I grew up by the seaside in Bridlington, East Yorkshire. My family were all in politics – my grandfather, father and mother were all town councillors – my father had a fatal accident on Council business when I was 11. My mother was Mayor.
I became the first in my family to go to university – Warwick, to study law. I came to London in 1975 as a post-graduate law student at the LSE. I’ve been in London ever since.
With two law degrees, I decided the last thing I wanted to become was a lawyer! I worked for what is now the GMB trade union. But eventually, I went back to law school at Guilford and into the solicitors’ programme.
I specialised in reperating injured workers (and their unions). My most ‘famous’ cases included the Kings Cross Fire and the Zeebrugge Ferry Disaster.
In 1982 I was living in Paddington and won my first election, to be a local Councillor in Westminster. Little did I realise that this would lead to me playing my part, as Leader of the Council’s Labour Group, in exposing the biggest act of corruption in local government’s history: the Conservatives’ ‘Homes for Votes’ scandal, under their infamous leader Dame Shirley Porter.
In 1997, I became the first Labour MP in Hendon since 1945. I was re-elected in 2001 and in 2005, and narrowly lost in 2010 by a mere 106 votes out of over 48,000.
Much of my first two terms were taken up with the campaign to rebuild Edgware Hospital, which was to finish in 2005, with the £40million opening of the new flagship building.
I developed a reputation as a private members’ Bill expert, too. My first, Holocaust Memorial Day, was taken up by the Government, and is now part of the national calendar. I introduced a Corporate Manslaughter Bill, which helped push the Government into promoting their own Bill, now law. My third, the Divorce (Religious Marriages) Bill became law, helping resolve problems concerning Jewish divorce.
I’m also promoting a Bill to clarify the Human Rights Act, so as to apply it to private care homes.
In 2005, I was appointed Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. For far too long, human rights have been the preserve of the lawyers and have got a bad reputation as a result. As a ‘reformed’ lawyer, I’ve worked to change this approach, to show that human rights are for all, especially the vulnerable.
I also served on the Standards and Privileges Committee – our way of policing the activities of MPs: and on the powerful Liaison Committee, the committee of committee chairs – we get to question the Prime Minister at length, twice a year.