About Me

You are here: Home / About Me

I was born and brought up in Newcastle and was extremely proud when, in 2001, I was elected as your MP. 

Now 57, I have been married to Victoria, an architect, for nearly 20 years and we have three children, aged 13 to 20. 

I was actually born in Freehold Street in the town, before moving to Clayton at the age of seven - at a time when the local Council compulsorily purchased the terraced houses to install bathrooms and inside toilets. These days, thankfully, they are more enlightened and give people grants, rather than throwing families out of their homes!

My mum was a nurse at the City General and my dad, who came from Ireland, a gas pipe-laying foreman. He was very lucky to work for many years for a German businessman, Hubert Steiner, a Luftwaffe pilot, who was shot down and settled here after the Second World War and built up North Staffs Pipe-laying with its trademark yellow H.S. vans. He was such a decent employer that he helped my dad buy his first house, in Seabridge, when I was nine.

I went to school first at St Mary's Catholic infants and juniors in the town, then Wolstanton Grammar School, which became Marshlands Comprehensive in my fourth year. Then I studied philosophy, politics and economics at St Edmund Hall College in Oxford - the first of my family ever to go to university.

After graduating, I worked in the City of London for six years as a corporate financier with for Barclays de Zoete Wedd, part of Barclays bank, advising businesses on expansion, mergers, takeovers and stock market flotations, before pursuing a career in journalism.

Initially, with the respected international news agency Reuters, I then became Deputy Business Editor of the Independent on Sunday and then spent four years as the City Editor at The Observer before my election in 2001. 

Throughout, I was also one of those troublesome investigative journalists, asking awkward questions and trying wherever possible to expose wrongdoing - something I have always tried to keep up while in my job as an MP, too.

Unlike many MPs, I was never involved in student politics. I think, indeed, that there are too many 'professional politicians' these days, going from university to working for politicians, then standing for election without getting much knowledge of the real world out there.

My granddad, though, an engineering fitter for the RAF and Rolls Royce at Crewe, had joined the Labour party after coming back from the First World War. It was he who impressed on me the value of education, always asking after my homework and taking me to the library at Clayton as a lad. I was proud, therefore, to serve as a governor at Wolstanton High, my old school, for 15 years until 2015.

It was general election day in 1987, when - at 25 - I finally decided to 'do something' in rather than just moan....about Margaret Thatcher. From then, I became more involved, fought a 'practice run' in a safe Conservative seat in 1997 and was delighted to be chosen in 2000 as Labour's new candidate in Newcastle, following the retirement of Llin Golding. 

In Parliament, I have always tried to be an independent-minded MP for my home town.

I have strongly supported the good things we have seen, which were not there before, such as investment in our local schools, the building of a brand new hospital in North Staffordshire, a strong emphasis on jobs and regeneration in former coalfield and traditional industrial areas like ours, and since 2010 a brand new college for Newcastle. 

Where I have felt policies are wrong, though, I have said so – helping co-ordinate opposition to a market into higher education with variable, university top-up fees in 2003. That resulted in fees being capped at £3,000, and better grants and bursaries for students. Sadly, that’s mostly unravelled since 2010, to the unstainable position we have today.
My maiden speech in parliament was about further education - about getting the Educational Maintenance Allowance for over 16s in Newcastle, which then happened (until the Conservatives also scrapped it after 2010). 

Measures to give fairer pay and conditions to over a million vulnerable temporary and agency workers are still with us, however, following a deal struck in the wake of a Private Member's Bill I introduced into the House of Commons. 

In parliament, much of my work has been in committees behind the scenes. I initially served until 2005 on the Science and Technology Select Committee and I have been a member of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sports Select Committee ever since. 

There we have conducted all sorts of enquiries, which we hope will make a difference: from the roll-out of broadband around the UK, to the operation of the likes of the BBC, Arts Council and National Lottery. In particular, too, we have rigorously pursued press abuse, including phone-hacking, to achieve better standards and more effective, independent regulation. 

Since the 2015 election, ‘Brexit’ has been all-consuming, sadly. I can only be honest in being a passionate ‘Remainer’ and of the 52 Labour MPs who opposed triggering Article 50, to start our exit, I understand I am the only one not to have voted to hold the Referendum in the first place. I just thought it was a dangerous risk and a thoroughly bad idea!

Newcastle-under-Lyme voted 60-40% to leave in the Referendum, but the question now is how we do so, without doing irreversible harm to our country. 

Notwithstanding a divergence of views, and our being the West Midlands’ most marginal seat, in 2017 we held on (in my fifth general election here) - so, all being well, in 2019 will celebrate the 100th anniversary of Newcastle-under-Lyme first electing a Labour MP. 

My first priority has always been to do my best for my constituents, both in Newcastle and at Westminster. As your link between local people and Parliament, I have always been keen to make sure your views and concerns are heard at the highest level in Government. But it’s also important in politics to stick your principles, too.

Improving health care

The NHS remains the most pressing local priority. Before 2010, record investment went into health services locally. Our local hospital was rebuilt – into the Royal Stoke – with none of the old wards dating back to the Victorian poor house, which my mum used to nurse in. We also started a brand new medical school at Keele University.

Around the town, too, so much changed. In 2007, I opened Audley’s new £3 million health centre (pictured) and a new multi-purpose health centre came at Lower Milehouse, too.

Under ‘austerity’, however, the pressures on the NHS are becoming as acute as they used to be before the millennium. And the fight for our local community hospital at Bradwell, which we saved in 2000, goes on – for all-round quality healthcare.

It’s not all about buildings, of course, though. Some of the toughest fights are to make sure constituents get the treatments they need on our NHS. In the past, I’ve successfully campaigned for the eyesight-saving drug, Lucentis, and Herceptin for breast cancer sufferers, too. After supporting families coping with the rare Morquio’s Disease, the latest challenge is to get path-breaking new drugs for Cystic Fibrosis funded by our NHS.

Jobs and the economy

Newcastle is a great place to live and work and I’m always keen to contribute to our local development. With its central location and excellent communication links, Newcastle is an ideal place for many companies who value the skills and flexibility of local people. 

But we need to enhance the character of our area in so doing, too. Very early on, therefore, I became the founding patron of Urban Vision, North Staffordshire's architecture and design centre, which promoted good planning and design in the built environment.

What we need locally is a mix of skills for the future - not just distribution and call centre jobs, often in badly designed 'sheds' which blot the landscape. We need Councils and regeneration bodies to be ambitious for our area and I'll continue to fight strongly for that.

The new Local Plan for Newcastle, now information, has to be flexible and sensitive, not overly intrusive in terms of new housing and industrial development.

Improving local schools

I was the first member of my family to go to university, so I appreciate only too well the importance of education. Before 2010, our local schools benefitted from record levels of government investment and we saw the impact of this in pupils’ results. These were a credit to the hard work of staff and students alike.

The new £60 million Newcastle College was also a great advance, offering a wide range of ‘A’ Level, BTec and other further education choices, as well as hundreds of apprenticeships.

We always have to keep improving, however, and my concern in recent years – as schools have been re-organised and pushed down the independent ‘academy’ route – is that we now lack the oversight and co-operation to ensure standards get better and better. 

I’ll continue to fight, though, for a great education for all, so that everyone has the life chances they deserve and that your postcode does not determine how far our children go.