Northern Lights: There’s nowt so queer as politics so choose to use your ballot vote wisely

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It is 30 years since the 1987 general election when I was elected for the first time to the House of Commons.

Almost three decades to the day, I had agreed to do an interview with a Daily Mail journalist while travelling on a train from London to Sheffield.

Thirty years on, I would not be foolish enough to get into the public guessing game as to what the outcome will be when the votes are counted this year.

It has to be said that, while I had some national profile because of my position as Sheffield City Council leader and a member of the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee, it was more the angle of “Britain’s first blind MP in modern times” that interested them.

I thought – not shared by everyone at the time or since – that I was a reasonably sophisticated up-and-coming politician.

The first lesson, was not to overestimate my own capabilities! The second was to be extraordinary careful what you say to a journalist, whatever the publication they work for!

On this occasion I was asked a simple question as to, if I was a betting man, “how much would you put on Labour winning?” I took this in a jovial fashion and laughingly said that, if I only had a fiver left, I don’t think I would necessarily place a bet.

This emerged as “Blunkett wouldn’t put a fiver on Labour to win” – woo!

This interview and the kerfuffle around it resulted in me appearing on Radio 4’s The World at One. The interviewer – after all this was the general election – was no other than Robin Day.

For older readers, this will be a familiar figure. For younger readers, it is worth explaining that he was a well-known political interviewer, host of the early version of BBC One’s Question Time on which, much to my surprise, I had appeared a number of times from 1982 onward.

On this occasion, having undertaken the usual interview and pinned me down to my undoubted belief that Labour was going to win the general election, he then gave me a piece of advice.

Namely “If you’re going to do interviews of this sort, you should take Tony Benn’s advice and always record the interview”.

He went on to explain, on air, that in that way I could justify entirely the statement I’d actually made and give chapter and verse on why the interpretation was over the top.

From time to time I forgot the advice but I mainly remembered to have my cassette machine to hand when undertaking even the simplest interview. A journalist is, after all, a journalist.

Thirty years on, I would not be foolish enough to get into the public guessing game as to what the outcome will be when the votes are counted and announced on the morning of June 9 this year. The opinion polls speak for themselves.

What is certain is that those who don’t vote have only got themselves to blame for what happens over the next five years and the impact it has on themselves and their family.

I feel this very strongly, not least because I’ve long been an advocate of engaged and active citizenship and now teach at my old university, the University of Sheffield (above). But for another reason as well. I have been disenfranchised. Or, rather, I’ve disenfranchised myself.

And the reason? Because I agreed to take a peerage and therefore to become a member of the House of Lords.

My basic right as a citizen has been infringed by an arcane law that disqualifies members of the House of Lords for voting in general elections.

This therefore, is another very strong reason as to why I’m encouraging everyone to take the very basic step of casting a vote on June 8.

Not in what is being presented as a presidential race between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn. We don’t have a president in the United Kingdom.

We elect constituency Members of Parliament to represent the community, whose voice should be heard loud and clear in a system designed to hold the government to account and not simply to act as voting fodder.

Having been a member of the Labour Party for 53 years, and had the privilege of representing the people of Brightside – and then Brightside and Hillsborough – for 28 years, I would naturally wish people to vote Labour.

But I sincerely believe that, whatever the arguments, merits or otherwise of Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn, it is the local Member of Parliament for whom you are voting.

Hard-working and committed men and women deserve your support on their merits and not on the popularity of a party leader.

In 1987, despite running a very effective campaign, Labour lost heavily. I was fine, with a majority of over 24,000, so June 11 was a very good day for me personally. It was a very bad day for Britain.

It did however provide a foundation for Labour to continue rebuilding itself until, ten years later, I found myself as a member of the Cabinet led by Tony Blair and able to do so many of the things that I had worked for over the preceding decade.

I’m proud of the change we made but I’m hopeful that every sensible hard-working Labour MP who is elected will be the bedrock of a better future for Britain, a more equal and fair society and a reflection of the aspiration and needs of people of Sheffield and beyond.

It is that hope for the future, and not the dangerous flirtation with megalomania by the Prime Minister, which is vital for a better world in years to come.