I didn’t think I would feel so sad. How wrong can you get?
Friday was my last day in Birkenhead Town Hall – the place where I have held surgeries throughout the past thirty years. The Council has kindly fixed me up with accommodation across the square in the Treasurer’s department. But I hadn’t realised what a wrench it would be.
In those early days, I had a tiny boxroom on the ground floor which just held me, a constituent, two chairs and a very small table. People would come in to the Town Hall on a ground level and would sign in to see me.
It was in this little room that I first met Edmund Dell after being selected in January 1979 as the prospective Labour candidate for the town. Edmund was a glorious person and part of his glory was in his shyness.
The shyness prevented him from looking straight into my face. But, steadily directing his eyes towards to the wall I was facing, he gave me two pieces of advice.
The first was not to rush in and increase the numbers of surgeries that he held. It is very easy, later, to make surgeries even more regular, but it is very unpopular to cut the number. That advice I have followed to the letter of the law and it is only been over the last five, or is it ten, years that I have held surgeries as he did on the second and fourth Friday in the month, but now include the fifth Friday as well.
The other piece showed his optimistic nature. “One day”, he told me, “you will be famous. People will ask you to speak in their constituencies.
You can only ever lose votes in an election. Accept every one of those invitations for it is better to lose votes in someone else’s constituency that your own”.
I fear I have failed Edmund on his second prophesy, but all those memories came flooding back to me on Friday evening.
These surgeries play a crucial part in my role as MP. I don’t mean here the traditional role that constituents should be able to go to their MP and, if possible, seek redress for any legitimate grievance. This role is crucial importance and becomes more so.
Part of one’s job as an MP is to say there is no redress. But my role is to try and change the law.
This has been a really valuable side of surgeries for me. The have been my constant tutorial over the past thirty years.
All the good ideas I’ve had in proposing reform have had their genesis in that little room in the Town Hall. On another occasion I will list some of the best ideas and best reforms you, my constituents, have taught me.
But now I leave the Town Hall. It is up for sale. Will anyone buy?
More importantly, what will it do to Birkenhead not to have a Town Hall? Having a place to meet cheaply is another public service drastically cut back by this latest closure.
Two glorious opportunities to give Birkenhead Town Hall new life have slipped through our fingers. It was the obvious site, being at the centre of the borough, for being the office of the new Wirral authority.
The Labour group decided that was where the Central Office should be and Labour councillors in Bebbington, West Wirral and, of course, Birkenhead voted for it.
But the Labour councillors in Wallasey voted with the Tories throughout the borough to have Wallasey. How stupid can you get?
The other splendid opportunity was when the current council was looking for decent accommodation in Birkenhead for some of its staff. A Senior Officer (without authority) signed a contract to remodernise the Cheshire Lines building.
How stupid can you get again? The £11M – or whatever the huge sum was that was spent on Cheshire Lines – a building we will never own and on which we pay rent – could have been used to make Birkenhead the second council centre in the borough.
And guess what? That chief officer who acted in this way remains in post!