failed political class which clusters there.
If politics is kicking the can down the road then it’s time for someone else to give it a more energetic kicking than I can. I’ve done my best and this will be a fighting retreat because I’m not going to give up working, writing, and campaigning for a better and more equal society.
I will keep fighting for full employment, and for the reversal of those trends which have reduced the share of Britain’s GDP going to wages and salaries by 10 per cent with that share being transferred to wealth and the big corporations. I’ll continue to shout that message even though my voice will be rather less loud and my march somewhat slower after the next election.