Childhood and student years

I’ve been to almost every nook and cranny of our wonderful region, but I first got to know Yorkshire & Humber as a student at the University of Hull, having been born on the other side of the Pennines in Southport, Merseyside.

I was the first generation of my family fortunate enough to go to university. Before the 1945-1951 Labour government, it had been almost impossible for working class people. In the case of my father, this was a tragedy, because he was a brilliant man.  But his steelworker father simply could not afford it. Instead, after enduring the war (and a prisoner-of-war camp), he became a statistician and specialised in health statistics, where he was involved in pioneering new techniques and discoveries.

This led him eventually to work for the World Health Organisation in Geneva, which in turn meant that I spent my teenage years in the multilingual and religiously pluralist country of Switzerland, attending school with children from over 100 countries.

I returned to England when I won a place at Oxford University – Hull came later. At Oxford, I studied Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE) and became secretary of the University Labour Club and chair of the European society. I helped coordinate the ‘Yes’ campaign in the 1975 referendum on Europe, and this cemented a life-long interest in Europe, its benefits, its shortcomings and its evolution.

Early career

While at university, I worked in the Co-op in the holidays.

After university, I worked in the voluntary sector for youth organisations and then became a civil servant. In my mid-30s, I switched to being a political advisor and I became deputy secretary general of the European Parliament’s Socialist group.

Work as an MEP

In 1996 I was elected, in a by-election, to be a Member of the European Parliament for Merseyside. I was subsequently elected to represent the new constituency of Yorkshire & Humber in 1999.

I’m proud to have made a contribution to the work of the European Parliament and, I hope, to the lives of people in the area I represent:

  • On several occasions, I led for the whole Socialist Group on the issue of EU reform, with several notable successes.
  • With my Labour colleagues, I worked on legislation to secure many hundreds of changes and improvements to proposed EU rules. I’m proud to say we improved European legislation in many fields, to give the common market common rules to protect consumers, workers and the environment.
  • I have been an active member of the all-party animal welfare group, and I helped set up the partly successful campaign to limit the transport of live animals across Europe for slaughter.
  • I was a member of the trade union MEP group, helping to secure breakthroughs in European social legislation and protection of workers.
  • I have been responsible for a number of reforms of the Parliament itself, to make it more transparent, efficient and accountable.
  • In October 2017 I was elected Leader of the Labour MEPs, following Glenis Willmott’s decision to retire from parliament.
  • As leader, I attend the Labour Shadow Cabinet and am a member of the NEC, where I am notably involved in discussions about stopping a damaging Brexit.

Activities between 2009 and 2014

In 2009, Labour lost its second European seat in Yorkshire & Humber – my seat! – to the British National Party, by the narrowest of narrow margins.

Between that night and my re-election in 2014, I continued to work and write on European affairs. To my surprise, in November 2012, I was voted the fourth most influential Briton on EU policy (ahead of the then British Prime Minister and the Chancellor) by a panel of journalists, academics and retired British diplomats.

Also during this period:

  • I spent two months in Dublin to help the Irish Labour party in the referendum campaign on the Lisbon treaty.
  • I was national Chair of the Labour Movement for Europe, and wrote a number of papers on Europe for the Labour leadership in the UK.
  • I was invited to be an advisor to Herman Van Rompuy, whose task it was to chair the meetings of the European Council — the ‘summits’ of Prime Ministers or Presidents of EU countries.
  • I continued to lecture on European matters in universities and elsewhere.