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Where Are They Now? Former Labour MP Anna Turley on abuse and life post-Parliament

Anna Turley, Labour and Co-operative MP for Redcar between 2015-19, at an event in Parliament | Alamy

4 min read

“You can’t pick your era in politics,” says Anna Turley, former MP for Redcar.

If you could, she wouldn’t have chosen the particular four-and-a-half-years she had in the Commons, describing the period in Parliament between the 2015 and 2019 elections “as probably the worst post-War period” dominated by “such toxicity and negativity and wasted energy”.

Although she apologises at one point for coming across as “moany”, Turley actually loved many elements of the job, particularly those that focused on her constituency.

In terms of parliamentary memories, sitting next to former MP for Ealing North, Stephen Pound, in the chamber was always “hysterical”,  and she loved running into Labour legends such as Baroness Betty Boothroyd and Dennis Skinner in the Tea Room. “People always had so much to share,” she says.

However, the negatives bubble close to the surface. The murder of her friend Jo Cox; social media abuse; Labour’s internal fights; the toxic nature of the Brexit debate, where she felt Dominic Cummings and others were “determined to put a split between me and the community” and label her a “traitor”; and her libel battle with Skwawkbox and Unite, which she won six days after losing her seat; all contribute to her mixed emotions about the job. 

Of the law suit, Turley says “it took a long time and huge amount of emotional energy” but she’s glad she fought it. “It was outrageous that the law had to decide this and that millions of pounds of union members’ money was spent fighting a case that could have been settled at the beginning with an apology and a withdrawal of the article. But that was the state of that trade union at the time and the Labour Party at the time,” she says.

The of level of vitriol and venom to women on social media was absolutely out of control

Her proudest achievement was her work around the closure of the Redcar steelworks, when she drew national attention to steel as a policy issue, and then mitigated the damage done by the loss of 2,000 jobs. Turley got £50m from the government to set up a local task force to support retraining, emergency funds for mortgage payments, wage subsidies to encourage local businesses to hire those who had lost their jobs, and grants to start up small businesses. 

Despite not originally being from the area, Turley loves Redcar and still lives there. Throughout the pandemic, she helped run the local foodbank, and she has set up a charity to distribute books to disadvantaged children. She is still active in the local party, and also chairs the national Labour Campaign Co-op, an organisation to support local government Labour groups in digital campaigning.

Turley says that every day when she’s walking her dog, Clem (named for Clement Atlee), she is asked about running again. She is torn. “Social media is probably the biggest barrier to me thinking about standing again: would I want to put myself and my family through that?” she says.

“The of level of vitriol and venom to women on social media was absolutely out of control. It’s very difficult and damaging, and very hard to do your job in that environment,” Turley says. Even a year after she lost her seat, Turley found a Facebook group with more than 35 comments calling her a “bitch”. Such vitriol never came up on the doorstep however. “People just think it’s acceptable to put stuff online, they’d never say to your face.” 

Turley is now working on different projects, including work with King’s College London’s policy institute on global tax reform, and says she is very much enjoying the “freedom”. Does she have any advice for former colleagues?

“Listen to colleagues, learn from colleagues. Never forget who put you there, on whose behalf you’re working. And live as though you might only have six weeks in the job, or six months in the job, and try to achieve what you can… people will be remembered more for what they did than who they are.”

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