Peter Elson speaks to STEVE ROTHERAM, MP for Liverpool Walton
STEVE Rotheram, MP for Walton, has always considered himself a regular kind of guy, a local man, former Liverpool councillor and a big voice in the Hillsborough Justice campaign, now working on the national stage, but still living in the constituency he’s known all his life.
So it was quite a shock recently when someone refused to shake his hand and told him it was “because you’re part of the political elite”.
It’s the age old dilemma of aspiration: the worker turned manager. Moving on always means change even if it’s only in public perception.
Yet this is the man who many older Parliamentarians congratulated for being the first to read out all 96 names of the Hillsborough victims in the Commons, at the pivotal debate on October 17, 2011.
As a long-term Liverpool FC season- ticket holder, he was almost caught up in the 1989 disaster, having swapped his ticket for the Leppings Lane stand 15 minutes before kick-off.
“Certain bits of what happened are as clear today as they were 20 years ago, other parts are hazy,” he says.
“On the coach back to the Carters Arms in Kirkby, we were all talking about how we could support the victims’ families and that’s stuck with me as a regular at memorial services.
“When we’d come out, we thought the press would look at LFC support- ers and hail us as heroes, but within hours the vilification started.
“I couldn’t believe where the bile was coming from, but we now know it was an orchestrated campaign to foist the blame onto LFC fans rather than those who were actually responsible.
“I’m also shocked at how long this has taken to sort out, but Trevor Hicks (the Hillsborough Family Support Group president) said it can take 25 years for major injustices to be resolved – and he wasn’t far wrong.”
Although he describes his political career as “accidental”, he’s kept moving upwards – and upwards.
“I’ve no ambitions to be a minister (although I’ve been offered the first stepping stones) and want to be a backbencher for as long as possible.
“Maybe it’s that self-limiting working class thing, so different to the born-to-rule Tory types I mix with.
“Even after my Hillsborough speech, I needed to ask a colleague if it was all right, I just wanted to do the people justice. And then to my shock, it won Parlimentary Speech of the Year.”
There’s no doubt he’s tried hard to hold onto his principles and stick to his roots. He’s a highly affable and jokey character in person.
“I’ve become a pachyderm. Every time I’ve tried to do things for the positive good, someone says. ‘Oh, he’s just doing it for his own self-aggrand- isement’. I’m sorry for those people who can’t see any good in anyone.”
He was delighted to be made Liverpool’s Lord Mayor for 2008 and said: “The council leader Joe Anderson wanted it to mean something more than just ‘buggin’s turn’, a thank you and shove off.”
In his selection as prospectiveLabour parliamentary candidate for the Liverpool Walton seat, he received 101 votes out of a possible 113. On May 3, 2010, he inherited a job for life as this is Britain's largest parliamentary majority.
But his selection was by no means a shoo-in: not from a sudden surge by Walton Tories, but from within.
His mentor, Peter Kilfoyle, planned to stand down as MP at the 2010 election and they both dreaded national Labour Party bosses parachuting in their own ‘celebrity’ candidate.
“I knew once I made the short-list I’d give it everything I had and the local party were scrupulously fair in the selection process for their MP.
“Enjoy is not a word I’d use about the job, it’s nothing like being a councillor, but I’m unbelievably honoured to represent the area and was so proud when Labour held their party conference in Liverpool and delegates who once avoided the place were now so complimentary.”
Born in 1961 to a stalwart Labour family, the middle child of eight (it’s something to do with twin siblings), one assumes it must have been a big Catholic family.
“No, I don’t think that the contraceptive pill had reached Kirkby,” he quipped. His father Harry was a factory fork lift truck driver and Kirkby councillor throughout the 1970s.
“My late mother Dorothy was matriarch of the family and had enough love for all of us. My wife Sandra would have struggled to compete with her to be Lady Mayoress.
“We are a close family, but my parents’ marriage broke up in my teens and my father’s being away so much for politics was part of the cause.
“My plan was not to become over- involved in politics. My road to Westminster is quite unusual and littered at every turn by tremendous luck.
“I’d attended a crisis meeting about education cuts at my son’s primary school and met Peter Kilfoyle and we talked for an hour.
“This coincided with getting a letter from the local Labour Party asking members to do more. I was wary of getting deeply immersed as I knew exactly what would happen.
“I discussed what the commitment would mean with my wife Sandra and she was very supportive, as always.”
The first letter Steve can remember receiving was from the Labour Party thanking him for delivering leaflets on behalf of his father.
“They get you young, it’s like deciding which football team to support as a kid. Before I knew it, I was secretary of the ward and running campaigns.”