Despite the frustration of being in opposition for a decade, I’ve fought for what was right
I’ve seen successive Tory Governments take decisions that I know will have a catastrophic impact on my constituents, with Labour powerless to prevent them.
Thursday 16 June 2016 was the darkest day of my decade in politics.
In the street outside a library, my wonderful friend Jo Cox was murdered. I’d known Jo for a number of years, and we had become close friends, so I immediately messaged her when I first heard the reports. There was no reply, and I was filled with a terrible dread about what might have happened. At 6pm, my worst fears were realised: West Yorkshire Police confirmed that Jo had been killed.
Later that night, as I left the vigil in Birstall, my abiding sense was anger at what had been done to Jo and her family. But there was something else – a fear that our politics had been irreparably transformed by that darkest of days.
We are now exactly ten years on from when I first stood on the stage in the Barnsley Metrodome as a newly elected MP. My time in Parliament has often felt like an endless whirlwind of events: three General Elections; a Mayoral election; two era-defining referenda; conflicts in Libya and Syria; political, economic and health crises.
I’ve often felt that there has been no time to breathe, to think. Despite the relentless pace, I’ve striven to do more than just react. Despite the frustration of opposition, I’ve still fought for what was right.
I’ve learnt that politics and public service remains the best way of changing our country for the better
Changing the law on Organ Donation was politics and public service at its best. Our campaign brought together a coalition to introduce an opt-out system inspired by the incredible bravery of two amazing kids, Max Johnson and Keira Ball. It’s a change that could save thousands of lives.
In 2018, I took what for me was a momentous decision to stand to become the first South Yorkshire Mayor whilst remaining as an MP. I did so because our region was not working as it should. There was no devolution deal in place and no sense that an agreement could be reached; there wasn’t a Mayoral salary or much in the way of an office. Somebody had to grip it, and it fell to me, and the team I built, to bring some harmony where division had reigned.
Two years later, we finally secured an agreement to implement the South Yorkshire Devolution Deal. It was a truly landmark moment, unlocking hundreds of millions in new funding and a raft of new powers.
But beyond cash and power, this was the start of something new. We were waking up to the idea that major decisions about our region should be taken in our region. Our powers and money are less than they should be, and that makes it frustratingly difficult to pursue the truly transformative agenda for which I had hoped and that our communities desperately need. But we can still make a difference. And we are.
I’m determined to show people in South Yorkshire the difference a Mayor – and especially a Labour Mayor – can make.
Leading the response to Covid in South Yorkshire has felt like a daily slog, something akin to those endurance marches I used to do, but with the finish point always just receding out of reach. It’s the same feeling of hard grind that defines life in opposition.
In the decade I have been an MP, every moment has been spent on the wrong side of the House of Commons. I’ve seen successive Tory Governments take decisions that I know will have a catastrophic impact on my constituents, with Labour powerless to prevent them. Although we are at last making progress towards getting back into power, the road ahead remains long and hard. But it’s a road we must walk because it matters. It matters when we can swap the words of opposition for the actions of government. It matters when we can make a difference. It matters when we have a Labour government able to transform the lives of working people and their families.
My ten years in politics has left me a decade older and with a lot more grey hairs, but I hope also much more than a decade wiser. I’ve learned that politics is hard. It’s harder than I imagined and constantly beset by frictions and frustrations. Whatever you do, say, you’ll never, ever please everyone. But I’ve also learnt that politics and public service remains the best way of changing our country for the better.
It is an honour and a privilege to serve and to have the opportunity to fight to bring justice where we see injustice, and to fight for fairness when we see inequality.
For recognising, as Jo Cox said in her maiden speech, that, “we have more in common than that which drives us apart.” However hard the going, those words inspire me to continue in public service.
Dan Jarvis is the Labour MP for Barnsley Central and South Yorkshire Mayor.