Davies fights for Commons life

October 4, 1996

Huw Richards reports from the Labour party conference in Blackpool.

Nobody would ever call Bryan Davies a lucky politician. For the second time in his career he faces losing his place in the House of Commons - this time, as his party appears on the verge of power.

At the same time as building up Labour's further and higher education policy, he has had to pursue the opportunity to implement it by finding a new seat after the loss of Oldham Central and Royston to the Boundary Commissioners.

The next step in his campaign to stay in parliament comes on October 13 when he faces the selection conference in Eccles, Lancashire. Having lost out narrowly in the new Oldham seat when his own was largely amalgamated with that of the long-established Michael Meacher, he was then beaten to the nomination for Wythenshawe.

Mr Davies's last hiatus spanned 13 years after he went down with his party, losing Enfield North as James Callaghan fell from power in 1979. Those years were not wasted - as secretary of the Parliamentary Labour Party he had a grandstand seat for the tumult of the early 1980s. But there were several narrow failures at Commons selection.

He remains optimistic that he will find a seat. "I've no doubt that I'll be in the next Parliament," he said at the Labour party conference in Blackpool this week. But seat-hunting is getting harder: "When I was being chosen for the 1992 election it was a matter of persuading perhaps 150 people. Now it may be 400 to 500." He points to a pattern of locally-rooted contenders - particularly councillors and council leaders - seeing off outsiders.

Certainty about his future would make frontbench duties a little less demanding: "But if you aren't prepared for hard work you shouldn't go into politics."

And there have been benefits: "I doubt if any MP has talked to a wider range of party members over the last couple of years."

The prospect of devising policies that others will implement is one that faces anyone in opposition: "There are no guarantees. It will be up to Tony Blair to choose who he wants for his government".

Nevertheless the expectation that David Blunkett will be Secretary of State for Education and Employment if Labour win is widespread, and it seems equally likely that Mr Blunkett will want to keep a productive team together.

Whether he can do so may depend as much on Labour party members in Eccles or elsewhere as on the national electorate.

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