Mahon, Alice (1 of 1). The History of Parliament Oral History Project
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Interviewee's home, Halifax
Mahon, Alice, 1937- (speaker, female)
Wilson, Mark, 1985- (speaker, male)
Part 1: [Session: 24 July 2012] Alice Mahon [AM], former Labour Party [LP] MP, born Halifax, 28 September 1937. Earliest memory and description of early life. [00:22] Description of parent’s. Father’s and mother’s occupation. Remarks political influence on AM from parents, especially mother. [02:03] Description of war (especially transport) and how saw LP in post-war government. [02:58] Politics discussed in house when AM young. [03:43] Childhood – happy but poor. Attended local church school. Lived in a village. Father humanist. Family not religious. [attended church school as was only school in the village]. Enjoyment of dancing when young. [05:03] Employment of mother – in Second World War worked in mill and in a pub – and did sewing for people. [05:44] How war affected AM personally. Fond memories of village life and deal got by LP after war. Family served in war. [06:47] Description of Conservative in 1945 – someone who owned a car. Also church hierarchy conservative. [07:20] AM an atheist. Member of Secular Society. [07:30] Halifax politics. [08.22] Mentions 1992 General Election [GE] when only just held seat. [09:12] AM popular now no longer MP. Description of local press’s attitude towards her when MP for town. [09:50] Cultural influences in early life. Father had copy of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. Description of father’s influences (cultural and political) on AM. Political influences from both parents. Listened to opera in home. [12:17] Description of post-school life. Dozens of jobs – in hotels, factories, mills. Experienced lots for person of working-class background. Attended Sunday School when in school – not religious – more like youth club. [13:30] Marriage at age of 20. Had children. Political activity died. Trained as nurse but did not finish training. Worked as Auxiliary Nurse and became involved with NUPE [National Union of Public Employees, now Unison]. [14:37] Attended University as mature student. Mentions current husband [Tony], worked at Philips. Active in union work. AM campaigned for women’s rights in NUPE. Helped with winter of discontent 1979 and got women’s committee set up in NUPE. After degree taught Trade Union Studies at Bradford College. [16:04] Beginning of 1980s – local councillor. Selected for seat in 1985 GE. [16:55] Description of selection process to stand at GE. Support from various fronts for AM’s selection. Not a career politician. [18:53] Town Council. Elected onto Calderdale Council in 1982. Interviewed by those who now run council – called the ‘Junta’ to those on outside. Achievements being local councillor. Got Equality Committee set up. Help from locals as councillor – big leftwing party in town. Opposed Falklands War. Active in Miner’s Strike. [22:05] Did not try for other constituencies [for GE] and was not interested in standing anywhere else. Likes town of Halifax. [22:53] Good selection process as candidate for MP. LP now corrupt. Jack Straw awful lot of responsibility to bear for it [interviewer’s home constituency is Blackburn, whose MP is Jack Straw]. Straw and others ruined party. Done same for European party with list system which excluded everyone who voted against Tony Blair [TB] and Clause 4. [24:06] Predecessor in constituency. Roy Galley [MP for Halifax from 1983-1987]. Galley made some silly mistakes. Family helped AM in campaign. Lots of help. Galley did not give advice to incoming AM but Donald Thompson, MP for Calder Valley did. Donald a nice person. AM known Donald since childhood. [25:48] Support from national party. TB even visited. Tony Benn came too. Dennis Skinner came. In 1992 many people came as AM told party in trouble. [26:51] First election campaign okay. Second one  – dirty tricks. Joined forces with SPUC [Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, a pro-life group]. Halifax Courier, local newspaper, not supportive of AM but did support SPUC. [28:00] Local constituency party – supportive. 1992 disastrous election for LP. Brian Gould left for New Zealand – if stayed AM described he [Gould] might have got leadership, and not TB. [29:13] First campaign financed by trade unions. AM and husband paid a little but little personal income. Also some private donations. Key issues – worried about NHS [National Health Service], and removal of Health Authorities. TB carried on abolishing things after Margaret Thatcher and John Major. [30:45] Description of attending Parliament for first time. Culture shock – class divide. Patronisation and few women. Lots of sexism. Speaker made comment about AM’s accent not being received pronunciation. Description of debate on women’s rights. Different life experiences between politicians and backgrounds. [33:16] Description of who impressed AM in Parliament. Not just LP but also Tories – Ted Heath was interesting. Michael Foot, Denis Healey and Tony Benn. Tam Dalyell and AM very close. Mo Mowlam impressed AM. Also Betty Bothroyd impressed AM. Good women – Jo Richard, Claire Short. [35:48] NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organisation] trip to Germany just after Berlin Wall came down. Voted onto Parliamentary Assembly of NATO. [36:20] Description of social life in House of Commons. Not much money for MPs then [until 1997]. [37:15] Tony [AM’s husband] supportive. After 1994 worked with AM for free for years. Came home to Halifax every week. Mon – Wed (sometimes Thurs) in London, then come up to Halifax for weekend. Glamorous for Tony. Description of Brussels trip – Health Select Committee – AM’s husband mistaken for MP himself, not AM. [40:48] Lots of snobs in House of Common’s staff – clerks did not think MPs like AM should be MPs – did not like accents. NATO just as bad. [42:45] Description of experience in NATO. AM put on Civilian Affair’s Committee. Committee amazing – dealt with former Soviet Union states. Story about NATO trips. Description of AM being culture shock to NATO and sexism experienced. Comments on Yugoslavia War [46:05] Domestic policy issues – description of sexism experienced. Description of exclusion from debate on defence issues. [48:08] AM never wanted to be a minister. Not clever enough. Description of local issues and life as backbench MP. Mention of Peace Hall [local landmark in Halifax]. [51:00] Comment on local issues with Muslims and wider issues regarding forced marriages. [52:12] Description of local issues AM is proud of. [52:55] Relationship with media (locally and nationally). [54:58] Abortion debate described as worst event in Parliament. Description of expenses campaign. [56:43] Description of effect on family life and social life outside of Parliament. Description of Campaign group. [1:00:00] Description of where lived in London when MP. [1:03:13] Description of local events. Prioritising local vs. national events. Racism experienced. [1:05:40] Description of colleagues and Parliamentary and local issues like childcare. TB controlling Parliament and wiping out democratic procedures. [1:08:50] Description of office structure. Description of committee work and NATO. [1:12:16] Foreign visits description, mainly through NATO but also other trips. Stories about trips. [1:16:08] Comments on friends in Parliament and enjoyment of being MP and life after Parliament. Comment on highlight of foreign travel. [1:24:24] Comments on chairing NATO committee and membership of Health Select committee. Story about healthcare. [1:28:38] Comments on sexism in Parliament and criticism of LP. [1:33:34] Discussion of relationships with whips and PLP [Parliamentary Labour Party]. [1:37:42] Description of retirement and reasons why. Discussion of war and relationship with LP over it. [1:42:37] Discussion of Stop the War, CND and people leaving the LP. [1:43:36] Comments on religion and impact on AM, remarks on gay rights. Comments on other MP’s families. [Mentions Harriet’s child going to school across London; think AM means Dianne Abbott]. [01:49:45] Remarks on keeping in touch with current MPs [mention’s Jeremy, who is likely to be Jeremy Corbyn, a left-wing Labour MP]. [1:52:54] Comments and remarks on Europe. [1:54:44] Comments on inspirations of AM – Barbara Castle, Nelson Mandela, early women such as Sylvia Pankhurst.
Life story interview with Alice Mahon (1937-), former Labour Member of Parliament.