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East Ham MP clocks up a quarter of a century in seat

PUBLISHED: 10:00 09 June 2019

Stephen Timms, far right, in 1994 with acting Labour leader Margaret Beckett and three other Labour MPs elected on the same day - Gerry Sutcliffe (Bradford South), Margaret Hodge (Barking) and Judith Church (Dagenham). Picture: PA

Stephen Timms, far right, in 1994 with acting Labour leader Margaret Beckett and three other Labour MPs elected on the same day - Gerry Sutcliffe (Bradford South), Margaret Hodge (Barking) and Judith Church (Dagenham). Picture: PA

PA Archive/PA Images

He's spent 25 years representing the borough in parliament, but it was pure chance that Stephen Timms ended up living in Newham in the first place.

Chancellor Gordon Brown flanked by his treasury team, financial secretary Stephen Timms, chief secretary to the treasury Andrew Smith, economic secretary Melanie Johnson and paymaster general Dawn Primarolo. Picture: PAChancellor Gordon Brown flanked by his treasury team, financial secretary Stephen Timms, chief secretary to the treasury Andrew Smith, economic secretary Melanie Johnson and paymaster general Dawn Primarolo. Picture: PA

"When I was at college I spent two weeks in Forest Gate as part of a church project," the Hampshire-born politician explained.

"In 1978 I got a job in London. I needed to live somewhere and the only place I knew was where I had spent two weeks before.

"I kept in touch with people and one of them had a spare room which he rented to me."

He became a Little Ilford councillor in a 1984 by-election triggered by a discovery that the two Liberal Focus Group councillors hadn't actually been living in Newham at the time they were elected.

Stephen Timms with singer Mutya Buena during a visit to Langdon School. Picture: PAStephen Timms with singer Mutya Buena during a visit to Langdon School. Picture: PA

Almost immediately, two key issues - housing and employment - were identified.

"In 1984 we wanted to get everyone out of B&Bs in time for Christmas," he said.

"We achieved it.

"It wasn't long after the docks had closed and there were factories closing too. The big question was how can we create jobs for Newham residents?"

Stephen Timms speaking in the House of Commons. Picture: PAStephen Timms speaking in the House of Commons. Picture: PA

One of his ideas was to try and bring an international train station to Stratford - with the intended six month campaign taking 11 years.

"Then people said, you've got a station, you could have an Olympic stadium," he explained.

"On that basis I claim credit for the Olympics!"

The Olympics, he said, helped to transform the public perception of Newham.

Newham Recorder coverage at the time. Picture: ArchantNewham Recorder coverage at the time. Picture: Archant

"A lot of young people growing up felt like they were living in the poor part of London," he said.

"Suddenly, during that summer, it was the most exciting place to be on the planet."

The Newham of 2012 was a long way from the Newham of 1994, when the MP for Newham North East, Ron Leighton, died. Mr Timms, by then Newham Council leader, was selected to contest the seat in what would become a by-election best remembered for the actions of one of his rivals.

"Alec Kellaway was standing as the candidate for the Liberals," he explained.

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"Three days before the election he defected from the Lib Dems to Labour."

By 1997, boundary changes meant the ward would now be East Ham - and success for Labour under the leadership of Tony Blair meant the party was now in government, rather than opposition.

"When we had a Labour government, for all but one of those years I was a minister," Mr Timms said.

"I started as parliamentary private secretary in the ministry for employment, implementing Labour's New Deal. I think it was a fantastic project.

"Then I worked for Mo Mowlam, the Northern Ireland secretary. She gave me the job of working out the Northern Ireland budget which complemented the Good Friday agreement. That was a really important role."

Other roles followed, including in the treasury and the department for work and pensions, as well as in education where he set up Teach First - a teacher training scheme to boost standards that he is particularly proud of.

"I was doing two important jobs," he said. "I was still MP for East Ham and a minister for something."

But that changed in 2010, when Labour lost the general election - despite victory in East Ham handing Mr Timms the biggest numerical majority of any MP that year.

And just over a week later, at his first constituency surgery since the election, came the attempt on his life after he was stabbed.

Roshonara Choudhry, then 21 and of East Ham, was jailed for life with a minimum term of 15 years after being found guilty of attempted murder.

Mr Timms was out of hospital in five days and back at work little more than a month later.

He said: "We arranged my security a little bit differently after it happened.

"I was offered a knife arch but said no.

"It's really important that people don't have to go through hoops to see their MP."

He added: "I think there was no question about going back. What else would I do?"

Despite his workload - 14 hour days are common - he is patron of Newham-based charities Richard House and NASSA, and runs an annual, week-long politics school for young constituents.

Ahead of the June 9 anniversary of his election, Mr Timms has no plans to stop after 25 years in parliament saying: "I couldn't imagine doing another job."

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