House Magazine Article

(November 16, 2011)

This week, Steve was featured in the 'House' magazine...

Steve Headshot 2

Twenty-two years ago I went to Hillsborough to watch my beloved Liverpool play Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup semi-final. I went as a 28 year-old bricklayer from Kirkby. Twenty-two years later I rose to make a speech on the disaster as the Member of Parliament for Liverpool Walton. My journey to this place has been improbable but being an MP provided me with the platform to make a speech on Hillsborough that was over two decades in the making.

I consider the families of the 96 victims to be amongst the bravest and most dignified people I have ever had the privilege of meeting. Their campaign for the truth into how their loved ones died is as noble as it is heartbreaking. I know politicians don’t like to show feelings, perhaps in the misguided belief that the public might see any show of humanity as a sign of weakness, but I reject this notion. In the weeks and days leading up to, and following the debate, I lay awake at night thinking about Hillsborough. I was thinking about the horror of the day. I was thinking about how I would feel if I had lost a close family member and to this day still didn’t know how and why so many were allowed to die in a football stadium. And, I was thinking about why it was that some people, both in Parliament and in the public at large, still didn’t believe this 22-year cam- paign was a campaign worth debating.

Hillsborough was a tragedy for 96 families, but it was also a dark chapter in history for our politicians, press and police. I don’t pretend to know the full extent of what went on in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, though I have an idea. That’s why I wanted the debate. I wanted to not only place on record the empathy the ma- jority of the House has with the families, but also press the government to end the uncertainty once and for all by releasing all documentation relating to the disaster.

The debate also provided the House with an opportu- nity to right a wrong and to restore public faith in our ability to act on their behalf. The introduction of the e-petition was a move by the government that I welcome and proved that MPs don’t see petitions as a gimmick, but rather as a demo- cratic mechanism by which to inform our debate.

It may come as no surprise that at times I was very frustrated with the archaic nature of the parliamentary process. It is long, arduous and very complicated. Yet the process by which we secured the Hillsborough campaign, was, in many ways, the quintessential modern-day cam- paign. We used the very latest form of lobbying (online government e-petition), social media, asked celebrities to use their profiles, and channelled the media into our message which meant that despite a very traditional par- liamentary process, a modern machine was able to take effect at the very heart of Parliament.

The backbench business committee, chaired by Natascha Engel, was fantastic and I urge Members to make full use of them. Their advice, support and indul- gence made the debate possible.

“i consider the families of the 96 victims to be amongst the bravest and most dignified people i have ever had the privilege of meeting”

In the build-up to the debate, we needed to submit our application to Natascha’s committee. I had sent email after email to Members asking for their support and it duly came. I also had to show the committee a list of MPs who had pledged support on the day. An hour before I was due to address the committee, I got a phone call from Mrs Skinner. She told me that Dennis, in his own inimi- table way and despite being on his hospital sick bed, “had said I’d better add his name to the list”. I added it and, as destiny would have it, as I walked to the committee, I had the support of 96 MPs (one MP for each life lost).

On the night itself, it was moving to hear, not just from Merseyside MPs who were at the game or who have been affected by the tragedy, but also from Sheffield and Nottingham MPs. I was almost moved to tears as they il- lustrated how their city had lived with the dark cloud of Hillsborough ever since that fateful day. I also thought the home secretary got her contribution just right, which was a great comfort to the many families in the public galleries.

It was a debate that united Parliament and, as I said in my closing remarks, the Speaker described MPs as “upright, decent, honourable people, looking to improve the lives and change the lot of their fellow citizens in this country”. Over the course of the debate, MPs have made a difference to those families’ lives. For that, I will be for- ever grateful.

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