Labour Politician, Hugh Bayley was elected as MP for York Central in April 1992, and Parliamentary Under Secretary from 1998 until 2002.
On a visit to One&Other HQ, Hugh took some time to discuss his career in politics, his views on the recent public sector strikes, same sex marriage, and the year ahead for York, in what makes for a fascinating insight into a career in politics spanning more than 20 years.
How did you get into politics to start with?
Well, it was a terrible accident. I was always interested in politics, and I was a student here in York, where I did a post-graduate degree and I wrote a thesis on African trade unions. Then I got a job working for a trade unions representing health workers, which struck me as a way of sticking up for the underdog, but I never thought about standing for election. Then in 1980 in my late 20s I stood for the Labour Party as a candidate in London. I was told I had no chance of winning but then I won by 50 votes!
It got into my blood and then, five years later York Labour party advertised for candidates which doesn’t normally happen, and my wife Fenella convinced me to go for it.
I was very angry at the time with the way the Government was, in the interest of what they saw as efficiency, sending businesses to the wall. I was trying to encourage business start-ups with the council and I decided to throw my hat into the ring. The Labour Party selected me and I moved back here. I stood in the election 1987 and lost, but I stuck at it and won in 1992, and the next 20 years is history.
What has been you biggest achievement in politics?
When the Conservatives were last in power, after a scandal about the miss-use of aid being used to promote arms sales, I brought in legislation that required aid only to be used to alleviate poverty, which now seems so obvious, but it wasn’t to many at the time. I remember when the legislation was introduced and a Conservative member standing up and saying, “In what world does the honourable man live? How is Britain going to compete if we don’t use aid in a competitive way to buy friends and influence?”
Banning tobacco advertising is something else. Again it was met with incredulity when I first proposed the idea… “What about freedom of speech for tobacco companies?” I was asked.
I spent a long time getting the law changed on bribery by British citizens abroad to make it an offense in British law. When I was first elected to Parliament it was not only legal to bribe people as long as you did it six miles off shore but, it was also a tax deductible business expense.
Some of the measures I have pushed for as a back bencher I think have made a difference. I think I made a difference during a fairly short undistinguished period as a junior minister. When I look at the constituency, Central York has always been a marginal constituency, but I have survived longer than I thought I would, but I suppose that’s because I’ve always made the constituency my first responsibility, as I realise that if I don’t please people locally I had better find another job.
What about your regrets?
Looking back at my time in Parliament I was perhaps rather naive at points. I was strong on the policy agenda, what the law says and how it should be changed etc, but less canny about cutting the deals that politicians cut to gain influence and have the effect they want. I don’t think I’m incurably naive but I think that the people who go right to the top of politics are absolutely focused on networking to strengthen their hands whatever the circumstances. It has always struck me as more important to think about your objective and then put together a collation of support to win your objective, rather than to put together a power machine and then use it for whatever objectives you want, and I think that’s probably the difference between the people who become prime minister and the people who dance about in their shadows, but hopefully still do something worth while.
Trade unions, what is you opinion on the recent public sector strikes?
I understand why people who are likely to lose their pension entitlement want to resist it but, and I say this as a former public sector union official, striking is not a particularly effective tool, especially when you have a right of centre government who quite like saving money on a days wages, and are very committed to their public sector cost saving programme. However frustrating it may be to do these things through negotiation it can be achieved.
You have been a strong advocate of gay rights so I’d like to know your views on the comments made by the Archbishop of York on same sex marriages.
I think that the church should be able to determine the rules for the church, and that is for church members to determine, but I don’t believe that the Church of England or any other faith, or special interest group, or caucus should set the law of the country and I believe that it is right for two people of the same sex to live an enduring relationship with the same status as a heterosexual couple. I have raised the issue of pension rights for transgender people to try and secure for their partners or someone who changes their gender the same entitlement as they would have beforehand, which seems to me to be a case of natural justice. The pension and inheritance rights of those in a long-term same sex relationship need to be the same as those of a heterosexual couple.
It is difficult time, will 2012 be a positive year for the people of York?
It’s going to be a tough year but, despite recent unemployment figures that show a very sharp rise in the last month, York is better placed to weather the downturn than most towns and cities in the North of England. York has a momentum of attracting internal investment, it is more likely to attract entrepreneurs, it has lots of existing businesses, which include a lot of new and relatively young businesses that promote job growth as they continue to expand. York must also play to its natural advantages.
There are a lot of jobs at the universities and the Science Park, but there are also many in more low-tech areas such as retail and tourism, but it is important for a city to create jobs across a wide spectrum. If you want to be a professor of technology at the University of York, you will still need someone to fix your car and cut your hair, so it’s important for York to provide opportunities across the skill spectrum.
I think one of the biggest problems we face from the enormous expansion of jobs is the housing shortage which makes York much less affordable than the rural market towns in the area, and I think there is a huge danger of driving people from York out. People in marginal jobs, who are the people most likely to be driven out by high rents, often have jobs with unsocial hours, in a pub or a hotel, and there is a danger of people losing their jobs if their job starts before the buses run. It is really important to integrate job planning, housing development and transport plans.
So the integration of these different areas is, you think, the key to solving some of the housing issues we have as a city?
Yes, it’s difficult to attract investment but York is doing better than others and it’s important to invest right across the spectrum and not just say “lets attract the company”, but instead say lets invest in the infrastructure that will support the company and its employees.
You said earlier that you were angry about certain issues at the time you entered politics… what makes you angry now?
I feel the Government’s attempt to balance the budget in a single parliament is incredibly damaging, and we’re teetering on the edge of a second dip into recession, although it looks as if we may pull out an awful lot depends upon things that are beyond the Government’s control, such as problems with confidence in the eurozone, which is a huge problem for the UK as 60% of our exports go to Europe.
The question is over what period of time do you balance the books. There isn’t a huge difference in Labour and the Government’s positions, the Government is trying to do it over 4-5 years and Labour party over 8 -10 years, in the grand scheme of economic responses they are not that far apart but I think that by pulling the Government’s position slightly closer to the Labour position, it will improve the way in which the recovery takes place, but it would mean that the period in which the books are balanced will be slightly longer.
The reason the UK was able to create a deficit was because when Labour was in power we managed to nearly half the national debt, which has enabled us to borrow to stimulate growth in the cyclical downturn. I think that they would be well advised to bring recovery over a slightly longer period. That’s what every one talks about as a Plan B and when we have the budget in a few weeks time I think that you will see that although it won’t be called Plan B, as it would be too embarrassing for the Government to call it that, they will lengthen their framework for recovery, which may then make it more achievable, which is what everyone wants to see.