Why I'm boycotting parliament's Thatcher tribute

Towns like Rotherham have still not recovered from Thatcher's destruction of industry, says Labour MP Sarah Champion. Today's tribute is an inappropriately partisan use of parliament.

I would like to express my sympathy to the friends and relatives of Margaret Thatcher for their loss. My decision not to attend parliament today is not about disrespecting the woman, it is simply because I do not feel it is an appropriate use of parliamentary time. Personally, I feel that the Labour frontbench should attend to show their respect. Ed Miliband should read out a statement of condolence and that should be it. Otherwise, the Labour backbenchers that attend are placed in an impossible position. Do they praise a woman who attacked the foundations of our society, or do they use the platform to criticise her policies and be seen as disrespectful?

I moved to South Yorkshire in 1989. The area had been torn apart by Thatcher’s determination to break the trade unions over the miners' strike using vicious siege tactics. Recession, astronomical interest rates and her drive to break up state-owned industry hammered the steel industry into submission. Coal and steel were the principal industrial employers for Rotherham. Whole villages were reliant on their success and growth to prosper themselves. What Thatcher never seemed to understand was the importance of community and the integral role employers play within that. By destroying the coal mines, she ripped families apart and destroyed people's identities and self-esteem. Thirty years on we have still not recovered from that, and, to be honest, I don’t know if we ever will.

There is no way as the MP for Rotherham, as someone who went on the poll tax rallies, as a child that never became milk monitor, I could justify going down to Parliament today. I am not a hypocrite. It is an inappropriately partisan use of parliament and my time is much better used serving my constituents. I am actually speaking at a Community Union conference, and I appreciate the irony!

A card is left with flowers outside the central London home of Margaret Thatcher following her death. Photograph: Getty Images.

Sarah Champion is Labour MP for Rotherham

Grant Shapps on the campaign trail. Photo: Getty
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Grant Shapps resigns over Tory youth wing bullying scandal

The minister, formerly party chairman, has resigned over allegations of bullying and blackmail made against a Tory activist. 

Grant Shapps, who was a key figure in the Tory general election campaign, has resigned following allegations about a bullying scandal among Conservative activists.

Shapps was formerly party chairman, but was demoted to international development minister after May. His formal statement is expected shortly.

The resignation follows lurid claims about bullying and blackmail among Tory activists. One, Mark Clarke, has been accused of putting pressure on a fellow activist who complained about his behaviour to withdraw the allegation. The complainant, Elliot Johnson, later killed himself.

The junior Treasury minister Robert Halfon also revealed that he had an affair with a young activist after being warned that Clarke planned to blackmail him over the relationship. Former Tory chair Sayeedi Warsi says that she was targeted by Clarke on Twitter, where he tried to portray her as an anti-semite. 

Shapps appointed Mark Clarke to run RoadTrip 2015, where young Tory activists toured key marginals on a bus before the general election. 

Today, the Guardian published an emotional interview with the parents of 21-year-old Elliot Johnson, the activist who killed himself, in which they called for Shapps to consider his position. Ray Johnson also spoke to BBC's Newsnight:


The Johnson family claimed that Shapps and co-chair Andrew Feldman had failed to act on complaints made against Clarke. Feldman says he did not hear of the bullying claims until August. 

Asked about the case at a conference in Malta, David Cameron pointedly refused to offer Shapps his full backing, saying a statement would be released. “I think it is important that on the tragic case that took place that the coroner’s inquiry is allowed to proceed properly," he added. “I feel deeply for his parents, It is an appalling loss to suffer and that is why it is so important there is a proper coroner’s inquiry. In terms of what the Conservative party should do, there should be and there is a proper inquiry that asks all the questions as people come forward. That will take place. It is a tragic loss of a talented young life and it is not something any parent should go through and I feel for them deeply.” 

Mark Clarke denies any wrongdoing.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.