When I first heard that Labour MP David Hamilton was standing down after 14 years as MP for Midlothian I went to find him. He was in the queue in the tea room. I told him that Parliament will be a poorer place without him and said he shouldn’t leave without telling his story. It’s a common misconception today that politicians all went to the same schools and share the same backgrounds. That isn’t true and I thought Davey owed it to other people from working class backgrounds who might not believe they could ever become an MP to talk about the remarkable route he took from the pit to Parliament. He looked at me sceptically. I could tell that he bought the argument but modesty would prevent him from doing so.
Fortunately I got a second chance to persuade him last Friday when Davey and I were lucky enough to speak at Ed Miliband’s Doncaster North social. Davey gave an incredibly powerful speech. I pinched his speaking notes and if he won’t tell his story, I’d like to summarise what he said on Friday. This is my recollections of his words, based on notes he used as a guide, and any mistakes are mine not his. I can’t possibly do justice to his speech or his life in a short blog but I wanted to do what little I could to celebrate Davey Hamilton’s contribution to politics.
Davey left school in 1965 and went down the first of four pits he would work at on his sixteenth birthday. He was involved in the miners’ strikes of 1972 and 1974 and the monumental dispute that began in 1984. Davey was arrested for alleged assault during the strike and imprisoned for two months without trial. When his case eventually came before a jury it took them all of 25 minutes to find him not guilty; he found out later the jury spent 15 of those 25 minutes electing a chairman. Incidentally, Davey was represented by a Tory lawyer who shared his disgust at the way the legal system was being abused to persecute striking miners. After his release he was blacklisted, like so many other men, and didn’t work for two and a half years. Davey told the Doncaster audience on Friday that was the lowest he’s ever been. Unlike many sacked miners, he did return to work – as a landscape gardener, gardening supervisor, training officer, placement officer, manager and chief executive. He was elected a councillor in 1995 and in 2001 became a Member of Parliament representing Midlothian, where he was born and raised.
When Ed Miliband, who was then Environment Secretary, asked Davey to be his Parliamentary Private Secretary in 2008, Davey thought it was a case of mistaken identity. He’d voted against the Government on issues including Iraq and detention without trial. He told Ed he wouldn’t be a bag carrier or a yes man and he was true to his word, speaking out at meetings where others might have stayed silent. It’s worth repeating what Davey said about Ed on Friday. After thirty years in the trade union movement and frontline politics, it was the first time in many years he’d met someone who had a vision of what our country should look like. “For the first time in years”, he recalled, “I was talking to someone who put a bit of fire in my belly”.
Davey is standing down as an MP because he says he knows it’s the right time to go and we have to respect his decision, but I will miss having him as a colleague at a time when we need more working-class representation in Parliament. Ed Miliband has started the future candidates training to ensure more people from under represented backgrounds enter Parliament for Labour. He’s also changed the rules to ensure that the Labour Party has a direct relationship with the three million individual trade union members who are affiliated to our Party.
We have candidates standing from all walks of life standing for Labour at the next election. We have former teachers, candidates who’ve started their own businesses, who’ve run charities and a woman in Sophy Gardner who has served her country as an RAF Wing Commander. It’s right we have a diverse group of people who want to represent Labour in Parliament. And it’s right that where Davey has been others will follow, like ex travel agent Lisa Forbes who is standing for Labour in Peterborough or former shop worker Lee Sheriff, our candidate in Carlisle. Labour will never let our politics be the preserve of an elite. Last week Ed Miliband was asked by a secondary school pupil if you have to be a member of a certain class to go into politics. Davey Hamilton answered that question far more eloquently on Friday than anyone else ever could.