This article appeared in issue 10 of the magazine Dronfield Eye in August 2006. It is reproduced with their kind permission. The magazine is impressively produced and is delivered free to 15,000 homes in the Dronfield area where I live.
Someone once said there is nothing as ‘ex’ as an ex-MP. Harry Barnes left Parliament last year but now has a new political interest, Mike Firth reports.
After spending 18 years as the Dronfield area’s Member of Parliament, Harry Barnes was never going to settle down for a quiet retirement with pipe and slippers.
Indeed, now he is no longer tied to the House of Commons he has found himself welcomed to a whole new political field - in Iraq.
“I was determined to keep out of local politicking and, with expert timing, our first grandchild Joseph was born just four days after the dissolution of Parliament” said Harry.
“My wife Ann and I spent a great deal of time in London where our son Stephen lives with his wife Rebecca who is from Tasmania. Becoming grandparents was beautiful and it helped us adjust very quickly to the real world away from Parliament.”
Now, however, Harry travels the country in his role as joint president of the Labour Friends of Iraq movement and he recently visited trade union officials in Iraqi Kurdistan.
“The group was founded about 18 months after the invasion,” explained Harry. “I felt that once the invasion had taken place that we had to look towards the reconstruction of Iraq which is now a country striving for a civic society.”
After being quashed by Saddam’s regime for year after year, trade union membership is now flourishing as Iraq tries to rebuild. The dictator had banned all unions in the public sector and in the private sector they were state run under the control of ‘Chemical’ Ali.
“On the visit to Iraq we met trade unionists from all over the country. They represented more than a million workers who need our active support. We also met community groups and workers in the factories with their families.”
One of the reasons Harry is particularly interested in the well-being of Iraq is that he served his National Service there in 1955-56.
Looking back on his decision to stand down as MP for North East Derbyshire, Harry says it was perfect timing for both himself and his wife Ann who had worked alongside him in a constituency role throughout his Westminster career.
“I just thought there was no reason for me to continue. I am now almost 70 and I had done 18 years service. When it is time to go some MPs are demob happy and others just hate to go. At 5 p.m. on April 11th 2005 I ceased to be an MP and my computer system went down.”
“Looking back, I think things went fairly ok over the years. Hopefully I didn’t make too many disastrous mistakes.”
“Being an MP is a continuous activity and there are two sides to it, working in the
constituency and the Parliamentary job. Often they are interconnected. It is tiring and the ‘rest’ you get is provided by the change between Parliament and constituency.”
“Ann worked for me in the constituency and she retired when I retired. In fact I suppose she was actually made redundant because her job had gone!”
The couple spent the first year of retirement adjusting their house which is now a home once more instead of mainly being an office. “Now we have a dining room table and six chairs,” smiled Harry.
Holidays were always restricted to August and perhaps a weekend away at Easter. Now the pair are free to decide and they like to visit their daughter, Joanne, who previously worked in Majorca but is now based at the Crawley head office of a travel
“I don’t really miss being an MP but occasionally if I watch the Parliament Channel I look to see who is in ‘my’ seat. Then if it is empty I wonder why no-one is sitting there!”
“A lot of it had become tedious and routine and I don’t miss that aspect. I remember regularly sitting for hours in the House hoping to get up to make a ten-minute speech. But then if there is high drama I suppose I miss that.”
“Now Natascha Engel is the MP for this area and I would never interfere in constituency matters. We get on well with each other and if she wants to talk to me about anything I am here to help.”
Harry, who suffered a stroke eight years ago and was in hospital for two weeks with Ann taking care of matters, is political education officer for Dronfield Labour Party and he is currently setting up a NE Derbyshire Branch of the Fabian Society.