AFTER 18 years in the political wilderness, Leeds North East MP Fabian Hamilton has landed his dream job following Jeremy Corbyn’s reshuffle with a Labour top brass phone call to say ‘we’re counting on you’.
The life-long anti-Trident campaigner will be working alongside fellow Leeds MP Hilary Benn as a junior shadow foreign office minister following the Labour leader’s drawn-out reorganisation of his team.
Mr Hamilton, 60, said he was stunned to get a call late on Wednesday night to fill the vacancy left when Welsh MP Stephen Doughty resigned over the reshuffle and what he described as ‘the old politics of smears’.
“[Shadow chancellor] John McDonnell said ,I hope you are going to do this because we are counting on you. He was very warm and effusive.
“I was rather surprised to be asked after 18 and a half years,” said Mr Hamilton, a fluent French speaker who has travelled extensively during his decade on the Foreign Affairs Select Committee.
His strong views against nuclear weapons are in line with Mr Corbyn’s and the leadership’s clear attempt to harmonise the shadow team as they carry out a defence review on what the Labour party’s stance should be on Trident.
While he will not be directly involved in the review, headed by former London mayor Ken Livingstone, his anti-proliferation stance was part of the reason he was in line for a shadow cabinet seat.
He said his views do not mean that he is a ‘loony leftie’ as they might have done in the late 1980s, when the battle over whether Labour should drop their anti-nuclear arms policy split the party.
Former Labour leader Neil Kinnock eventually scrapped the policy after two General Election defeats in 1983 and 1987.
“I’m not a loony leftie nutter. I just can’t see the logic in maintaining such a weapons system,” said Mr Hamilton, who said there was a belief that Labour would have left the country wide open to invasion back in the 1980s.
“Now I think that my view is much more mainstream. Get rid of them, don’t scrap them tomorrow, but phase them out.
“I came to the conclusion many years ago that nuclear weapons were the most obscene thing ever invented. You can say that we will not proliferate them and not develop them in the first place. That’s an idealistic view, I accept that.”
He said his new job will vastly change his work in Westminster, as he is now in charge of Labour’s response on counter proliferation, Nato, the UN, and overseeing policy in Africa, India, Nepal and the Falklands. International wildlife theft is another policy area sent his way, which he admits he knows less about than the political situation in Nepal, where he helped to oversee the country’s general election in 2013.
The conflict in Kashmir is also on his list of policy areas to get stuck into.
He said: “Issues in Kashmir are very hot in my constituency – I’ve been dealing with that for 18 years.”
As one of the few MPs in the shadow cabinet elected in the 1997 Tony Blair landslide election, Mr Hamilton said it was good to see Labour searching for who was best fitted to a role, as he has also most recently served on the International Development Committee.
He said: “At last the leadership of our party is looking at its resources and people, and who is experienced.
“I’ve never had a front-bench role. It’s quite staggering. I turned 60 least year and I was elected when I was 42 and lots of my colleagues who got promoted pretty quickly to Parliamentary under-secretaries of state and so forth and they became members of the Government and it never happened for me.”
However he has always known Mr Corbyn, and the pair go back several decades, from when he served on the Parliamentary Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament group, which Mr Corbyn chaired.
The pair were also on the executive committee of the body which makes sure Parliament is meeting its democratic standards.
Mr Hamilton joked that they also shared a love of cycling, and Mr Corbyn once offered to take him on a bike tour of Islington after he cycled to Parliament once from Leeds. At the time, he was too tired to take up the offer.
However, full of energy for his new job, he said: “I’m very excited. You never know what’s going to happen next. You think you’re in a rut, and then everything changes.”