Saturday, 14 March 2015

Features: 'Halifax has always been my priority' - an interview with Linda Riordan MP

Since 2005 Labour MP Linda Riordan has been the elected Member of Parliament for Halifax.

Last month she announced that she will be standing down at this year’s General Election in May due to ill-health.

Mrs Riordan was first elected as Halifax MP in 2005, following her Labour predecessor Alice Mahon’s decision to step down and was re-elected in 2010.

“I’d like to say thank you to the people of Halifax for electing me – twice as an MP and several times as a councillor,” she said.

“In 2010 there weren’t many people who expected me to get re-elected, but Halifax quite often bucks the trend, which I’m extremely grateful for.

“It is an honour and a privilege to be an MP – there are only 650 of us and there a lot of people who want to be one.”


Mrs Riordan has spent the past decade working on behalf of the people of Halifax - from high profile campaigns, such as keeping more than 5,000 Lloyds Banking Group jobs in the town in 2007-08, to helping individuals who contact her on a daily basis.

“My priority has always been Halifax – never London,” she said.

“We’ve had some very good achievements in Halifax.

“Saving jobs at HBOS, fighting for the A&E and getting a direct train line to London – those are all good things, but the real success is when you help individual constituents,” she said.

“The issues that people are coming to see about during my Friday surgeries are about zero-hour contracts and benefits being cut.

“I had one man who came to me and said he loved his job, but he’s on a zero-hours contract.

“He said they’d rung him up to work in Keighley on a Sunday morning. So he travelled on the bus at his own expense, he gets there and is told it’s quiet after an hour so he’s not needed.

“He gets paid for one hour, he’s lost his Sunday, he’s travelled all the way to Keighley and back for one hour’s pay – people can’t live on that,” she said.

“How do you budget? You can’t if you’re on zero-hours.

“It’s us, the taxpayers, who are subsidising these jobs and then the government attacks the benefit claimants as if they’re the wrong ‘uns!”

Mrs Riordan has served under three Prime Ministers during her time in Parliament – Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron.

She said that although she was a passionate Labour supporter, she did not support Tony Blair in his decision to go to war in Iraq.

“It was dreadful. You want to be loyal to your leader as an MP. It’s not a decision you take lightly to vote against your own party, particularly when they’re in government, but there are certain things that I could not support, and that’s a decision that I took,” she said.
“Tony made mistakes, and it wasn’t my politics – we know what his biggest mistake was, and that’s what went wrong for him,” she said.

“When it comes to defending ourselves against somebody like Hitler, then you do it, but going into a war because George Bush says so is not the right thing to do – and it’s been proven that it wasn’t the right thing to do.

“Gordon Brown I loved – I absolutely thought he was a genuine guy – I’m hoping that history will look more favourably on him than it does at the moment. He came at the wrong time,” she said.

“I’ve always stuck to my principles and did what I thought was best for Halifax.
“Whether it was under Gordon or Tony, I always voted with my conscience told me to do,” she said.
Mrs Riordan said she wants to see more passion from politicians, especially those in her own Labour party and said that politicians need to make it clear what the differences are between parties and why it matters.

“We’re not all the same, but if you don’t go knocking doors and talking to people – that’s where I think we as a Labour party have lost our way,” she said.

“We need to get out there and talk to the people that matter – the people that vote for us and elect us.

“If you’re not engaging them, you get the rise of UKIP and other parties because we’re not telling them individually what you actually stand for and what the Labour party stand for,” she said.

Over the past decade Mrs Riordan has seen a shift in the demands of the job being elected to a party in power to one in opposition coupled with a popular feeling of distrust and apathy towards politicians and the established political parties.

“Since being elected we’ve had two Prime Ministers who didn’t exactly go out in glory, which is a shame,” she said.

“We’ve had five years of the Tories, which is not suited to Halifax at all – I can’t think of anything good that’s come to Halifax in the past five years.

“The right-wing press has done a hatchet job on Ed Miliband, but let’s give him a chance and I’m sure he’ll prove the press wrong and be a good Prime Minister,” she said.

“I’ll still be involved in the Labour party. I’ll be fighting for people with disabilities, fighting to keep the A&E in Halifax and I’ll try not to interfere with the new Labour MP – as long as they put Halifax first there will be no problems.”


WHY LINDA IS STANDING DOWN

Mrs Riordan has said she is standing down due to poor health.


For over 20 years she has been living with rheumatoid arthritis – a debilitating condition that causes pain, swelling and stiffness to bones and joints.

“I’m in terrible pain with it – it’s in every bone in my body,” she said.

“The treatment I’m on now means me going into hospital for two days every couple of months.

“The treatment is a cancer treatment – it’s marvellous, but it does have side-effects.”

Mrs Riordan said that being an MP requires a seven day a week commitment – something she finds increasingly difficult.

Her time as an MP is split between Halifax and London and doctors have told Mrs Riordan that travelling is bad for her condition.

“I want to leave gracefully, I don’t want to sit on the sidelines thinking I wouldn’t have done this or that – I just want a good candidate who will represent Halifax and let them get on with the job,” she said.

“You do notice yourself slowing down when you hit a certain age. Do I want to be stood up in Parliament in ten years’ time? No – I think it’s time that somebody younger took the mantle.

“I’m not knocking anybody else, but I do think there’s a time and I do think it’s my time.

“I always liked the line that it’s better for people to be asking why you’re going, not when.”

But Mrs Riordan explained that until a few months ago, she was determined to fight the next election.

“I realised I couldn’t do it like I’ve done it before,” she said.

“It’s not just about me, it’s also about my staff – they’re losing their jobs. I don’t want to put people out of work, and I’m sure they’ll all go on and do much better things.

“It was a very serious decision and my health started getting a lot worse.

“Now I just want the Labour party to put a candidate in place so she – and I hope it’s a she – can go out working for Halifax,”

Indeed, this week Mrs Riordan wrote a letter to Iain McNicol, Labour’s general secretary, to complain that progress in selecting a prospective candidate had been “extremely slow” adding that it was becoming “increasingly urgent” that a candidate is selected.



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