This week marks ten years since I was first elected as the MP for Barnsley Central in a by-election. My time in Parliament has often felt like an endless whirlwind of events: three General Elections; a Mayoral election; two era-defining referenda; conflicts in Libya and Syria; political, economic and health crises. In other words, plenty to keep me busy!
Whatever else has been going on in the country and the world, I’ve always tried to make progress wherever possible. A particularly satisfying moment was the campaign to change the law on Organ Donation, which – for me – represented politics and public service at its best. Our campaign brought together a coalition to introduce an opt-out system inspired by the incredible bravery of two amazing kids, Max Johnson and Keira Ball. It’s a change that could save thousands of lives.
In 2018, I took the personally momentous decision to stand to become the first South Yorkshire Mayor whilst remaining as an MP. I did so because our region was not working as it should. The first, and most important, task was to reach an agreement to get the South Yorkshire Devolution Deal over the line, which we did in January 2020. Achieving that was a landmark moment, unlocking hundreds of millions in new funding and a raft of new powers.
I’m determined to demonstrate the difference a Mayor can make to people’s lives in Barnsley. We’ve done a lot already – approving almost £130 million in investment for vital projects; winning £166 million in Transforming Cities Funding; creating over 16,000 jobs; getting us firmly on track for Net Zero carbon emissions; securing £80m in new flood defence investment. There’s so much more I want to do before the end of this term: invest hundreds of millions more in our infrastructure, skills and businesses and lay the foundations for a transformed bus system.
The last year has seen us gripped by an unimaginable global health crisis. Leading the response to Covid in South Yorkshire has felt like a daily slog, something akin to those endurance marches I used to do in the Army, but with the finish point always just out of reach. It’s a similar feeling that defines life in Opposition. In the decade I have been an MP, every moment has been spent on the wrong side of the House of Commons. I’ve seen successive Tory Governments take decisions that I know will have a catastrophic impact on my constituents – from implementing devastating austerity, to weakening our social security safety net and putting local families at greater risk of poverty – with Labour powerless to prevent them. Although we are at last making progress towards getting back into power, the road ahead remains long and hard. But it’s a road we must walk if we are going to elect a Government able to transform the lives of Barnsley families.
My ten years in politics has left me a decade older, but much more than a decade wiser (and with a few grey hairs thrown in for good measure!). I’ve learned that politics is hard and constantly beset by frustrations. But I’ve also learnt that politics and public service remains the best way of changing our country for the better. It is the honour and privilege of my life to be able to stand up for Barnsley on the local, regional and national stage. Over the last ten years, I’ve had the immense pleasure of getting to know countless Barnsley residents, whose resilience, good humour and indomitable spirit inspire me every single day. To all of you – a huge thank you.