Sheffield metro mayor Dan Jarvis says his 'unbearably tough' Army life and the ‘terribly difficult’ process of grieving for his first wife have given him strength to succeed in getting Yorkshire-wide devolution, Arj Singh reports.
“It’s never going to be quite how it was in Helmand in 2007, and that’s a good thing by the way,” says Dan Jarvis.
He has taken on a job many see as impossible - uniting Yorkshire’s 20 councils under one banner to create a powerhouse region with powers and money wrested from sceptical Ministers in Westminster.
But it pales in comparison to his struggles before politics, which the Sheffield City Region mayor entered in tragic circumstances.
Following the death of his first wife Caroline from bowel cancer at the age of 43 in 2010, the then-single father of two quit the Army after a distinguished career as a paratrooper serving on the brutal frontlines of Iraq and Afghanistan, before fighting and winning the 2011 Barnsley Central by-election for Labour.
This year, he felt he had a “duty” to step forward for the Sheffield job to help Yorkshire take advantage of an “amazing” devolution opportunity.
Nailing his colours firmly to the mast of a “One Yorkshire” deal, he appeared to have taken on a daunting task.
But Mr Jarvis says he has drawn “strength and experience” from a life that has given him “the perfect apprenticeship for difficult things”.
He tells The Yorkshire Post: “I’ve not had an easy time of it over the past ten years or so.
“Life in Afghanistan was unbearably tough and that gives you a sense of perspective, in that whatever you do in this job, whatever people say, it’s never going to be quite how it was in Helmand in 2007, and that’s a good thing by the way.
“The process of bereavement, it’s terribly hard, terribly hard.
“I just think that you go through those things and it kind of gives you a perspective, it gives you an experience, and it gives you a kind of sense of understanding that life can be difficult but you’ve just got to keep going, be clear about what you want to achieve and get on with it and work constructively with people to make it happen.
“That has been my life approach.”
Mr Jarvis rejects suggestions that he took on the task in Sheffield to follow Labour “moderates” like Andy Burnham, out of Westminster when it became clear that left-leaning Jeremy Corbyn was unassailable as leader, pointing out he is still an MP.
Instead, he insists his “whole life has been underpinned by public service”.
Mr Jarvis says: “I knew the Army wouldn’t be easy and it wasn’t, it was very hard, but I believed in it.
“A set of circumstances meant that I had to leave and I believe in this, I believe in the value of public service.
“It’s tough, but it’s incredibly rewarding - I walked through Sheffield the other day and people were high-fiving me, because they were pleased for me, and that’s great.”
Mr Jarvis remarried, to Rachel in 2013, and now counts himself “incredibly lucky” to have a “wonderful” and “incredibly supportive” family.
“But this (job) is tough, there’s a pressure on me, there’s a responsibility to deliver, it’s a very difficult complicated situation that we have here with devolution at the moment.
“I might not be able to, but I’m going to give it my best shot.”
Once touted as a future Labour leader, Mr Jarvis still sees the big picture, warning that his party has “neglected” working class voters.
“We need to make sure that we are of them, with them, that we understand many of the concerns that frankly were represented during the Brexit debate,” he says.
Mr Jarvis says Mr Corbyn’s much-maligned responses to the chemical attacks in Salisbury and Syria, in which he was reluctant to blame Russia and Bashar Assad’s regime respectively, did not come up on the doorstep in this month’s disappointing local elections for Labour.
But in what may be seen as a veiled criticism, Mr Jarvis warns that voters expect Labour to “have a foreign policy that is cognisant of the risks and the threats that we as a country face”.
He says it will always be incumbent on Labour to have a view of the world and its challenges “in line with where the public are.”
If anyone knows about challenges, it’s Mr Jarvis.