Woman of steel – Anna Turley MP

SHE’s had to cope with the loss of more than 2,000 jobs after the collapse of the SSI steel plant on her turf as well as the death of Jo Cox MP, a close friend. Redcar MP, Anna Turley explains why she’ll never stop fighting for her constituents and how Teesside could be on the brink of a new industrial revolution.

A scribbled drawing, a coastal map and a framed collage of bewildered faces are all that decorates Anna’s small office near the seaside town’s railway station, but it’s the only view she wants to focus on right now.

The penned scrawl and the Ordnance Survey refer to exciting longterm plans which may help secure the future of a corner of the North-East which is still hurting after a vicious punch to its side.

And the medley of photos say a thousand words – the shattered men and women captured in a click on their last shifts at the blast furnace – their job hopes going up in smoke as the coke ovens cooled down.

Redcar MP Anna Turley alongside a painting of her predecessor Mo Mowlam, Labour MP for Redcar between 1987 to 2001.

Redcar MP Anna Turley alongside a painting of her predecessor Mo Mowlam, Labour MP for Redcar between 1987 to 2001.

It’s a year on but emotions are still raw. Anna had been an MP less than six months when the crisis happened and even now feels personally responsible for every family affected.

“If there’s going to be another industrial revolution here we have to make people aware of these opportunities right here that they don’t have to leave the area to find.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever stopped to process what happened because we’ve never stopped fighting. At the time it was all about how can we win the argument, how can we make them realise what a disaster closing the plant is going to be? How can we provide solutions? Then the SSI Task Force came along to give people much-needed help and it was a steep learning curve for me finding out how I could best use Parliament to argue for my constituents.

“These people were my neighbours and my friends. One told me he’d given up his place at university to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather and now he’d lost his job,” she explained shaking her head.

“I cried all the time during that period – people would send me pictures of their last shifts at the SSI blast furnace, tell me about the bills they couldn’t pay – it was awful but you shouldn’t be in this job if you can’t empathise.”

More than 2,000 people lost their jobs when the SSI steel plant in Redcar was shutdown last year.

More than 2,000 people lost their jobs when the SSI steel plant in Redcar was shutdown last year.

She suffered another devastating loss just months later when Jo Cox, MP for Batley and Spen in West Yorkshire, was brutally murdered just before she was due to hold a constituency surgery.

“You never expect to lose a friend in that way but she wasn’t just a friend she was my colleague and she was the same age as me. We were determined to ensure our constituency office was still accessible and not stop what we were doing but I did get added security both for work and home,” she explained.

The reasons why Anna stood for election are compelling – after a distinguished career as a top civil servant advising government ministers she saw firsthand that the way to make a difference was to do it herself.

Although not from a political family, Anna was interested in criminal justice from being young and studied History at university with thoughts of joining the police. She had to cut short a year abroad in Ghana after being accepted onto the Whitehall fast track graduate programme – other jobs very early on in her career included office cleaner and call centre operator.

“I learned what bad management looks like and what it was like to be at the bottom of the food chain, I also learned about the frontline culture of hating management and about hierarchy,” she said. “I voted for the first time in 1997 when Labour came to power which felt like a new dawn and a breaking of the shackles, but I felt frustrated that as a civil servant we were not trying to change things enough.”

After four years at the Home Office she joined Cabinet Minister David Blunkett’s team and went on to lead his 2005 General Election campaign covering 55 constituencies in five weeks which opened her eyes to the importance of politics in communities.

Anna was an adviser to Blunkett and Hilary Armstrong on child poverty and social exclusion and was Deputy Director of the New Local Government Network. Other worthy mentions on her CV include editing the blog Progressive Localism, being a driving force behind the Co-op Council initiative and a senior research fellow at IPPR North.

“I always thought I was a backroom person – I liked writing speeches and advising but when I was shortlisted for the North-West Durham seat for the 2010 General Election (losing to Pat Glass), I really found my voice and, when the Redcar seat came up in 2012, I decided to throw my hat into the ring,” she said.

Anna Turley was elected Labour MP for Redcar in 2015 with a majority of 10,388 votes representing 25.4 per cent.

Anna Turley was elected Labour MP for Redcar in 2015 with a majority of 10,388 votes representing 25.4 per cent.

“The travelling to London takes a lot of getting used to and sometimes you are working 16 hour days, I’m not saying that for sympathy but some people think of MPs as being lazy. I don’t understand how MPs can take a second job or have the time to write a book – if there’s one person out of work in your constituency you have a job to do.

Her constituency officer with its small, dedicated team has won back a staggering £106,000 for people who’ve had their benefits wrongly assessed – the Westminster letterhead does make a difference when clout is needed and Anna knows it.

“I went into public service as an MP because that’s where I thought I could have the most impact. Rather than being stuck in an office shuffling paper around, this is all about people and solving problems,” said Anna who recently married her partner Joe, who works for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP, Tom Blenkinsop, and enjoys a karaoke on a rare night off (her speciality is 80s power ballads).

The daily struggles faced by people living in Redcar is one Anna knows all to well as they reach out to her for help in person and on her social media pages.

“Redcar faces lots of issues, one is that of the redundant SSI employees who have now found work many are now in substantially lower paid jobs and another is that Redcar food bank has run out of stock in recent weeks. We give out food bank vouchers in this office but we are seeing more and more people in work poverty.”

“It’s frustrating that the area always seem to be at the bottom of the league tables – they do not help us – but the reality is that we have has one of the highest rates of child poverty, we’ve had 30 years of industrial decline and we’ve been disproportionately hit by Government spending cuts – added to that fewer than half the working women in Redcar are earning the living wage.”

“I cried all the time during that period – people would send me pictures of their last shifts at the SSI blast furnace, tell me about the bills they couldn’t pay – it was awful but you shouldn’t be in this job if you can’t empathise.”

Her constituency officer with its small, dedicated team has won back a staggering £106,000 for people who’ve had their benefits wrongly assessed – the Westminster letterhead does make a difference when clout is needed, and Anna knows it.

“I went to Parliament to ask for more resources for my office but there’s very much a view that MPs should not be social workers, yet the job is not just about going down to parliament to make speeches it’s about helping people who’ve been let down by other agencies and the headed paper helps.”

The three pictures dotted around her walls are a poignant reminder of Redcar’s past and cryptically illustrate its future. “The answer to how do we recover is not just through industry and jobs but through civic renewal by encouraging people to set up small enterprises which would give us a much more diverse economy as well as showing our ambition and commitment to social investment,” she said.

“If there’s going to be another industrial revolution here we have to make people aware of these opportunities right here that they don’t have to leave the area to find. I want everyone here to have the highest of aspirations but we have to improve our secondary education. One of the things that will keep young people here is giving them a stake in their community and I’ve seen this work through National Citizen Service.

“There are lots of exciting opportunities for Teesside. I want us to diversify and show off our leisure and tourism industries so we can make the most of them.”

“From the major developments at Teesport to the Wilton site, I am determined to use Brexit as a positive force for the area – we have a huge potential for jobs from steel recycling to carbon capture. When I think about Redcar, I’m excited about its recovery.”

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