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Labour MP says party failed to support him after cancer diagnosis

Barry Sheerman in the House of Commons (Credit: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor)

3 min read

Labour MP Barry Sheerman has said his party went back on its promise to support him after he was persuaded to run in the 2019 election despite having health problems.

The 83-year-old MP for Huddersfield said he “nearly died” during the last Parliament from a hospital-borne infection he contracted following an operation performed due to kidney stones.

In an interview with The House magazine, Sheerman said that when the 2019 election came up he thought it would be “a good time to step down”, but he was encouraged to stand again amid fears Labour would lose the seat with a new candidate.

“Sort of reluctantly, I fought the election,” he told The House. “Of course, everybody then says, 'Barry, if you're not well, of course, we will look after you. You'll be supported,' and so on.

“When you get into parliament, I don't think there is much support for people who find themselves in the situation I found myself. I didn't find much support from the whips on my side.”

After holding onto his seat in December 2019, the MP fell ill again and was diagnosed with kidney cancer. He had a kidney removed and underwent almost two years of immunotherapy.

“When you're not very well here, it's not a friendly environment. It's not unfriendly, it's just an uncaring environment,” Sheerman said of Parliament.

“In some senses, I'd come in when I didn't want to come in, to save the seat for my party. I was promised I would be properly supported.”

Asked what support would have been helpful, Sheerman said: “Consideration. I stood in 2019 because I thought they said they would look after me. I don't know if any whips, other parties' whips, are more thoughtful.

“When you have health concerns, you want to carry on doing the job, it would be nice sometimes if people said, ‘How are you feeling today?’, you know? ‘Don't do that too late at night.’ There are one or two who've done that, it's not universal, but Parliament isn't a very caring place in many ways.”

The Labour Party was contacted for comment but did not respond in time for publication.

Others diagnosed with cancer while serving as MPs described their experiences to The House, including Labour's Dawn Butler, who described how she tried to keep working throughout her treatment for breast cancer in early 2022.

“I tried for as long as possible to keep going, and I did. I didn't want to tell anyone,” Butler said, adding that she sometimes took meetings on Zoom from her hospital bed. But after her operation, she developed an infection and was forced to take a break from work.

“There's this thing about not showing weakness as a parliamentarian. There's also… if you so much as cough, someone wants your seat. It's a really weird thing, which we don't talk about,” she told The House.

Read the full interviews in the next edition of The House magazine published on Monday 25 March.

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