After more than 30 years as a Labour MP and local councillor, Gerry Sutcliffe won’t be contesting the 2015 General Election.
The former Sports Minister in Gordon Brown’s Labour Government, leader of Bradford Council and print union negotiator has been a fixture in local and national politics since 1982.
He’s giving up this aspect of public life, he says, to help the Labour Party win back the parliamentary seats it used to hold in the Bradford district.
He said: “After the 1997 General Election I was one of five Labour MPs. There was Marsha Singh in Bradford West, Terry Rooney in Bradford North, Chris Leslie in Shipley and Ann Cryer in Keighley. Now I’m the only one left.”
He put his long run of election success in Bradford South down to organisation and presence and it is this that he says he wants the party to replicate not just in Shipley, Bradford East, Bradford West and Keighley, but across the country.
“We had a good local election result in Bradford. I think all party leaders are trapped in London-based cliques who don’t always offer them good advice. So it’s my job and the job of other MPs to make sure that Ed (Miliband) understands how we can win the next general election,” he added.
After Labour surprisingly lost Bradford West to George Galloway and Respect in the March 2012 by-election, the ensuing row that engulfed the party locally and regionally brought Ed Miliband to Bradford to find out what had gone wrong.
Lewis Baston’s subsequent report, The Bradford Earthquake, commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, gave as one reason: “National messages and campaigning language failed to connect with Bradford West electors’ bad experiences of mainstream politics.”
That strikes a chord with Salford-born Gerry Sutcliffe, whose Roman Catholic schooling took place in Bradford and whose political education began as a trades union official in Bradford.
“It’s all television sound-bites now,” he said. “When I started out there’d be 200 people at the monthly Thursday night Trades Council meetings chaired by Pat Wall. I used to go to hustings meetings in church halls. We don’t do that anymore.”
In October 1981, the year before Gerry Sutcliffe was elected to Bradford Council, the break-away Social Democratic Party (SDP), part of whose inaugural party conference was held in St George’s Hall, disrupted the political status quo and worried the men in suits.
Former Labour Party heavyweights who had crossed over – Roy Jenkins, Shirley Williams, Dr David Owen, Bill Rodgers – were in town and causing a stir. The talk was of defections, rebellions and voter backlashes.
Last week Nigel Farage’s UKIP caused a few tremours, if not the promised earthquake. But the scare talk about immigration, which appears to have galvanised the main party leaders, doesn’t appear to be making Sutcliffe anxious.
The old stager – he’ll be 62 next May – witnessed all that and a lot more in Bradford from the mid-1980s when major public rows and street demos involving race, religion and politics were the norm.
“The good thing about Bradford is that we had to understand local, national and international politics. Then, politics was live and there had to be outcomes. Now politics has become about managing things as they are rather than changing things.
“I am going to use my time between now and the next General Election to develop political organisation in Bradford and use my voice in Westminster. We need to reconnect with our core vote if we are to return a Labour government.
“So I will be supporting John Grogan in Keighley and will take an interest in who is selected to contest the other Bradford seats and Shipley,” he said.
Now’s not the time for a political obituary, the goalkeeper for the House of Commons football team is still alive and kicking – but in summary he said he is proud to have played a part in either replacing or modernising school buildings, GP’s surgeries and housing estates in Bradford South.
He also had a hand in pushing through parliamentary legislation affecting consumer credit, employment law – extending paternity leave – and the corporate manslaughter act, which made companies and company directors answerable for accidents and injuries in the workplace.
Sutcliffe’s reflections on a life in sport and politics, including his role in the continuing Bradford Bulls saga, may appear in book form this autumn. His autobiography, as yet, has no title, although ‘Balls To You’ briefly crossed his mind.