Where Are They Now? Former Labour MP Stephen Pound
Stephen Pound takes part in the Parliamentary Pancake Race, February 2016, London, UK | Alamy
Stephen Pound, Labour MP for Ealing North, 1997 – 2019
Sitting in the atrium of Portcullis House in the Houses of Parliament, Stephen Pound can barely get through five minutes of conversation without being interrupted by a friendly face. Catering staff, journalists, MPs from all parties, all have a nickname or an in-joke and seem delighted to see him back in Westminster, two years after he retired from his Ealing North seat in the 2019 election.
Known among Westminster watchers for his quips from the Commons benches, Pound, 73, says that despite his apparent popularity he didn’t have a lot of friends over his 22 years as an MP. “It’s funny, because it’s such an artificial relationship and friendship. When you’re in Parliament, you can never really tell whether somebody has been friendly for a purpose… It’s very competitive.”
He’s not particularly proud of his reputation as a joker – “If I laugh at any mortal thing, it is that I may not weep,” he says quoting Lord Byron. “Sometimes the place was risible, I just couldn’t believe the stupidity of it.” However, it was a tough decision to retire as an MP – a decision prompted by an email from his doctor inviting him to an “end of life seminar,” and he particularly misses being able to help his constituents. “It’s not power over, it’s power for,” he says.
Until the day I die, I will regret not seeing Iraq for what it was
Now, Pound enjoys a “much more powerful position”: “I am the chair of the Framfield Allotments Association Committee. I have the power of life and death over parsnips. We’ve got a waiting list that stretches into the century after next. I was in the Opposition Whip’s Office, I was shadow Northern Ireland minister, but I’ve never tasted real power like I have now.”
A committed republican, Pound turned down the offer of a peerage. “One of the few things that really rocked my boat when I was an MP was the work volunteers did. So I’ve now assembled an eye-watering, tooth-grinding great portfolio of things.”
A former navy boxer, footballer and bus conductor, he was also once general secretary of the London School of Economics Students’ Union (a mature student, he beat now Tory peer Lord Finkelstein with the slogan “Pensioner Pound: the father you dumb bastards are missing since you left home”). In retirement, Pound is president of his local Royal British Legion branch, and works with the Royal Naval Association, Hanwell Football Club, local Scouts, Ealing Community Transport, and Ealing Trailfinders Rugby Club. He’s also “one of those awfully boring people who go to the mass every morning” as a lay reader and Eucharistic minister at his local Catholic church.
Pound talks so quickly it is sometimes difficult to keep up; he leaps from topic to topic, every other sentence interspersed with a joke. However, he becomes serious when asked if there is anything he regrets from his time in Parliament.
“Until the day I die, I will regret not seeing [the 2003 invasion of] Iraq for what it was. I never realised what a pressure cooker a country can be, and then when you take the lid off, you don’t let the fresh air in, you let all the pressure out. My generation pictured Paris in 1945, with beautiful women in berets with red lipstick putting flowers in the barrels of M1 automatic rifles. We thought it was going to be a liberation. We didn’t realise it was going to be a slaughter that’s killing people to this very day. And I voted for it. Nothing could absolve me for that. Nothing.”
His advice for new MPs? “Think. When you first get here, it is as if you’re in the afterglow, it is almost post coital. You’ve done the hard work, you got selected – hard enough. You got elected – hard enough. There tends to be a reaction, like ‘what else do I need to prove? I’ve done it all’. In fact, the road is only starting. It’s only just begun.”
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