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Where Are They Now? Sir Hugh Bayley

(Illustrations | Tracy Worrall)

4 min read

Sir Hugh Bayley, Labour MP for York, 1992 – 1997, City of York 1997 – 2010 and York Central 2010 – 2015.

Sir Hugh Bayley often needed a gentle push to take the next step on his political journey.

After negotiating for health service workers at the National and Local Government Officers’ Association (now Unison) until 1982, and campaigning on the executive committee of the Anti-Apartheid Movement in the 70s and 80s, entering electoral politics would perhaps have been a logical progression.

But when he decided to stand for Camden council in 1980, it was thanks to the Labour agent in Camden playing, “the oldest trick in the book”: telling him he would never win.

“When I became a councillor, I swiftly realised I could do things that would make a difference to people’s lives,” Sir Hugh says. “One of my proudest achievements was getting a housing association to take over the management of Arlington House, a single men’s hostel in Camden where frail old men were being forced to hand over their benefits to thugs.”

Despite his initial successes as a councillor, Sir Hugh still felt more comfortable campaigning for social causes from the sidelines. But when the Labour Party in York advertised for candidates in 1985, it was the turn of his wife Fenella, to persuade him to run. “She said: ‘You are always complaining about the Thatcher government, here’s a chance to do something about it.’”

Sir Hugh’s background in business and academia meant he seemed to fit with the party’s attempt to extend its electoral appeal. “I ran a TV production company in London in the early 80s. I then took up a health economics research post at the University of York, before becoming a lecturer in social policy. With my experience, Labour thought I would attract a broader spectrum of people,” he says.

He lost the 1987 general election by just 147 votes – that number will be “engraved onto my heart” Sir Hugh says – but ran again in the 1992 general election, and won. In Parliament, Sir Hugh rarely voted against the whip and was rewarded with a ministerial role at the then-Department of Social Security from 1998 to 2001.

[My wife] said: ‘You are always complaining about the Thatcher government, here’s a chance to do something about it.’

But being a “good advocate” for York constituents remained his priority. When Mildred Veal, a radar operator during the Second World War, pointed out the lack of a memorial dedicated to women’s contributions to the War effort, he was adamant the oversight be rectified. “It took me seven years and the campaign patronage of then-speaker of the House, Betty Boothroyd, but there is now a memorial opposite the entrance to Downing Street,” he says.

With a lifelong interest in global affairs, Sir Hugh was also keen to look beyond York’s historic walls. “I became the president of the Nato Parliamentary Assembly in 2012. During that time, the United States Congress had passed a resolution calling on former president Barack Obama to withdraw troops from Europe. I met 100 members of the House of Representatives to persuade them to change their minds. Eventually the decision was reversed,” he says.

Sir Hugh stepped down in 2015 to spend more time with his wife, two children and two grandchildren, but was soon seeking out new projects. Now aged 70, he is commissioner of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, which examines the effectiveness of UK aid – he most recently worked on a review of aid sent to Afghanistan. He is also a lay member of the Nursing and Midwifery Council, serves on the board of the International Rescue Committee and is a trustee of drill2Drink, a water charity in Tanzania. Despite being on the outside again, Sir Hugh says he will continue to “champion the needs of others”.

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