Retiring Leeds MP: Paul Truswell interview

As a young boy, Paul Truswell was taken by his father to the Sheffield foundry where he worked as a moulder – a job he described to his son as being "an artist in metal".

Such a romantic description masked the back-breaking toil of working in heavy industry, with its dismal pay and harsh conditions.

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Like many such fathers, John Truswell wanted better for his son and hoped a tour around the steel plant would be the incentive he needed to knuckle down at the nearby junior school.

"It was terrifying. It was dark, dirty, dusty with bits of metal flying around. It was like Dante's inferno. He said many years later that the reason he wanted me to go was that he wanted a better idea of what he did and why he never wanted me to do it.

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"My Dad used to earn a pathetic amount. He was paid piece-work, so he would come home on a Friday night, go and sit on the loo for about an hour working out how much he had earned that week so the company couldn't rob him," he tells me.

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Politics is highly personal for the Pudsey Labour MP.

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His political beliefs have been forged by the experiences of his family, first during his childhood growing up in a council house in Sheffield and then later as the industrial north was turned upside down by Thatcherite economics.

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Truswell's father, a staunch trade unionist, lost his job in the early 1980s and never again secured permanent work, moving instead between short-term labouring jobs and spells as a gateman at Butlins in Skegness (a job which, depressingly, paid more than his work at the foundry).

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"He went from someone in his mid-fifties who looked 10 years younger, to being someone in his mid-fifties who looked 10 years older."

Perversely, his father even blamed himself for having helped usher in the Thatcherism which was throwing so many of his generation out of work.

He had voted Labour all his life but by 1979 was disillusioned with the strict pay and incomes policies implemented by the Leeds MP and Chancellor Denis Healey.

For the first and only time in his life he voted Tory – and then spent the rest of his life regretting the decision.

"He never admitted it until a few years later. He spent the next 25 years apologising almost on the basis that his own single individ-ual vote had been responsible for unleashing the Thatcherism which he grew to detest."

Truswell, who describes himself as "savagely anti-Conservative", moved to Leeds at the age of 18 to study at history Leeds University.

After graduation, he spent a decade working as a journalist at the Yorkshire Evening Post, after winning the job in the face of stiff competition.

"There were six jobs going, two on the Yorkshire Post, two on the Evening Post, two on the now defunct Doncaster Evening Post and 650 applicants."

He then spent 10 years working as a local government official in the social services department at Wakefield Council, a job he juggled with being a Leeds councillor.

His political career, including his election 13 years ago in Parliament, happened as much by chance as design, he says.

"I never set out to become an MP or even a councillor, but on both

occasions I agreed to let my name go forward for consideration and was selected on first ballot from a short list of six."

Surfing Labour's tidal-wave, Truswell won the seat in 1997 with a massive 13.2 per cent swing, one of the largest in the country. His delighted father wept with joy.

A year into the job and Truswell began working on a constituency issue which he says remains his most fulfilling achievement in Westminster.

In late 1997, he was contacted by a constituent John Knowles whose 14-year-old son David had been knocked down on the Stanningley by-pass after drinking alcohol which he has bought at a Pudsey off-licence.

A major loophole in the licensing laws meant that those responsible for selling David the alcohol could not be prosecuted.

After three years of dogged campaigning, Truswell successfully closed the loophole with a Private Member's Bill.

He talks of the pride he felt at standing at the back of the House of Lords chamber with John and Linda Knowles as the legislation he had guided through Parliament passed into the statute book.

The father-of-two has always paid a close interest in health policy – an interest fuelled by the desire to repay his family's "debt" to the NHS. Truswell's own life was saved when he was a baby suffering from pneumonia; the lives of his wife Suzanne and youngest son were saved following a life-threatening condition during pregnancy; his mother-in-law was given a liver transplant and, more recently, his brother was treated for a rare "catastrophic" condition.

"I am almost a zealous supporter of the NHS and therefore not very tolerant of any party, including my own, that I think undermines it," he says.

The 54-year-old was, however, was left disappointed when a long-running campaign for a new-build children's hospital in the city ran into the sand.

Despite having initially won approval, NHS bosses decided in 1997 that they could no longer afford to build the facility as costs had spiralled to 650m.

Instead they decided to centralise all in-patient hospital beds for

children at LGI, solving the issue of seriously ill youngsters having to be transferred across Leeds.

Nevertheless, he does not agree with those who point to the children's hospital and the collapse of the Supertram scheme as evidence that the Labour government has too often overlooked Leeds.

"In the sum of things, if you go through and look at all of the extra money for schools, both capital and revenue, that's far more than Leeds ever got in the past."

Truswell, is, however, no cheerleader for New Labour – recent voting records showed him to be his party's 15th most rebellious MPs. He says that he regards his rebel status with "sadness rather than satisfaction".

"I didn't become and MP to fight my own Government.

"My main disappointments were having to oppose the government over the invasion of Iraq, the Gurkhas, and on other issues such as the wider involvement of the private sector into public services such the NHS,

education and Royal Mail.

"As MPs we receive our fair share of abuse but one of the worst bits of abuse that I can ever receive is to be accused of being New Labour."

But being a Labour MP is all about balance, he argues. He may attack his own party for its obsession with the private sector but he also heaps praise on Blair and Brown for spending hard cash on schools, hospitals and policing.

Truswell announced last year that was did not have the "physical and mental stamina" to fight another election, following a serious car accident.

The Tories have spent years targeting his 4,751-majority seat and now, with the incumbent MP withdrawing from the fight, smell blood.

As Truswell steps away from frontline politics, he hopes that his constituents will learn from his father's decision to vote Tory 30 years ago.

"I think a lot of people today who are flirting with the Tories may ultimately find themselves regretting it in the same way."