Greg Mulholland interview - From shock defeat to looking to the future

Former Leeds North West MP Greg Mulholland
Former Leeds North West MP Greg Mulholland
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Greg Mulholland lost his Leeds North West seat in June’s General Election. He talked frankly to Political Editor James Reed about coming to terms with losing his job, the impact on his family and looking to the future.

GREG MULHOLLAND pauses and takes a deep breath.

He is recounting how his 12 years as the MP for Leeds North West came to an end on the night of June 8.

“One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do was tell my three daughters because they have all grown up with daddy being the MP. They’ve never known anything else.

“They’ve been dragged around the shows, fetes, extravaganzas; that’s how we’ve lived as a family for 12 years. I knew how upset they would be.

“I got in from the town hall and I just sat in the lounge from half-four until seven o’clock. I’m not sure I was even thinking, just sitting and waiting because I knew I had to tell the kids.

“I just burst into tears. That was tough. But kids are hilarious. For them it’s sad because daddy’s not an MP and he’s not got a job, they pick up some of the anxiety of that, but they do say things like ‘daddy, it’s really nice that you’re around a lot more’.”

No longer a public servant, Mr Mulholland does not have to subject himself to media interviews or be as brutally honest as he is when talking to The Yorkshire Post.

But as a long-time supporter of campaigns on mental health, including rugby league’s State of Mind initiative, he feels it is important to be open about the impact losing his seat has had.

“I remember sitting just in the front room thinking ‘what’s just happened?’ No chance to plan anything, no chance to talk to anyone, to think what you might do. In a normal election you accept it, the four or five-year cycle, you accept when you go in you may win, you may lose. As a family we had made plans financially, took out a loan on the basis of having a job until 2020.

“When you are an MP, certainly with the way I did the job, in terms of being completely subsumed and part of the community, living, shopping going to the pub in the community, everyone knew me.

“You suddenly realise you don’t know where the MP stopped and you started and you actually can’t separate it.

“The first couple of months were very tough.”

Like all his fellow MPs, Mr Mulholland had not been expecting to have to defend his seat until 2020. Indeed weeks before Theresa May called the snap election, the Mulholland family had taken a rare opportunity to go on holiday.

“I came back feeling really rejuvenated, happy, satisfied, really looking forward to getting back into the work, the campaigns that I was in the thick of. On the Tuesday a friend texted and said ‘Theresa May’s going to make a statement’.

“From there it was seven-and-a-half, eight weeks of head down, campaigning every day. I had one enforced day off for my middle daughter’s first communion.

“At the start everyone says you’re going to win and towards the end you start to realise it’s going to be close, you think it could be tricky, and then you’re at the count at four o’clock in the morning walking out of Leeds Civic Hall and you’re not the MP. Leeds looks different, you get back home and everything looks different, you don’t know who you are.”

Mr Mulholland actually polled more votes in June than he had in 2015 but that was not enough to offset the surge in support for Labour, propelling Leeds councillor Alex Sobel to victory.

He puts his defeat in part down to the large number of students in his constituency voting Labour, exacerbated by continued hostility to the Liberal Democrats over their u-turn on tuition fees while in government – a policy Mr Mulholland actually voted against.

The Liberal Democrats also made a “miscalculation”, he argues, over making opposition to Brexit its central policy pledge in an election where many young voters were asking “how can we change the government, what kind of society do we want?”.

“Unfortunately as a party we didn’t have hopeful messages for those young people. We only had the Brexit message then, crazily, someone thought it would be good to say we would legalise cannabis as though it would transform the party’s fortunes!”

Mr Mulholland has faced the same challenges confronting all those who lose their job with little warning, from worries over paying the bills to starting the hunt for a new career. He has also had to make his five staff redundant and go through the process of closing his offices.

But there have been positives too, including a chance to pursue one of his great loves, music, playing gigs with his band Summercross and penning a new song called, aptly enough, Silver Linings. A chance exchange on Twitter also led to a stint as a presenter for BBC Radio Leeds.

“I walked into a local pub, I think after my first day, for a pint and somebody said ‘you’re a radio presenter now’. Up to then, it had been people being lovely saying ‘sorry you lost, it shouldn’t have happened’, all the rest of it. Until I did the radio show I was Greg Mullholland the MP who lost out of the blue. I remember sipping that pint and thinking that was a big step forward.”

There is more time for family and more freedom to express himself free of the expectations of elected life.

“Absolutely there are different things but we have all got to do that in life. When you get a challenge and you’re flat on your face you’ve got to pick yourself up and accept it. Whether it’s short term, long term, whether I stand again, get elected again, in the short term I’ve got to do other stuff and I’m positive about that.”

Greg Mulholland spoke movingly over a gift he received following his defeat.

He was presented with a scrapbook full of pictures and testimonies from families he had supported through his campaign on the way the NHS funds drugs for rare diseases.

It was handed over by the parents of Sam Brown, from Otley, whose story of battling to secure the drugs their son needed led to Mr Mulholland becoming involved in the campaign.

The former MP said: “It brought a tear to my eye. It’s the best gift I’ve ever had.

“That’s what’s driven me for years and that’s also why it’s really hard to have that ripped away because I’m not in that position any more.”

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