I have been interested in politics since I was a child. I was always fascinated by world events and used to listen to the home service.
In retrospect, one of the things that really helped my career was going to Cambridge. My school teachers were not very encouraging - I was thought of as a bit of a trouble maker - but I insisted on taking the exams and I passed. Beating the odds gave me confidence and taught me not to take no for an answer. My time at Cambridge also gave me my first taste of the middle classes.
One of the low points of my career was my attempt to be selected for Paddington constituency. I was born there and living there at the time so I was particularly keen to represent the area. I ended up losing the selection to a close friend who had fought a very dirty and personal campaign. What made it worse was that I had got her to join the Labour Party in the first place. That taught me to be wary. As LB Johnson is supposed to have said, "If you want a friend in politics get a dog". That's good advice, but I would also tell any budding politicians to stay close to your old friends. You will need their love and support in the tough times.
Coming into the House of Commons for the first time as an MP was a tremendous high. A lot of people had thought I couldn't win a seat as I was considered to be "the unacceptable face of Labour". I was 33 at the time and most of my colleagues were white men about 20 years older than me.
Winning the1997 election after 18 years of Conservative power was an amazing night. I remember watching the results in tears. Another highlight has been as an election observer at the first post-apartheid election in South Africa. I have always been involved in the anti-apartheid movement and spending that day in Soweto watching people queueing for hours to vote for the first time was really moving. In the UK people can get sceptical about politics, but that reminded me that things can be changed.
If I had to sum up my career in one sentence I would say that if you are working class, being an MP is the job your parents always wanted for you. It's clean indoor work and there is no heavy lifting.Reuse content