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Liam Murphy speaks to ANGELA EAGLE, as she marks 20 years as Wallasey’s MP
IN 1992 when Angela Eagle won the marginal Wallasey constituency, her opponent Lynda – later Baroness – Chalker said the new MP was "just keeping the seat warm" for the Tories’ return.
As the first Labour MP ever elected in the Wallasey constituency, the 51-year-old has, during the last 20 years, gone on to hold numerous ministerial posts in Tony Blair and then Gordon Brown's governments, become shadow leader of the House under the leadership of Ed Miliband – and still has an eye on making it to the cabinet table under a future Labour administration.
From being called a “Commie and spat at in the street – it didn't happen often, but it did happen, people were generally nice and I survived” while a young Labour activist in 1970s Formby – Angela Eagle now celebrates two decades of mostly ups but a few downs as one of Labour's high profile MPs.
A young chess prodigy who was joint winner of the British Under-18s chess championship in 1976 she said the game she learned from her father had taught her to control her nerves. She said: “I would get nervous the night before a big match. So I learned to deal with stress and pressure, it's stood me in pretty good stead.”.
But politics was always her passion, coming from a Labour family which read the newspapers avidly and followed major news stories and talked about them “I remember Bobby Kennedy being shot, and then Nixon and Watergate always in the news,” she said: “I remember going to Spain in the late 60s on a camping holiday and mum and dad telling me about the Spanish civil war, about Guernica, and being in the tent thinking it’s not a free country because of Franco.
“There was always a political aspect to everything we did, and always Labour. I wanted to join the Labour party and would have joined younger if I could. I was queuing up. I wanted to be like Barbara Castle, she was great, showing that a woman could be a cabinet minister and very successful.
“The first time I met her, to talk to rather than see her as a far-off heroine, I was elected by then. We were celebrating the anniversary of women getting the vote, at the statue of Emmeline Pankhurst. I remember we were walking back and I said I had never forgiven Jim Callaghan for sacking her, and she said ‘neither have I’. And then after my first appearance on Question Time she sent me a note saying how good I was – it’s one of my prized possessions.”
At Oxford although Angela became chair of the university's Fabian Society she was more interested in joining the city's Labour party and campaigning in real elections at a time when the Labour party was struggling under the leadership of Michael Foot and Margaret Thatcher was in the ascendant. From there she used her economics degree to get a job with the CBI before joining CoHSE (now Unison), starting out as a researcher.