Barry Sheerman's life and career - from personal tragedy to his proudest moments

Huddersfield’s former MP, Barry Sheerman, has reflected on his political career spanning an impressive 45 years.

Sheerman will be stepping down as Huddersfield’s MP this year after serving the town since 1979. As time in office draws to a close, the Labour veteran has reflected on his long career, from beginnings in personal tragedy, to his first election victories and campaigning.

Born in 1940 in Sunbury-on-Thames, Middlesex, Sheerman worked as the head of American studies at the University of Wales, when a shattering tragedy hit his family.

Read more: 'A freak accident hanging up laundry left me in a wheelchair and plunged us into debt'

“Me and my wife had a three-acre farm outside Swansea, we had goats and ducks. We had the ideal existence but we had a personal tragedy - our first baby died at birth.”

Michael Foot (third left) with Labour activists including Barry Sheerman (second right) at Huddersfield Town Hall in December 1981
Barry Sheerman (second right) with Michael Foot (third left) and Labour activists at Huddersfield Town Hall in December 1981 -Credit:TMC

After a period of depression, Sheerman said: “I woke up one day and thought, ‘I don’t want to do this, I want to change the world'."

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After winning his first victory as a local councillor, Sheerman was the Taunton Labour Party candidate in the 1974 election. He was later introduced to the Co-Operative Party’s organiser for the North of England - who offered to send Sheerman over 250 miles north to Huddersfield to stand in the 1979 election. Sheerman was elected that year and retained the seat for 45 years.

One of his proudest moments in the House of Commons was a bill to reform the Enclosure Laws, a set of laws dating back 200 years that “took common land away from ordinary people”. He believed his bill would have “totally changed land ownership in Britain”.

Huddersfield MP Barry Sheerman has praised the hard work and dedication of Our Lady of Lourdes RC Junior, Infant and Nursery School in Sheepridge which has suffered repeated attacks from vandals. 8th January 1988.
Barry Sheerman at Junior, Infant and Nursery School in Sheepridge on 8th January 1988. -Credit:Mirrorpix

Although his bill was not passed, Sheerman is very proud of it, saying “It was the most radical bill, and it was mine”. Sheerman was also heavily involved in the Road Safety Bill. He first introduced the bill in 1979, which was finally passed after 13 failed attempts and strong opposition from within parliament.

However, with help from Sheerman’s campaigning, the bill was passed, making it illegal for children to ride in a car without seatbelts. The MP’s interest in road safety came after he was involved in a crash early in his political career.

A car was driving on the wrong side of the road and smashed into his vehicle. He said: “We only survived because we were wearing our seatbelts.”

Another bill he was heavily involved with was the smoking ban. Sheerman was approached by Action on Smoking and Health, and campaigned to get the ban through parliament. He said: “I’m very proud, still, that you can go out and breathe decent clean air which for many years you used to have to go to any function and hang all your clothes out somewhere they could stop stinking, and for health, that was a very big chapter.”

He still campaigns on the issue and chairs the Commission for Clean Air.

As well as this, Sheerman has been a keen advocate for education. He says: “I loved that I had 10 years as chairman of the Education Select Committee”, and says that in his time in Tony Blair’s government, he helped to introduce forest schools from Denmark, and also championed a fresh look at SEN and autism in British schools.

Sheerman spoke highly of the people of Huddersfield, and in a direct message to the people, he said: “Thank you. Thank you for putting up with me. We’re cautious in the way we embrace people in England but in Huddersfield and Yorkshire perhaps in particular, we don’t gush or anything like that but I think what we build up over years is a real respect for someone who does their job. I’ve just valued that kind of level of friendship and respect.”

He described himself as an “optimist” and also had a message for his potential replacement, Labour’s parliamentary candidate Harpreet Uppal. He said: “Keep the faith, don’t take anything for granted, and remember your job is the be the voice of the people of Huddersfield and once you’re elected, for all of them, not just the people who voted for you, you represent every single man, woman and child in your constituency and that is a sacred duty.”