MP’s widow joins fight for Labour candidacy in Sheffield Brightside & Hillsborough by-election

Gill Furniss, left, with her late husband Harry Harpham
Gill Furniss, left, with her late husband Harry Harpham

The widow of the late MP Harry Harpham is one of several candidates who have put their names forward to replace him.

Gill Furniss has announced her intention to stand for selection as Labour candidate for the Hillsborough and Brightside ward.

Solomon Curtis hopes to be the Labour candidate in the Hillsborough and Brightside by-election.

Solomon Curtis hopes to be the Labour candidate in the Hillsborough and Brightside by-election.

The seat is vacant following Mr Harpham’s death from cancer two weeks ago, and a by-election is likely to be held next month.

Mrs Furniss, a city councillor for Southey, is one of five people already vying for the Labour selection, alongside Oliver Coppard, Stephen Hitchin, Mike Buckley and Solomon Curtis.

Mrs Furniss said she hoped to carry on her husband’s work, but was standing in her own right.

She said: “I could have sat there being sad, but I thought I’d better roll my sleeves up and make a difference, like Harry did.

Dr Stephen Hitchin hopes to be the Labour candidate in the Hillsborough and Brightside by-election.

Dr Stephen Hitchin hopes to be the Labour candidate in the Hillsborough and Brightside by-election.

“It never crossed my mind I would be doing this, but after a very short parliamentary career my husband passed away. I have been approached by quite a few people and thought about it a lot. My kids said I had to do it, and that sealed it.”

Mrs Furniss was elected on to the city council in 1999, a year before Mr Harpham. She has been a cabinet member and scrutiny board chairman and has worked in public services her whole life.

“People want to talk to people like themselves,” she said. “The people I have represented know that I have had to worry about paying bills, and scrimping and saving to get my kids a decent Christmas. It’s these things that matter to people.”

Also hoping to be selected is Solomon Curtis. Mr Curtis was Labour’s parliamentary candidate in the 2015 election for Wealden, East Sussex, and represented Jeremy Corbyn in hustings across the South East.

Oliver Coppard is seeking selection as the Labour candidate for Hillsborough and Brightside

Oliver Coppard is seeking selection as the Labour candidate for Hillsborough and Brightside

He said: “The Labour Party is changing, and I genuinely believe we should be promoting a new kind of politics. This by-election is important because Sheffield needs a strong experienced voice in parliament.

“I grew up in Tory-blue Sussex, but in the second most deprived seaside town in the country, with high unemployment and poverty. Jobs and Housing were key issues for me growing up, and these are also the key issues in Sheffield. I’m young. But I see that as an advantage. Parliament is unrepresentative of women, ethnic minorities and people with disabilities; however it also doesn’t represented people under the age of 30.

“I want to be a voice for cross-generational issues such as housing, transport and jobs.

“My slogan, so to speak is, ‘Inspiring an Aspiring Generation.’ My politics is based on seeing the next generation do better than the last. Providing opportunities for people’s children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

“This by-election needs a campaigner, someone will national and international experience. Someone who is fully behind our leader and our party’s vision. Someone who can unite our party and stand up to the Tories.”

And Dr Stephen Hitchin, a Labour councillor in Chesterfield, is also in the running. Mr Hitchin, from Bootle in Liverpool, said: “As someone who is proud to describe themselves as a junior doctor in our NHS I have seen first-hand the effect this Government’s policies are having on patients, nurses and doctors. On a daily basis I see hospitals stretched to breaking point, and I know how furious my colleagues have been about the way Jeremy Hunt has attempted to portray our current dispute.

“I also know that the pressure on the NHS will only increase if many more Junior Doctors decide to leave the UK and practice overseas. That’s why I told the Guardian that I didn’t want Doctors to leave but to stay and fight.

“As a Registrar in both general practice and Emergency Medicine, I know how crucial the fight for the NHS is, and I think there is more that I can do. I am going to be putting my name forward to be Labour’s candidate in the Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough by-election. As the party of the NHS it is surprising that not a single Labour MP was a doctor. If I am elected I will take the fight of all those who love our NHS, and junior doctors particularly, to Westminster and send a loud and clear message to Mr Hunt and the Government that we will not allow our NHS to be mismanaged like this.”

Dr Hitchin added: “As a Labour member and councillor, I am proud that Labour founded the NHS and champions it’s cause, but the fight for its future is here and now. I trained in Sheffield, live just 10 miles down the road and practiced there as a doctor. It is precisely the kind of community that is at the epicentre of the care storm. Welfare cuts, care service cuts and escalating need, an industrial past with all the health problems that brings, and a fierce sense of pride in their Community.

“There couldn’t be a better place to resume the fight for our NHS, and I hope that members there will send a message to Mr Hunt that this is our NHS and there is a better way to manage it.”

Charity campaigner Mike Buckley has also put his name forward. Mr Buckley was on the Labour candidate shortlist to succeed David Blunkett last year, but missed out to Mr Harpham.

Mr Buckley, a former Westfield Comprehensive pupil, said: “Growing up here in the 80s I saw a government willing to let manufacturing jobs die out, tearing apart whole communities. Yet again the Tories are letting jobs disappear in the steel industry, with another 100 jobs lost at Forgemasters. Renewing our manufacturing industry and finding jobs for people out of work has to be the top priority. We should be a world leader in clean energy but the government refuses to invest. I want to see Sheffield at the forefront of this – creating jobs in the process.

“I will also stand up for our over-stretched health and social care services, for young people who can’t get jobs or access training or apprenticeships. I’m passionate about education, care for older people and early years development. I want everyone in Sheffield to have the best possible start in life and I will continue to campaign day and night on the issue of child poverty.”

Oliver Coppard, who took on then Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg at last year’s general election in Sheffield Hallam, announced his plan to seek selection when applications opened on Thursday.

A final Labour candidate for the by-election is set to be confirmed on March 2.