Saturday interview: John Grogan says Labour faces “big taks’ to win next election

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THREE MONTHS have passed since a returning officer declared John Grogan was the new Labour MP for Keighley.

But despite the passage of time he gives the impression he is still coming to terms with the result.

“I’m still trying to work out how I won,” he admits.

“Keighley isn’t a constituency that had lots of students, obviously it has some. The electorate had hardly changed from one election to another.

“The turnout was slightly higher and particularly some young people got enthused by Jeremy [Corbyn]. We did quite well in Ilkley, a lot of people concerned about Europe and so on.

“To be honest I think probably the Tories could have held it if they had recognised it was under threat earlier.”

Keighley is symbolic of the way this year’s general election unfolded in Yorkshire. For the majority of the campaign, Labour insiders were whispering about the likely loss of seats including Dewsbury, Wakefield and Halifax.

But election night saw Labour defy expectations. hold all its seats and win Sheffield Hallam, Leeds North West, Colne Valley and Keighley.

“At one minute to 10 (on election night) you could still bet on me at 8-1, so it was only when the exit poll came out I thought it was prudent to write an acceptance speech,” he says.

Mr Grogan’s wafer-thin majority of 249 votes puts him in an elite group of three MPs since the war to win two different seats by fewer than 500 votes.

Previously the MP for Selby, his first spell in the Commons came to a close in 2010 as a result of boundary changes.

After that “natural end” Mr Grogan spent time pursuing interests including chairing the Mongolian British Chamber of Commerce.

The 2015 election saw Mr Grogan attempt to return by standing in Keighley, encouraged by former Labour MP for the area Ann Cryer, only to lose to Conservative incumbent Kris Hopkins, a moment which he expected to be his last participation in frontline politics.

“I thought that was probably that really but then the election was called very rapidly so the party needed candidates really quickly.

“It was out of a sense of duty rather than expectation that I stood. I never thought I’d be in a paid job again, nevermind being an MP.”

After a seven year absence, Mr Grogan spent the few remaining weeks between the election and the summer recess reacquainting himself with Westminster and organising his offices in Parliament and his constituency.

“I appreciate more the privilege than I did the first time of being able to speak on behalf of the people of Keighley and Ilkley in the chamber,” he says.

Mr Grogan, a keen cricket fan, likens acclimatising to the Commons again to a new batsman coming to the crease.

“For the first few weeks I deliberately sat in there just to get the pace of the ball.

“People are quite pleased to see you and I was trying to work out why and I think it is to do with political mortality.

“Most of us know it will end on a platform in defeat, that’s how most political careers end.

“To come back from the dead, as it were, gives everyone hope!”

Looking back to his 2015 defeat, Mr Grogan suggests he was “fortunate” to miss the “bitterness” that engulfed Labour in its internal rows over the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.

The Keighley MP has made no secret of the fact he did not support Mr Corbyn becoming leader although the pair regularly found themselves on the same side during the last Labour government.

“When I was a backbencher before I did rebel a few times and Jeremy and John McDonnell, I organised a few rebellions, they were always the first names on the team sheet really whatever the rebellion was.

“There’s all the cliches about how he surprised everyone by the vigour of his [general election]campaign and he did energise sections of the electorate, particularly young people.

“I think the next bit is the hardest bit, to get a majority, It was a stunning performance really but the next bit will be a different battle, probably with a different Tory leader, they won’t be as bad again. On the brink of power we will be scrutinised more than we were.”

To illustrate his point, Mr Grogan tells of meeting six bus drivers in his constituency and discovering only one had voted for him and the other five had absttained or voted Conservative.

“My good friend [Hemsworth MP] Jon Trickett writes a lot about the working class vote and Labour and how we have lost a lot since the height of Blairism.

“One of the stories of the last election was in seats in South Yorkshire in the Midlands - and it was reflected in Keighley as well - we did better in middle class areas than working class areas.

“To win again, to win a majority we’ve got to persuade Keighley bus drivers that I am their man. There’s a lot of marginal seats where that working class vote is crucial.

“I think it can be done but I think we have to start from the assumption as a party that whenever the election comes the Tories will be twice as good as last time and have a leader who turns up to debates. It’s a big task.”

With a slim majority and the chance of another election soon, Mr Grogan insists he is “philosophical” about how long his second Commons spell may last.

“I’m 4-3 up when it comes to elections. I’m 56 now and one more will do it so the worst it could be is a score-draw!”