Jayne Dowle: Barnsley will vote for an MP who is one of us

In Barnsley, what we want from our Member of Parliament is the same as what anyone else wants. An honest, committed individual who represents our interests. We're no different from any other constituency, but then again, we are. Not least because the forthcoming by-election, prompted by the conviction of Eric Illsley for expenses fraud, has the potential to make a huge impression on the political landscape.

It couldn't be coming at a more interesting time. The candidates' list is yet to be unveiled, but it is anticipated that it will be long and indicative of a population which feels let down by the performance of mainstream politicians. It will, inevitably, represent some extreme ideological fringes, but even if David Cameron himself turns up to kiss babies and dodge placard-wavers, we'll end up with another Labour MP.

It is unlikely that anyone could overturn the majority of 11,093 which Illsley achieved in May. Although, it is interesting to note that following the boundary changes last year, the Barnsley Central seat now takes in part of the old Barnsley West and Penistone constituency. The further out of the town centre you go, away from the old coalfields and into farming country, the more complex political persuasions become. And, it must be said, Labour's hold over voter loyalty has been steadily dropping at every General Election since the heady days of 1997, when its majority was 24,501, one of the highest in Britain.

But the big question is, what kind of MP do we want? A local one, that's for sure. Ask anyone, and they will tell you that they don't want some unknown parachuted in from afar. We instinctively know that only a locally-based – and, if possible, locally-born – MP can truly understand us.

Even my husband says that, and he is from Surrey. This is, of course, a prime chance for Ed Miliband to seek out and showcase a shortlist of up-and-coming young Labour stars. But before he sends them out in Barnsley on the campaign trail, he better get on Genes Reunited and check that they have at least one grandparent from round these parts.

It is a chance too for the party leader to carry on some serious empire-building. Almost as soon as he became party leader last autumn, Miliband appointed the new MP for Barnsley East, Michael Dugher, a Shadow Defence Minister. His own constituency is only a few miles away, in Doncaster North, and his chief whip is Rosie Winterton, the seasoned MP for Doncaster Central. Then, of course, there are Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper a few miles up the M1 in Pontefract and south Leeds. Although that particular situation has its complexities, there is clearly an opportunity here to build a strong power base in this part of Yorkshire.

Undoubtedly, there is strength in numbers, especially in Opposition. And constituents shouldn't under-estimate that. But for now, what we care about most is the choice of who we have to vote for. Personally, I'd be keen to see a woman in the job, simply because we have never had a female MP from Barnsley. I'd especially like to see her challenge a few of the "Barnsley" stereotypes rife in Westminster and the national media. But I'm not advocating an all-woman shortlist. First and foremost, like many of the people I have spoken to, I want an MP who will speak for us.

I want them to put us first, at all times. But I want them also to get across the anger at public sector job losses, stalled regeneration projects and lack of economic growth, not just for Barnsley, but for the scores of similar towns across Britain. Barnsley is unique in many ways, often for reasons which attract patronising and outdated views from those who know nothing about us. But in many others, it crystallises the problems and challenges which affect so many other places - from the former mining villages on the Northumbrian coast to the Lancashire mill-towns, to the ravaged post-industrial West Midlands and the Welsh Valleys. This by-election is an absolute opportunity for candidates to come out and say what millions of ordinary people already believe: that the present government has no sympathy or understanding for towns like ours.

So here's the job spec. Honest, outspoken, compassionate, a good listener, and responsive to local people. For many in Barnsley, the concept of "politics" has become a distant one. But we are not, as common belief would have it, an apathetic town, disaffected by political issues. Our passionate protests over the pit closures should prove that. However, in recent years, many of us have felt left behind by and disconnected from what happens in the House of Commons.

Our new MP should have the ability to reignite that passion and to inspire us to stand up for ourselves. That is why it is so important that whoever we end up with is one of us. So, let's see them shopping in the market, visiting our theatres, catching the train from the station, and, of course, shouting for Barnsley on the terraces at Oakwell – as well as on the green benches in Westminster.

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