Yvette Cooper has served a an MP for 25 years. She reflects on the changes in her time in office

Twenty-five years ago Yvette Cooper stepped through the doors of the Houses of Parliament for the first time to take her place as the newly-elected MP for Pontefract and Castleford.

By Julie Marshall
Thursday, 12th May 2022, 8:12 am

She was one of 101 women MPs elected that year to serve in Tony Blair’s government after a landslide victory removed John Major from office.

Since then she has been involved in many high profile campaigns and is particularly proud of her work helping families with young children get a better start in life in our district.

Of her time as a newly-elected MP, She said: “It was really daunting and it was a big change in parliament as there had been very few women MPs before 1997.

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Yvette Cooper, newly elected MP for Pontefract and Castleford.

“Staff in the House of Commons asked me who I worked for. They couldn’t believe I could possibly be an MP.”

In her maiden speech to the house on July 2, 1997 she paid tribute the hard-working people of her constituency ‘who are proud of their strong communities and who have fought hard across generations to defend them’.

She added: “Many of the pits are now closed, jobs in traditional industries have gone and, most important, we lack new investment and help to reskill the work force to generate new jobs to replace the old ones that have gone.”

The 25 years of Ms Cooper’s time as an MP can be divided into two distinct halves, the first 13 years in government and the next 12 years in opposition.

Yvette Cooper, pictured earlier this year working in the constituency.

She said: “Looking back over 25 years, the first half felt like we made loads of progress.

“And then the second half feels like we’ve been going backwards and we’ve been fighting to save services and to stop things from being cut back.

“Our towns are proud with a long history and its a real honour to be the MP, but I still feel we need a fair deal and we’re not getting that.

“And that’s what we have to keep fighting for.”

Once elected Ms Cooper’s first big campaign was the regeneration of the coalfields and the capping off of Glass Houghton pit.

She said: “We were trying to get more jobs into the five towns and more jobs into Glass Houghton.”

One of the initiatives she is most proud of is the provision of the Surestart scheme which provides support for young families and new born babies.

She added: “Its been a tragedy that they’ve been cut back, I think that closing them is one of the worst things the Conservative government has done.”

Ms Cooper and her small team of case workers help around 6,000 constituents a year with all manner of problems.

Successes include sourcing a wheelchair for a Paralympian, campaigning for a woman to receive specialist treatment for a pancreatic condition and being instrumental in bringing in legislation to help victims of domestic abuse take their cases to court.

Ms Cooper added: “There is so much potential in our towns I feel really angry about how we’ve been let down over the last 10-12 years.

“People have been doing amazing things despite the damage the conservatives have done to working people and families across our area.

“We need to keep fighting to get a better deal for our towns.”

PARLIAMENT IN 1997 WAS A DIFFERENT PLACE

When Yvette Cooper and the other women MPs took their seats in 1997 it was a very different place.

Ms Cooper said: “I think that there was a kind of attitude from some of the older conservative MPs at that time.

“They really looked down on us and they didn’t take us seriously.

“Parliament still ran all night sittings.

“The idea that you have MPs voting and discussing important issues at 3am is a stupid way to make legislation.”

The House of Commons timetable has undergone a number of changes since then and late night sittings now only take place on Monday and then only until 10.30pm.

In 1997 there was a gun club in parliament but no creches or nurseries. These were eventually introduced but too late for Ms Cooper to take advantage of when she had her three children, now aged 22, 20 and 17.

She added:“Some of the maddest times were when we travelled on the train with three young children and had to decide if there was time to change a nappy before it was time to get off.

“I remember chasing my son down the train corridor as we arrived in Doncaster one time and we only just made it off the train”.

In 1998 Ms Cooper married Ed Balls who became the MP for Normanton in 2005. In 2008 they became the first married couple to serve together in the cabinet. Ms Cooper was chief secretary to the treasury and Mr Balls was secretary of state for children, schools and families.