“It’s the people’s choice,” says Labour’s candidates for Brent North
- Credit: Archant
“There are only two sorts of seats, and that’s not safe and marginal. It’s worked and not worked. If you’ve worked your seat, on the whole, you’re likely and you probably deserve to keep it and if you don’t work, you don’t deserve to keep it. It’s the people’s choice whether they want you or not.”
Barry Gardiner, Brent North’s sitting MP for the last 18 years after unseating an incumbent Conservative with a large majority, is not yet ready to hang up his hat as he fights another election, there is too much to be done.
Elected in 1997 under Tony Blair and then Gordon Brown’s Labour government, he has spent the last five years of his political career in opposition to a coalition.
Looking back over the past 18 years he is most proud of the way in which the schools have changed. He said: “In 1995, when I was first selected for the seat in Brent the audit commission for London said: “Brent schools are simply the worst.” Now we have some of the finest schools in the country here in Brent North, and all our children as they leave primary school are above the national average, and that’s a major turnaround from where our schools were 20 years ago and that’s really important.”
He added: “The wonderful thing about politics is that there is no agenda you can ever complete as things change and you have to respond to that change.”
There are many changes he sees that have to be fought for on behalf of his community, even if they are against the interests of his own party.
He was against the closure of the libraries but was not able to stop Brent Council from closing six, Barham Park and Preston libraries within his own constituency.
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While recognising the need for more school places, he is against the planned expansion of Byron Court Primary School in Spencer Road. He explained: “That school needs new buildings but it doesn’t need new pupils. It’s a superb local school and the idea that you’re going to turn it from 600 children to 1050, with all the travel problems you’re giving families, the traffic problems around Byron Court, is horrendous.”
Further problems he did not foresee but which needs urgent attention are the waiting times at Northwick Park Hospital in Watford Road.
He added: “We got them down superbly by 2010 and it was not an issue. The issue was then getting the money to expand the hospital and get that done by now. Here we are five years later with the worse waiting times in the country at an A&E which has been put under the most extraordinary pressure.
“The idea that in politics you know what’s coming round the corner, it just isn’t like that. Very often you don’t see what’s round the corner and circumstances mean that something else moves to the top of the agenda, because it has to, because you’ve got to respond to the problems people are facing.”
And Brent North’s problems are many, he said, with young people taking most of the brunt.
“People in Brent, no matter how well off they are, are really worried about how their children are ever going to be able to afford to live in London. We’ve seen the rise of generation rent, the rental market goes up and up for properties that are in worse condition and the sort of jobs people are now being offered, so many of them now are on zero hours contracts where people don’t know one week to the next what they will be earning making it almost impossible for them to budget properly.
Even if you are in a stable good well paying job, to be able to save enough for a deposit for a mortgage without bank of mum and dad is just unthinkable.”
His party pledges to build more houses and put controls on landlords with a national register to protect tenants.
It is housing issues that politicised Mr Gardiner. Born in Glasgow in the 1950s, his former international footballer father died from cancer of the oesophagus when he was eight. His mother, a doctor, moved him and his two siblings to Hertfordshire, where she also died of cancer when he was 17.
A private education, which he didn’t choose for his children, led to a place at St Andrew’s University to read Philosophy.
He took two years out from his degree to be the Scottish secretary for the Christian Movement, intent on becoming an Anglican vicar.
He moved with his wife to West Pilton, an area in Edinburgh which was “the centre of the heroin trade, the aids epidemic and male unemployment.”
He added: “We made extraordinary bonds with the local community there. We used to run an open house for some of the local kids, we turned back greens into community gardens, did sculpture projects with the junk we found.”
Then, spotting a loophole, the local Conservative council decided to sell 718 council houses without telling the people who lived in them for £1000 each to private developers and gave them £7000 in home improvement grants.
“The first we knew about it was when we opened the evening newspaper and found that our homes were for sale. I was so angry. The contempt with which they had treated the community, I made a decision then that I either got on with my life and never criticised politicians again or I got involved. I got involved from that point on but it was just anger that got me involved in politics.”
After winning a scholarship to do research at Harvard, he returned from America to do a doctorate at Cambridge University which he did not complete. He did however become a councillor there and became the youngest mayor in the city’s 800 year history.
He became a senior partner working for a Mediterranean, a company of Maritime arbitrators, which he gave up when he was elected MP for Brent North.
He lives in Rickmansworth in Hertfordshire, a decision he made with his wife, concerning their four children, commuting into the London “almost every day”.
He holds his surgeries three times a month at the Brent Civic Centre, having previously travelled around the constituency before realising “people were keen to come and see you as soon as they needed to come and see you, so they ended up travelling alot, so I centred everything,”
Named Environmental Parliamentarian of the Year last year, he will continue to campaign on air pollution, improve flood defences and the protection of bees and pollinators.
“On May 7 in Brent North, if people want to vote for me I hope they will. They know what I stand for, they know the values I stand for and they know my record for the past 18 years in this constituency. They know whether I work or whether I don’t. They know whether I deal with case work conscientiously, have sound judgement in parliament, my record as a minister, on the select committees and I trust they’ll make a judgement on what they know of me.”