Where Are They Now? Former Labour MP Mary Creagh
Mary Creagh on stage at Labour Party Conference 2014 | Alamy
Mary Creagh, Labour MP for Wakefield 2005 - 2019
Parliament is a great place to learn, says Mary Creagh, former Labour MP for Wakefield. “I miss the serendipity of chance encounters – people would always give you advice or seek advice.”
Paying tribute to her cross-party former colleagues, Creagh says Westminster is a much more collegiate place than many realise – whether it be Brexit manoeuvres or the committee corridor. Having chaired the Commons’ Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) for nearly four years, Creagh’s involvements in climate politics has continued beyond Parliament. “You don’t stop wanting to change the world [when you stop being an MP]. It’s a different way of serving,” she says. Creagh, 53, now works as an advisor to FTSE 100 companies on climate, environmental and social governance issues.
Shadow environment secretary for three years under Ed Miliband, many of Creagh’s proudest achievements in Parliament centre around climate change: her campaign to save England’s forests from being sold off in 2011; getting microbeads in cosmetics banned with the EAC; and leading the debate on single use plastics deposit return schemes and the fast fashion industry.
However, there were other successes too, including what she jokingly calls her “greatest hit” –“getting turkey twizzlers off the menu”. After being drawn first in the Private Members’ Bill ballot in the Commons in 2005 – her first year in the Commons – the measures in Creagh’s Children’s Food Bill – removing fizzy and sugary snacks from school vending machines and ensuring a minimum nutritional standard for school meals – were adopted by the government in 2006.
It came full circle when Creagh first lost her seat in 2019. “I became slightly obsessed about making up for lost time and cooking healthy family dinners for [my own] children,” she says. “But after a couple of months, they were begging me to stop roasting vegetables and giving them vegan food. They [wanted] fish fingers, chicken nuggets, sausages, and for their dad to take back over in the kitchen.”
I didn’t feel safe bringing my children to Wakefield for the summer holidays [that year], as we had done for the past decade
There were also dark times. Speaking the day before Sir David Amess was killed, Creagh says the period following her friend Jo Cox’s murder was “without doubt the most difficult time in recent British politics”. In September 2016, she had a brick put through her constituency office window, and a constituent went to prison for sending her malicious emails in 2017. “Credible threats” were also made against her ahead of Brexit votes in January 2019. Although Creagh says she felt well looked after by the police, she was no longer able to do open constituency surgeries, and had enhanced security measures in her homes, and offices.
“I didn’t feel safe bringing my children to Wakefield for the summer holidays [that year], as we had done for the past decade, because I didn’t want them to be in the house in case anything happened,” Creagh says.
Creagh, who now lives full time in north London with her husband and two children, is still a frequent visitor to her former constituency, and misses the people and the place greatly.
Having experienced a close-run battle in 2017, Creagh said she went into the 2019 election hopeful she could defend her 2,186 vote majority. “As the campaign went on, and we did more and more canvassing, it became clear that it was going to be an uphill [task],” she says. “People were absolutely adamant they were not going to vote for the Labour Party as long as it was led by Jeremy Corbyn.”
After seven years as a councillor followed by 14 in Parliament, leaving frontline politics was a “big adjustment” for Creagh, although she seems fairly sanguine about the loss itself. Would she run for election again? “Never say never.”
In the meantime, Creagh has been volunteering since the start of Covid at her local food bank and food hub in London. “What you realise is people are desperately lonely. We’ve been through a huge collective trauma as a country. In a way I feel like I’m still part of something that is socially useful, even though it’s only a few hours a week."
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