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From War to Westminster

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WESTMINSTER AT WAR – THE PRACTICALS

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Rob is now a professional mountain guide in Chamonix. After a year as a cadet at Sandhurst in , Jarvis joined the Parachute Regiment. When Jackson returned to England in Jarvis accompanied him.

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They married the following year. It was in Afghanistan in , while following the UK general election at the end of a tour, that he first seriously considered a career in parliament. The only kind of minor saving grace was the fact my kids were so young [seven and five].


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The magnitude of it was not completely lost, but if they had been the age they are now it would have been harder. But he did not want a desk job in the army. The following year, the Barnsley Central seat became vacant. Dan Jarvis, photographed in Barnsley this month by Rick Pushinsky. Jarvis thought he stood little chance. The town has a long history of coal mining and union ties; on our run, we passed the house owned by Arthur Scargill, who Jarvis says is now a recluse. Every local MP for the previous 70 years had been from Barnsley or nearby, and most had been miners.

And Nottingham, where Jarvis is from, is still associated with miners who kept working during the great strike of the mids. As someone untouched by all that, with a proven track record of service, I thought maybe I could be considered. The by-election was more of a formality, as Barnsley Central is a safe Labour seat.

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But Jarvis was determined to make a point. He won 61 per cent of the vote, compared to the 47 per cent that Illsey had polled for Labour a year earlier. After his victory, Jarvis moved the family home from Salisbury in Wiltshire to Barnsley. The kids are very settled and love the town. Now Rachel takes care of most of the parental duties.

But we make it work. They will help him campaign closer to the election in May. Jarvis says Barnsley still suffers from misconceptions, with many people assuming that it is a heavily industrialised urban area. The last of the coal pits closed decades ago and three-quarters of the borough is green belt. The M1 passes close to the town and the Peak District is nearby. Yet there are challenges. Underemployment is also a problem, with people who want permanent work having to settle for zero-hours or other part-time contracts.

In swaths of the country people are worse off by every metric than they were in Why is this? Opposition leaders have it tough compared to prime ministers, who have the benefit of incumbency, he says.

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But there is constant scrutiny upon him. Labour supporters and politicians are concerned. Later, Jarvis tells me that although the online version of Why Vote Labour initially sold better than the Conservative, Lib Dem and Ukip titles, the Ukip book is now the biggest seller.


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But he thinks that support for Ukip has peaked. The main market is busy with shoppers. Jarvis stops to talk to two female police officers and asks if they are having a quiet morning. Jarvis is working with the government to have them banned. We eat lunch at an Italian family restaurant. Out of earshot of Jarvis, I ask the two young waitresses if their MP is representing them well. The first says yes; she recognised him when he walked in.

The second has no idea who her representative at Westminster is, and is only humouring me with an answer. Jarvis chuckles when I tell him. I ask him what has gone wrong. Globalisation offers many opportunities but many challenges as well. Technological improvements mean there is not as much of a role for those previously unskilled opportunities, so that brings pressures and challenges. The public was something of an afterthought. This has led to a breakdown of trust.

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There are too few working-class people, too few women and too many career politicians, he says. That is a fact of life that we should seek to address. But we need a parliament that is truly representative of the public that it is there to serve. Is this a useful way of contributing, and shaping things? I guess before I did this, it seemed much more obvious. I am there to champion my constituents and make sure their voices are heard and to stand up for them.

I think I have learned a bit about how you get things done and how parliament works. One is a consequence of being in opposition and not being able to influence government policy. Some people say it makes it more of a spectacle and fewer people would watch if it was not that sort of confrontational environment.

I have frustrated people by not allowing them to do that, and been very careful not to be linked with any one bit of the party. He must be aware of the talk of him as a future Labour leader? He pauses. I am utterly focused on winning the election and that Ed will be prime minister.


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The consequences of not doing so are severe for this country. It is said of Michael Heseltine that from school he had this grand plan that he was going to do a bit of time in the army, make money in business, go into politics, go into the cabinet and be prime minister.