Chris the comeback kid faces up to challenge of opposition

Chris Leslie’s comeback as a Labour/Co-op MP is in sharp contrast to the heady days when he entered the House of Commons as the “Baby of the House”.

At 25, the then-member for Shipley was the youngest MP and one of dozens of fresh hopefuls elected with the landslide victory which swept Tony Blair and the Labour Party into power.

Some 13 years on from those heady days in 1997, the new MP for Nottingham East is one of many now facing the harsh reality of life on the Opposition benches.

But he is already brimful of ideas on the way forward for Labour and the Co-operative Movement. 

“The first thing we have had to realise is that our role is now completely different. We are not the ones making the decisions. We are there to scrutinise, question and offer a critique of Government policy and that requires a peculiar set of skills — drilling down into announcements from Ministers and making them answerable.” 

And he is also determined to fight the corner for the Co-operative Movement. “The 250-odd or so of us Labour MPs includes a few dozen Labour/Co-op MPs and it is our 

responsibility to analyse public services and argue the 

ongoing case for mutuality. Labour were taking steps forward and the ConDem coalition may try and retreat so we have to carry on making proposals. We are still legislators and need to push forward the policy reforms we want to see. 

“As the Vice-Chair of the Co-operative Parliamentary Group I will be bringing together differing groups to talk about how the financial services sector needs to move and how we must have a more progressive agenda and keep our foot on the accelerator.” 

It’s a far cry from his first time round as an MP, he reflects. “I’m now 37 and how long ago 1997 now seems. I have a default loyalty to the Labour team,” he insists, “And sometimes I think we have under-rated the importance of working together. The Co-operative Party offers probably the best understanding of the need for balance between the market and the state. 

“The credit crunch and banking crisis showed how the profit sector poses significant dangers to our Co-op ideals. But I think they are coming to the fore and people need to find out more about the wonders of the non-profit sector.”

In the Labour leadership election, Chris is backing fellow Labour/Co-op MP Ed Balls — but welcomes the diversity of the five-candidate contest. 

“I think it’s a healthy thing we now have a diverse number of candidates and it is a good thing Diane Abbott is a candidate, though I doubt she could succeed in becoming Labour leader.” 

Like many in the Labour camp, Chris says he is astonished at the ease with which Liberal Democrats have taken to sharing power with Conservatives — and betrayed many of their traditional supporters.

“I think most of us were predicting a hung Parliament but the choices Liberal Democrats have made show how easily they have assimilated Tory doctrine. I don’t know why they are bothering to keep separate parties. Once they got the whiff of power and leather seats they were flushed out. Deeds, not words, are what they should be judged by and I think locally they are going to struggle.”

Chris, who won the ballot as Labour/Co-op candidate for Nottingham East in a last-minute selection, was director of the New Local Government Network in his time outside Parliament. He says: “It is a pro-devolution think-tank and does a brilliant job illustrating how the best decisions which are most appropriate should be made at a regional level. I really enjoyed having the chance to focus on policy and what you realise is it’s good to have that awareness.”

Currently seeking a permanent home in his constituency, Chris has hit the ground running in getting to grips with the issues — and is worried about what is to come.

“Nottingham East is a classic urban constituency with higher levels of deprivation and we are going to suffer from cuts in Government funding,” he warns.

 Chris is also juggling the demands of a renewed career as an MP and lots of sleepless nights sharing childcare with wife Nicola. Their baby daughter Kate is nine months old. 

Born in Keighley, West Yorkshire, Chris attended Bingley Grammar School and went on to Leeds University, where he gained a BA in Politics and Parliamentary Studies. In 1996, he gained an MA in Industrial and Labour Studies. In Parliament, he was Parliamentary Private Secretary to Lord Falconer for three-and-a-half years. After winning re-election in 2001, he served in various junior minister roles, eventually spending nearly two years as Parliamentary Under Secretary in the Department for Constitutional Affairs.

Now he is starting all over again in very different times. And, after five years outside Westminster, he is very much enjoying being back at the centre of things. 

“If you are interested in speaking directly to the key decision makers then Parliament is still the place to be although it is very frustrating being in opposition. But I give this coalition a couple of years and then Liberal Democrat backbenchers will begin to revolt.

“If Labour is to come back from this then we we need a stronger offer to the public, and to re-group and say in clearer terms what people would want us to say.”

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