MP reveals the ‘all-consuming’ life of politics

Dave Watts, St Helens MP
Dave Watts, St Helens MP

A WEEK, they say, is a long time in politics.

For Dave Watts, MP for St Helens North, it’s been a life-long commitment and he’s certainly not finished yet.

Speaking to the Reporter from his Claughton Street office, the Labour politician is as energetic today as he was when he first entered local politics 36 years ago.

“I was first elected as a councillor when I was 25 and I’m 61 now so I’ve been involved in local politics for a lot longer than just 15 years,” he said.

“I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve done over the years though and I hope I’ve been able to make a contribution to the communities I serve.

“Having worked for my predecessor, John Evans, I threw my hat in the ring when he stepped down. The day I was selected as the candidate was one of the most stressful of my life though. As leader of the council at the time, I was really worried about losing in my own backyard!”

Fortunately for Mr Watts, the result was “fairly resounding” and he was elected as the town’s next MP in the spring of 1997.

What are his memories of that day though, when a Labour landslide finally ended years of consecutive Tory governments?

“It was a momentous day of change and optimism - a day I’ll never forget. People woke up the following morning with a real sense of excitement - knowing change was on its way.

“For me personally, I had always wanted to represent a community I felt akin to and could help as much as I could.

“My first year in office was like a whirlwind. It took a bit of time to get used to the House of Commons and there was a great deal of excitement about New Labour. There was barely time to think.”

Mr Watts had first became politically active by representing trade unions at the United Biscuits factory in Huyton.

However, he says he quickly recognised the limitations of trade unionism, and got involved with the Labour party at a time when boundary changes were being enforced. Within three months he had become a branch secretary and within six months he had been elected as a councillor.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Mr Watts, a proud father-of-two and grandfather-of-three, said: “My family would tell you how dedicated I am to my job. I do feel guilty that I’ve spent so much time away from my family over the years though. Politics can be all-consuming.

“Nowadays, I always advise my younger colleagues to make time for their families.”

Mr Watts went on to serve as a senior whip in the Government for five years and as a parliamentary private secretary to ex-deputy prime minister John Prescott.

He rates his election as chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party earlier this year as his Westminster career pinnacle though.

Locally, Mr Watts rates his highlights as being able to influence advances such as the new college, new schools, the Blackbrook bypass and the new hospitals.

He added: “The face of St Helens is changing all the time. The town has gradually moved away from the domination of coal and glass and is finding its feet in other industries.

“Geographically, St Helens is at a distinct advantage because it’s close to the M6 and M62, has the East Lancs running through it and is close to two airports. But, as a town, we need to make sure we develop enough opportunities for ourselves.

“Although times are very difficult at the moment there are local companies which are doing well. We’ve got to shift towards highly-skilled industries and create world-class products right here in St Helens. There’s no future in going backwards.

“People sometimes think I’m too pro business, but if we don’t develop new businesses now we could get left behind.”

And has Mr Watts considered whether he will stand for re-election at the next general election in 2015?

“I won’t make a decision until I have to. Come the next election I’ll be 64 and I’ll have to make a decision. But I’m still fairly fit and still able to do the job.

“I believe you need to have a real level of energy for this job. But I can assure my constituents that I’m certainly not intending to stay on until I collapse in a heap in the Commons!”