I’ve been chosen as one of Labour’s West Midlands candidates for next year’s elections to the European Parliament.
For me, being an MEP is not about bringing the European agenda to the West Midlands; it’s about taking the West Midlands agenda to Europe.
That is the heart of my campaign.
I love the West Midlands. I grew up and live here, and was proud to represent a West Midlands constituency in the House of Commons for nine years. This is a special place.
But we don’t get our fair share.
The West Midlands is facing enormous economic hardship. Employment in our region is 3% lower than the UK as a whole. Economic growth is slower. Wages are £30 a week less. The level of skills and qualifications is lower. Even life expectancy is lower here.
These are exactly the issues a West Midlands MEP can take to the European Parliament.
The European Parliament used to be little more than a talking shop, but since Treaty changes in 2009 MEPs now have a direct say on almost all the EU laws that affect us so greatly in this country.
The European Parliament is now a powerful tool for social justice and, with the right representatives, it can make a huge difference.
If elected I will make jobs and growth my top priorities, as well as defending the European social protections which the Tories are determined to dismantle. I am a lifetime trade unionist and these issues are at the centre of my politics.
Since the government scrapped the Regional Development Agencies, no one has been coordinating European Union funding bids for the region. We could be missing out on tens, if not hundreds, of millions of pounds of European money. The next generation of investment is at risk.
These are the kinds of things I will focus on as an MEP. It’s about getting a better deal for the West Midlands.
I’ve been campaigning on these issues since before I was first elected Labour MP for Birmingham Erdington in 2001. As a Minister in the last Labour government, I got new FE Colleges built in Sandwell and Bournville. Faced with closures in Coventry, I fought to keep the Jaguar plant in Castle Bromwich open – since supplemented by the new i54 engine plant in Wolverhampton.
I also have the European experience. As a Labour Government Minister, I represented the UK at the European Council of Ministers in Brussels, fighting our national and Labour corner in negotiations with other Member States.
Around 10% of MEPs in Brussels have previous experience sitting on the Council of Ministers. But hardly any of these have ever been from the UK. That makes us weaker and less effective as a nation, a region and a party. It’s vital that we get strong representation in Europe.
Since joining West Bromwich East Constituency Labour Party aged 16 in 1985, I have a proven track record as a campaigner. Just the last few weeks have seen me knocking doors in Burton, Birmingham, Cannock, Coventry, Worcestershire, West Bromwich, Telford and Lichfield. In the next few weeks I’ll be campaigning in Herefordshire, Rugby, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Shropshire, Stoke, Solihull, Walsall, Tamworth and Wolverhampton.
If you want to get involved, please consider joining my campaign team. If you haven’t worked on a campaign before, we can provide all the training and support required.
We can’t just leave it to Westminster to fight back. Our destiny lies in our own hands, in our own region. That’s my campaign, and it’s why I need your help.