The European Elections: Veteran loser enjoys heady taste of triumph

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The Independent Online
RED HEREFORD seemed a more plausible prospect for cattle breeders than the Labour Party until the arrival from Hackney of a missionary named David Hallam.

He has suffered for his socialism, this improbable MEP for Herefordshire and Shropshire, and yesterday he was presenting symptoms of post-psephological stress disorder.

'I haven't slept for 36 hours, but it feels lovely. I've got to go out in a minute and buy some glasses. Some friends are coming round, and they'll expect a drink,' Mr Hallam said.

The toast will be socialism in the Marches, the first time comrades have been able to link arms across the Welsh border. Mr Hallam won a majority of 1,850 votes over the leader of Conservative MEPs, Sir Christopher Prout, and can now fulfil the diary engagements he entered in February more in hope than expectation.

'I'm still blinking, but let me see,' Mr Hallam said, reaching for the imminent Euro-schedule. 'We're due at the Parliament on 19 July, but first there's a meeting with Margaret Beckett for all the Labour group members.'

Labour's unprecedented success has repercussions on domestic arrangements every bit as profound as their impact on Westminster. Mr Hallam is not practised in preparing for power.

The lush border valleys and sleepy market towns have sent to Strasbourg a 46-year-old evangelical Christian recently on the threshold of a maternity delivery suite. He was press officer to Edwina Currie when employed by Birmingham social services, and has fought nine elections. Thursday marked only his second victory, and the first seat he won, at local elections in 1976, promptly disappeared in boundary changes.

During the 1980s, he fought three European elections, whittling down the Conservative majority until the seat, straddling Staffordshire and Shropshire, became winnable. His reward was to be overlooked.

'I was the veteran loser.' He is also the veteran optimist. Selected to endure the wilderness of Herefordshire and Shropshire, he produced a zealous campaign tract entitled Labour Can Win. It did, partly because an enthused team of activists 'left no pocket of votes untouched'. Since Birmingham City Council made him redundant 15 years ago, Mr Hallam has been self- employed, providing public relations for trade unions.

The closing days of the campaign were fraught. There was a seat to be won, a pregnant wife about to bear their third child, and a living to be earned. Yesterday, he joined the pounds 30,000-a-year plus perks class. 'There will be a lot of little towns where they have woken up to a Labour MEP, a feeling for them like drinking home brew that wasn't too good.

'I want to use this job and the resources that go with it to show people just how good Labour representation can be. We are going to go round getting to know them, hiring church halls and providing copious tea and biscuits.'

(Photograph omitted)