`An era not to be ignored'

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The Independent Online
JOE ASHTON, staunch defender of the working classes, said Labour MPs like him were now "dinosaurs from another era".

A former apprentice engineer on a factory-floor in Sheffield, Mr Ashton (Lab., Bassetlaw) welcomed the AEEU's decision to help parliamentary candidates from working class backgrounds.

"It is not that I want to put down the abilities of younger MPs, but having done a night shift in the freezing cold in somewhere like Tyneside would help them to speak out on behalf of workers," the 64-year-old MP said.

"A lot of the new intake of MPs went to university and never worked as carpenters, toolmakers or engineers before they were selected for their seats," he added.

"It is my generation, and I am over 60, who can understand one end of the lathe from another, who really are the voice in the wilderness for manufacturing.''

He was first elected for his seat, centred in a mining area in 1968, ironically beating the then director general of Jaguar, Geoffrey Robinson.

Now holding the office of Paymaster General, Mr Robinson's multi-million fortune and his opera-singing wife, Marie Elena Giorgio, have been described as the ultimate credentials for New Labour "luvvies".

While Mr Ashton refused to be drawn on his local party's choice 30 years ago, he added: "I believe that my own experience helped to convince local people to vote for me."

The son of a steel smelter and a school cleaner, Mr Ashton left grammar school at 15 to work on the shop-floor building tanks for the Korean War.

He joined the Labour Party at 16 and served on Sheffield City Council from 1962 before his election to Parliament.

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