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!