Thursday, 13 May 2010
A Tribute to Steve Ladyman
It is hard to believe Thanet will see another MP to match Steve Ladyman for a long time. Steve’s commitment to the area provided him with an understanding and intuition which made him loved on the doorstep. Steve gave up a successful and lucrative career with Pfizer to represent local people, first as a councillor then as MP for South Thanet. The contrast with North Thanet’s Roger Gale’s whines about the need for money and expenses to recognises his, and his families merits could not be greater. Steve gave up a greater income and share options for longer hours, more pressure and less appreciative feedback than he would have received in his original career. At a time when many politicians have low regard and esteem it should be noted what Steve Ladyman chose to do for the people he lived amongst. He did not look for especial recognition, for it is within his DNA to represent and look after people, and I am sure in whatever he goes on to do he will again be looking out for others.
A good example of Steve's integrity is the way that he followed his beloved Liverpool. Steve's being supporting his beloved Reds for half a century and can recall when Liverpool were a Second division team and lost to non-league teams like Worcester City. So all the more reason to savour Liverpool reaching the European Champions League Cup Final. As a minister he was provided with the opportunity to go and watch the game all expenses paid. Yet he chose to watch the game at home on television. Some people would trumpet this, but Steve just saw it as the right thing to do.
When campaigning on a Saturday or Sunday morning it was notable that starting and finishing times for Steve might change if Liverpool were ont he television. I hope one benefit of him losing his seat is that he gets the chance to watch a lot more football.
Consistently in the years I campaigned for Steve I heard people say that they were voting Labour because Dr. Ladyman had helped them with housing, their autistic child, their health problem. I have been electioneering for 3 decades and there’s another remarkable to note about Steve’s commitment. Normally when you knock on a door and ask if someone wants to meet their MP the answer is yes, as they often have not met them. Time after time the answer for Steve has been no. “I’ve met him already”, “I know him through this organisation...”, “I’ve seen him at this event..” His consistent hard work meant a genuine pleasure in campaigning for Steve as people understood the high level of service and commitment he had provided.
So if he was so good, why did he lose? Well greater love has no man for his constituency than that he lays down his Parliamentary seat to make Thanet a better place. I first sensed that Steve was in danger of losing his seat 4 years ago. A friend 10 minutes walk from Ramsgate station sold their average semi-detached house. They had 15 prospective buyers view. 14 of them came from outside of Thanet, all from in and around London. Not every new arrival would be a natural Conservative voter, but the demographics of people moving into South Thanet to take advantage of the fast trains would generally be against Labour. There's many other factors here, boundary changes, and national trends too.This did not stop Steve consistently strenuously arguing at all times and levels of the government that Thanet must have fast trains as soon as possible.
To any outside observer it is clear that Broadstairs continues to quietly prosper, Margate’s decline has still not been arrested, yet Ramsgate is starting to quietly boom. In the last decade Ramsgate house prices have had the 3rd greatest increase in the country, a whopping 181%! So dear reader, if you are a former constituent of Steve Ladyman and you own a property you will have benefitted compared to national trends. A direct consequence of Labour government action. It is quite possible to answer to the question, what has my MP ever done for me? The answer is that Steve Ladyman’s campaigning, and consequent delivery of High Speed 1 fast trains increased the value of your home by tens of thousands of pounds. The Conservative government had the option before 1997 to provide fast trains for Thanet but dismissed the idea that public investment would regenerate Thanet. Steve always understood how fundamental improved transport links were, and ensured Labour delivered.
Trains alone do not begin to cover what Steve won for his constituents. Sure Start centres, lower crime, the QEQM hospital with all the new wards built in the last decade. Plenty of new NHS facilities eleswhere and many new buildings for GP practices. Schools refurbished and rebuilt. The High Speed trains are named after Olympic champions, it would be more fitting and appropriate if one of them was named after Dr. Stephen Ladyman – their greatest political champion.
Again the contrast with Roger Gale’s speculative plans for a Manston Parkway station could not be greater. There’s no demand to justify the tens of millions a new station would require. Plus if ever built Manston Parkway would take even more investment and people away from Margate accelerating Margate’s decline, not addressing it. Realism dictates that improved signalling between Canterbury and Ramsgate would cost less and improve rail services far more than a vanity project for an airport whose geographical position on a peninsula always means it will always struggle to become even a minor regional passenger airport.
I will miss also the frankness and insights Steve provided when briefing party activists. He answered the most difficult and awkward political questions with candour and directness. His reports gave political insights and information with a level of tact and discretion that meant that you understood quickly how influential Steve’s views were in Parliament. When Meg Hillier visited the Northwood ward I represent last month, she was just the latest minister to comment on how ceaselessly Steve lobbied for Thanet.
There are criticisms to be made of Gordon Brown. One misjudgement he made as Prime Minister was to fail to recognise Steve’s talents. I know several Conservative MPs were baffled as to why Steve was overlooked. You can insert here sadly the names of several Labour MPs who were Brown’s ministers but were less worthy.
Look at the shameful embarrassment Shahid Malik, Phil Hope, Jacqui Smith, Ann Keen and Tony McNulty brought forward with their unjustifiable expense claims. It is no wonder the electorate chose to vent their feelings by ejecting these and others from Parliament. It was a failure of Leadership for Gordon Brown’s to tolerate these MPs as ministers in his government, and then to allow them to stand as Labour candidates. The integrity of Steve Ladyman and many others stands in marked contrast. Note too, that where those with shoddy records were rightly not allowed to stand again Labour held seats in Livingston, Scunthorpe and Luton South. Steve was not the only Labour MP vindicated during the expenses furore who Gordon Brown overlooked. Future political students will write papers wondering how on earth Gordon Brown thought it was right to retain ministers who had failed the test of public opinion, and allow them to continue to sully Labour's name.
I make this not as a party political point. All the current parties had individuals who the electorate found wanting, David Heathcoat-Amory’s hundreds of sacks of horse manure in Wells and Lembit Opik’s £2,500 plasma television in Montgomery were judged too.
One thing Thanet can be certain of is that Steve’s commitment to Thanet will remain undiminished. It’s home and where his heart is. I hope he will take the chance to take an extended break. Even during recess, so often I saw him working in his constituency. All those snide pieces about the length of MPs holidays were irrelevant to Steve, as they are to most MPs I know. When he wasn’t working in Westminster he was on duty on Thanet working long, long hours. He has made an incalculable difference to life in Thanet today, and it is only with him no longer a MP that he will perhaps begin to get the recognition his endeavours have deserved.
I hope there will be ways for his knowledge, contacts and skills to still be available to public life in Thanet and elksewhere. For now though I know I speak for thousands in Thanet in thanking Steve for all that he has done.