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30 June 2017

Labour MP for Rutherglen and Hamilton Gerard Killen: “Another election would make Jeremy Corbyn PM”

Killen never set out to be an MP. Now he believes he's part of a government-in-waiting.

By Julia Rampen

“There are so many stories,” Gerard Killen, the new Labour MP for Rutherglen and Hamilton West tells me when we discuss austerity. “In my own family, one member is disabled and needs help to put on his socks and shoes. He was found fit to work by Atos.

“I had a local constituent when I was a councillor. Her daughter has asthma, which is exacerbated by her living conditions – she’s in a private let and there is dampness. She is unable to attend the next asthma clinic and they have told her the next one is in January.

“I spoke to a man in his 20s who shares a room in his family home with his sister who is disabled. They can’t find anywhere else to live.”

Killen, who was born in the historic but poor area of Glasgow known as the Gorbals, grew up in Rutherglen, a town on the outskirts of the city. As a young, gay man, he wasn’t overtly political, but cared deeply about equality. “I grew up as a young man at school under the shadow of Section 28,” he recalls. “Labour got rid of that.”

Helping family friends in the 2007 Scottish parliamentary election drew him further into politics, and he joined the Labour Party.

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“I never set out to run for a career in politics at all,” he says. Yet he became a councillor in his mid-20s, and when the general election was called, he decided: “I am going to step up and do something”.

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He didn’t expect to win, but the mood changed: “Then the manifesto came out and Jeremy Corbyn showed leadership to be a Prime Minister.”

Killen is reluctant to ascribe one reason for his success: “You could chap 10 doors and get 10 different reasons of why people were voting the way they voted”. But he does believe Corbynism came somewhere near the top. “We have had seven years of austerity, it has really started to bite and people are feeling that.”

This weariness extends to the constitutional debates. Although Labour may be now viewed as unionist, Killen joined the party when independence “wasn’t really on the radar”. When the referendum came along in 2014, he was prepared to listen to the arguments, but wasn’t convinced.

Three years on, he thinks Labour voters who defected to the SNP are returning to the fold. “All the constitutional debates – Brexit and independence – people were fed up with that,” he says. “Along comes Jeremy Corbyn and his manifesto that is actually offering hope.”

Killen remains a campaigner for LGBTI rights – Harvey Milk is a hero – and worries that the deal brokered between the Tories and the Democratic Unionist Party could erode progress. He says he is willing to work with the Scottish Tories (the leader Ruth Davidson has been openly critical of the DUP), and other parties in defending gay rights. He also admires Green politicians Patrick Harvie and Caroline Lucas for their stance on equality.

He is hopeful, too, that such a deal may not hold for long. “It feels Labour is a government-in-waiting,” he says. “And Jeremy Corbyn would win another election to become the Prime Minister.”