I don’t often compare the relationship between Ealing North and myself to that between Romeo and Juliet but the words “parting is such sweet sorrow” do seem as appropriate for me as for the star-crossed lovers as I say farewell to the constituency that I have been so very proud to have represented since May 1997.
The Labour Party, in anticipation of an early general election, instructed all its MPs to confirm within a couple of weeks whether they intended to stand for reselection or to stand down at the next election.
I was saddened that there was so little notice and that I was unable to take soundings with friends and family or to even formally discuss the matter with the local Labour Party.
However – I have reluctantly decided not to put myself forward for what would be my tenth contest in Ealing and I will be bowing out with as much grace as I can muster at the time of the next election. It takes a very special person to be a politician into their 70s and, having been born with the NHS in July 1948, I’m afraid that I am just not that person.
Some of the television and radio interviewers have asked about my proudest achievements and I tend to reply that being a hard working accessible Member of Parliament holding over six advice surgeries every month and never ever missing a school, Scout, or church fete, an allotment open day or a street party – let alone a hundredth birthday party and, less joyously, over two hundred funerals is a source of some quiet pried.
More than that – I spent most of my first decade in Parliament focused almost entirely on finding the money to rebuild every single primary school, bar one, in Ealing North and then doing the same for nearly every High School.
That wasn’t easy but I felt a real sense of satisfaction on seeing schools that were finally fit for the teachers, pupils and staff that had endured leaking roofs, potholed playgrounds and outside toilets for far too long.
Since 2010 I have been the shadow Northern Ireland Minister and my love for the people and the six counties is matched only by my despair at the vacuum that exists where a devolved Assembly and Executive should be operating and where the awful potentiality of a hard Brexit could lead to the horror of a return to border posts along the three hundred mile British border between Donegal and Dundalk.
Although these may have been my principle preoccupations, I have always held the people of Northolt, Greenford, Perivale, North Hanwell and the better parts of W13 and W5 close to my heart.
It has been my privilege to meet the extraordinary people whose quiet commitment to community is often unsung but without whom life would never be as sweet as it can be. Every day I am awestruck by the modesty and generosity of so many of my constituents. Wherever possible I’ve supported and lauded them, but I have never been able to match the selfless service of so many of our fellow citizens and if I have been able to serve them in some small way then my time in Parliament has not been wasted.
I’ll still be around for a while and after over forty years in Hanwell I’m reluctant to move. The allotment, Greenford Rotary, the Royal Naval Association and Craven Cottage beckon so I plan an active retirement while I still have my marbles.
For now – thank you Ealing North. You showed huge trust in me and I never for a moment forgot that I was your MP by the grace of the electorate and that it was to you that I owed my all.
Nothing in my life could equal the immense privilege of public service and there can be no finer place to practice that calling, that vocation, than here – among my friends and in my home, in my Ealing North.
I hope that I have not let you down.