'We've got to rediscover the love in the Labour Party movement,' says Veteran MP Barry Sheerman

Veteran Yorkshire MP Barry Sheerman has revealed he was spurred on to go into politics by the tragic death of his first daughter, at birth prompting him to want to “change the world”.

Barry Sheerman, MP for Huddersfield. Photo: JPI Media

Mr Sheerman, who has been the Labour MP for Huddersfield since 1979, said the period of what would now be called depression, after his first baby with wife Pamela was born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus, caused him to want to make a difference and pushed him into what is now a long political career. And he was insistent young people today should still consider the career.

Mr Sheerman was a university lecturer at the time, after being encouraged to study by his wife and work colleagues at ICI.

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He said: “I was doing pretty well, I was quite proud of myself. And it's really interesting this is partly my values, I suppose, but everything can go wonderfully in life and then it doesn't.

“And our first baby died at birth.

“And so that really happy picture was really changed, I was very supportive of my wife obviously, it's horrible to get a full term baby that was spina bifida, hydroceph.

“And she died at birth, and I tried to be a strong partner for about six months then I started losing my voice or losing energy.”

Mrs Sheerman encouraged her husband to see the university doctor.

“When I got there he gave me a full medical,” Mr Sheerman said. “And he said: ‘Barry I've given you a full medical, there's nothing wrong with you, but men as well as women when they lose a child go through a period’ and I think he was talking about depression, you know, ‘go through a period of reflection and so on that's what you're going through, but you will come through it’.

“As I went through that I realised I no longer wanted to teach in a university about politics and economics. I wanted to do it. I wanted to change the world.

“A lot of people will be at that moment at some stage where they think, yeah, this is where I would really want to do something really different and that is to serve their community or serving in Parliament.

“If you get to a stage - where most people cross, at some stage - they decide that they want to try and change the world and trying to make the country in which you are living and where your children are growing up a better place.

“This is a place to do it, we still live in a democracy, so getting involved in politics, whether it's local politics, community politics or national politics, it is that crucial time when you decide.”

Mr Sheerman has long been a sketchwriters dream for his emotive outbursts in Parliament.

But he became a viral sensation earlier in 2019 when he took on Attorney General Geoffrey Cox in the Commons over his advice on proroguing Parliament.

Mr Cox had said Parliament was “dead” and had no “moral right” to sit.

But Mr Sheerman fired back: "To come here with his barrister’s bluster, to obfuscate the truth and for a man like him, a party like this and a leader like this, this Prime Minister to talk about morals and morality, is a disgrace.”

Speaking to The Yorkshire Post Mr Sheerman said: “I suppose it was because I'm a very experienced parliamentarian and to just have someone pitch up who is a very successful lawyer, been a very short time in Parliament and then became Attorney General, and then to say, in that kind of plummy voice he has, that this was a dead Parliament, that Parliament had lost its moral compass, it really, really made me very angry and this isn't a Government which should talk about morality.”

Mr Sheerman said he was “happy to talk about morality” and acknowledged that he was passionate, but he felt not rude.

He said: “Some people said it was a rant. I just thought it was passionate.

“I felt really affronted that a Minister representing the Government would say the reason why we're in this difficulty is because of a dead Parliament that has lost its way, I don't think that is true.

“Parliament has been doing what we're supposed to do, represent the people, the feelings of people in this country. And the feelings of the people of this country have led to a stalemate, because it is about 50/50.”

He added: “We must find some answers somewhere in the middle, about how we sort this out.”

For Mr Sheerman, he felt this had to come through parliamentary colleagues showing each other a bit more love, referring to a visit Michael Foot made to Huddersfield.

He said: “We had a massive turnout of people and he was speaking at Fraternity Hall

“He was one of those wonderful speakers to talk about the party being founded on liberty and equality - we did quite well on those - but what was most difficult was fraternity, which is a kind of male term these days and some of my female colleagues don't like it but what he was talking about was a kind of ability to love each other and get along with each other in a friendly way.

“And I used it funnily enough at the party conference. I said we in the movement, the Labour movement, have got to rediscover the love element, there's nothing wrong with a bit of love in a party.”

He said that respect had started to drop away during the 2008/2009 world recession.

He joked: “[It] always irritates me, the Conservatives love to say it was all down to Labour. I didn't know the Labour Party or the Labour government could have been that powerful to cause the world recession.”

And it had only become worse with Brexit.

He added: “I love to have a hard political argument, but it can be done within a certain kind of framework.”

On Brexit, Mr Sheerman had done a U-turn, having voted against joining the European Common Market in 1975 referendum.

He said: “I came in and I did my maiden speech in 1979, in which I blamed Europe for lots of our ills. I was anti-Europe. I blamed Europe. People said it was quite a good maiden speech. But I did pin my colours to the mast, I was anti-European.

“So, people now know that and of course I get some nasty remarks on social media, because I said to the Prime Minister at the time, Theresa May, I was at Brexiteer many years ago but over the years as a Member of Parliament I just felt I've seen all the good stuff, the cleanup of the environment and better jobs, wealth creation and security of a good life coming from our association with Europe.

“So I changed my mind. And I think it's good that you can change your mind.”

But despite the change in the job, and tensions running high, Mr Sheerman still felt it was worth people making a career in politics.

He said: “One of the things that made me as a very young man want to get into politics and change the world was because it seemed the whole world of British politics should be dominated by old Etonians.

“You know, all of these years later, we're back with the place being run by Old Etonians but I came politics really, because I thought people in this country deserved to have a Government that delivered security, decent incomes, the good life.

“And there's a package of things that add up to the good life.”

He said: “It's a wonderful, wonderful thing to do. People think politics is only getting into Parliament, some wonderful people have made more difference than I have by being exemplary leaders of county councils, turning their local communities around. That's just as valuable as being here. A lot of council leaders who then come into [national] politics find this place frustrating.”

He said: “I chose this path because it happened to be the one that was open at that time, but it's not not the only way. But there is, there is a kind of thing about it, it is a moment. There are moments in everyone's life where they say: ‘You know, what am I doing, why am I doing this, and shouldn't I be doing something else?’.”