New Sheffield MP Gill Furniss says she will be “own woman”

Labour politician Gill Furniss, widow of Harry Harpham wins his former seat in Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough.
Labour politician Gill Furniss, widow of Harry Harpham wins his former seat in Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough.
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GILL FURNISS will take over the Parliamentary seat of her late husband Harry Harpham in a fitting tribute to his career cut tragically short earlier this year.

Yet the life-long Labour activist insists she is very much her “own woman” and cannot wait to get started in Westminster holding the Government to account over the declining steel industry, lack of manufacturing jobs in Sheffield and rights for disabled people.

On Monday she will get a train to London after a whirlwind two months on the campaign trail in Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough - the seat held by her partner until February.

Former miner Harry was elected in the May 2015 General Election for the Labour Party and took over the seat from former Home Secretary David Blunkett. He passed away from cancer in February 2016 aged 61, and spoke in Parliament just two weeks before his death on the steel industry.

His passing happened so quickly that Gill said they had never discussed her standing for the seat or a future career in Westmisnter, however after spending nearly two decades on Sheffield City Council and with the encouragement of family and friends she thought it was her time to make her mark.

She said: “We were hopelessly optimistic that he would get better. We knew it was a terminal disease but certainly we thought he would have a longer time than he did. We never spoke about it, but I did not have to talk to him to know that he would have wanted me to do this.

“It felt right last year that it was his time, but on this occasion friends suggested to me that it might be my time. He would have been enormously proud, and thought no one else would have been good enough to follow in his footsteps!”

As a life-long trade unionist and city councillor, Gill said she and her late partner had much in common, and after a seven year relationship they married three years ago at Sheffield Town Hall.Harry also sat on the council and was former deputy leader.

“Sheffield Town Hall played a big part in our lives,” said Gill, who is also celebrating the election of Harry’s 25-year-0ld son Kieran, who won Broomhill ward in Sheffield for Labour on Friday.

The Sheffield by-election involved candidates from across the political spectrum with Gill taking 14,087 votes for Labour and second place Steven Winstone for UKIP taking 4,497 votes.

Shaffaq Mohammed, Liberal Democrat took 1,385, Spencer Pitfield, Conservative took 1,267, Christine Gilligan, Green, 938, Stevie Manion, Yorkshire First, 349 and Bobby Smith, Give Me Back Elmo fathers’ rights group took, 58 votes.

Turnout was lower with 33% of the electorate voting compared with 55% in 2015, however there was a slight breakaway from UKIP for Labour as they took 62% of the votes compared to 56% in 2015.

On Monday Gill will travel to London with fellow Sheffield MP Paul Blomfield who represents the Central constituency and get straight to work.

She will join the all parliamentary group on Kashmir, as many of her new constituents come from the region.

She said: “I am focused on the needs of the people of Sheffield. Steel is a priority because it is our heritage. It is something that people are very proud of and I do think I have got a window of opportunity to hang on to as many manufacturing jobs in Sheffield as well.

“My heart also goes out to disabled people who are suffering under this Government. My mum was disabled and the cuts people have experienced to their benefits particuarly grieves me and I will be shouting out very loudly on that.”