Where are they now? Jamie Reed
Jamie Reed (Illustration by Tracy Worrall)
Jamie Reed describes politics as a contact sport: one in which the game of trying to help improve communities involves real “body and soul work”.
But the most difficult issue he faced while working in Parliament was coping with being a long-distance dad. When Reed became Labour MP for Copeland in 2005, his eldest child was two years old, and he would go on to have three more with his wife, Claire. He says, half-joking: “Get the violins out, but it’s very hard to be an MP’s kid and an MP’s life partner; it always felt like a heavy weight. Copeland is six hours away from London, so you can’t stop in Westminster and do the weekend media shows because you’ve got to be home. And then when you’re home, you’ve got an enormous constituency to get around.”
Despite the difficulties, Reed was always proud to represent the seat he grew up in. On leaving university, he went to work in the European parliament under Tony Cunningham, then-MEP for Cumbria and Lancashire North. Returning home, Reed began working in public affairs in the nuclear industry, then in local government as a political adviser, before becoming a local councillor in his late 20s. When Jack (later Lord) Cunningham stood down from his Copeland seat in 2005, Reed became the MP for his home constituency. “I could have stood elsewhere, but once Copeland became available that’s all I wanted to do. For me, that was an incredibly motivating thing: investing in the place where you were brought up and trying to represent the people you grew up alongside,” he says.
On entering Parliament, Reed was focused on the “stuff that sounds really straightforward but is actually hellishly hard work,” like attracting investment for new schools, hospitals, and other public infrastructure. Winning the Child Poverty Action Group MP of the Year award was a proud moment. He was also intent on driving a renaissance in nuclear energy, an industry he saw as integral to Copeland’s economy.
In 2006, Reed was appointed parliamentary private secretary to policing minister Tony McNulty, and then to Harriet Harman, leader of the Commons, in 2008. He enjoyed his time as shadow environment minister from 2010 to 2011, and shadow health minister from 2011 to 2015, where he was able to shape policy debates backed by what he describes as a “fantastic” team.
Other highlights of his time in Parliament include working on Barack Obama’s 2008 United States presidential campaign as part of the International Leaders Programme, and participating in the Nato Parliamentary Assembly.
It’s very hard to be an MP’s kid and an MP’s life partner
However he disagreed strongly with the policies of the next Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn – particularly over nuclear, leading to his resignation from the shadow ministerial team. Reed now found himself in an increasingly divided party, and he was a vocal critic of the leadership – although he does not now wish to discuss Corbyn. In 2017, he surprised Westminster by making the difficult decision to quit as an MP mid-term; while he still believed in the Labour party, he says his family commitments and principles had to come first.
On resigning, Reed took up a role at Sellafield Ltd. “I’ve never left the Royal Family. I’ve never left the clergy. But I guess leaving Parliament is something similar. Because it is so immersive and all-encompassing, stepping out you get to see how people not involved in politics view politicians and political parties. That hits you like a bucket of ice water,” he says.
Reed, 49, is now director of socio-economics at the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), where he helps diversify local economies where nuclear facilities are being decommissioned. Although he sometimes misses Parliament, he is as proud of the work he is doing at the NDA as when he was an MP: “It’s still changing communities, it’s still trying to reimagine places, and it’s still investing in the future.”
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