NO DI­VI­SIONS IN THIS HOUSE Mary Creagh: A po­lit­i­cal life

In the lat­est in our se­ries ex­plor­ing mother and daugh­ter re­la­tion­ships, Wake­field MP Mary Creagh tells how her mother has in­spired her.

Yorkshire Post - - FEATURES & COMMENT -

MOST MOTHERS have a killer recipe up their sleeve, one that’s been passed down through the gen­er­a­tions and honed to per­fec­tion.

It might be for a le­mon meringue pie, or the ul­ti­mate York­shire pud­ding or, in the case of Mary Creagh’s mother El­iz­a­beth, a clas­sic Vic­to­ria Sponge. “My mum’s a great baker and her recipe is leg­endary in our fam­ily,” says Mary.

It was her mother who taught her how to cook when she was a young­ster dur­ing the 1970s. “My favourite mem­ory of my mum is help­ing her bake buns on a Sun­day af­ter­noon. She’d make 24 buns. There were five of us in the fam­ily so there were enough for us all to have some­thing sweet to look for­ward to un­til Fri­day. I al­ways got the first warm one out of the oven, but I never could bake as well as she does.”

The 47 year-old mar­ried motherof-two has been Labour’s MP for Wake­field for the past 10 years. As Shadow Sec­re­tary of State for In­ter­na­tional Devel­op­ment she is widely re­garded as one of the party’s ris­ing stars and has spo­ken out on a va­ri­ety of is­sues rang­ing from spi­ralling child­care costs to fe­male gen­i­tal mu­ti­la­tion (FGM).

But her jour­ney to the Com­mons be­gan in the unas­sum­ing sub­urbs of Coven­try. Her father was a car fac­tory worker and her mother a pri­mary school teacher in the city.

Although both her par­ents worked, money was tight. “Mum used to get on her bike and cy­cle to school be­cause we couldn’t af­ford a car. She was a trades union rep and she also had to sup­port our fam­ily fi­nan­cially.”

You might as­sume, given the trade union link, that her mother shaped Mary’s po­lit­i­cal views, but she says this wasn’t the case. “I only found out about her union ac­tiv­i­ties later on be­cause she didn’t bring her work home with her.”

What she did get from her mother, though, was a strong work ethic and self-con­fi­dence. “I never had any ideas that women couldn’t work, cy­cle and run a fam­ily home, be­cause my mum was do­ing all these things.

“She was a won­der­ful role model to me and my sis­ter when we were younger.”

She also taught Mary and her sis­ter ba­sic skills, many of which have since fallen out of fash­ion.

“She’s al­ways been a very creative and artis­tic per­son. She’s good at knit­ting and sewing and she taught me how to knit and how to cook.”

Mary, along with her sis­ter and brother, were raised as Catholics and the church was one of the pil­lars of fam­ily life. “My mother was some­one who has al­ways tried to do the right thing and school and the church were cen­tral to our lives when we were grow­ing up.”

She says their front door was al­ways open to peo­ple. “Mum is a great com­mu­nity per­son with a wide cir­cle of friends so there were al­ways lots of peo­ple com­ing and go­ing in our house.”

Like many of us she re­mem­bers sum­mer hol­i­days with great af­fec­tion. “We had some great fam­ily hol­i­days. There were trips over to Ire­land but I par­tic­u­larly re­mem­ber the hol­i­days we had in York­shire and Lin­colnshire to places like Fi­ley, Skeg­ness and Mablethorpe.”

As well as trips to the seaside, they also en­joyed an­other Great British tra­di­tion. “Sun­day din­ner was al­ways im­por­tant in our house, fin­ished off with one of my mum’s leg­endary pud­dings,” she says.

This might sound very idyl­lic, a bit like a mod­ern day ver­sion of The Wal­tons, but it be­lies the sim­ple plea­sures of fam­ily life that many peo­ple hark back to. “There was a lot of laugh­ter in our house, but also a lot of hard work.”

Although per­haps not all the time. “There was one oc­ca­sion I was do­ing my home­work, I would have been in my teens, and mum was try­ing to get me to come down and watch Coro­na­tion Street with her.

“She must have been the only par­ent in the coun­try en­cour­ag­ing their kids to watch TV,” she says, laugh­ing at the mem­ory.

As a young­ster, Mary en­joyed mu­sic and singing and was part of the Coven­try Youth Orches­tra. “It was some­thing my mum re­ally en­cour­aged me to do. She was re­ally sup­port­ive of me and my brother and sis­ter. She en­cour­aged me to play the vi­o­lin and to act and sing and all these things helped give me the con­fi­dence to do the job that I do now.”

Her par­ents also pro­vided prac­ti­cal help. “Be­cause we didn’t have a car it meant go­ing to re­hearsals and shows was quite chal­leng­ing. Com­ing home on the bus at 11 o’clock at night wasn’t al­ways easy but my mum and dad were al­ways there for me.”

Even dur­ing those trou­ble­some teenage years, when chil­dren some­times go off the rails or rebel against their par­ents, she and her mother re­mained close. “I never fell out with her and she’s al­ways been in­cred­i­bly sup­port­ive.”

Af­ter at­tend­ing the lo­cal com­pre­hen­sive school Mary won a schol­ar­ship to Ox­ford Univer­sity where she stud­ied mod­ern lan­guages. This led to four years work­ing in Brus­sels, first at the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment and then the Euro­pean Youth Fo­rum.

If her mother was a be­drock when she was younger she has con­tin­ued to help out now that Mary and her hus­band, Adrian, have two chil­dren of their own. “She had her ideas of how to

Mary was born in De­cem­ber 1967 and brought up in Coven­try where she went to Bishop Ullathorne Com­pre­hen­sive School.

Her father, Thomas, was a car fac­tory worker and her mother, El­iz­a­beth, was a pri­mary school teacher.

Mary won a schol­ar­ship at Pem­broke Col­lege, Ox­ford, where she read mod­ern lan­guages. She later com­pleted a PhD at the Lon­don School of Eco­nomics.

She be­came a Labour coun­cil­lor in Is­ling­ton in 1998, stand­ing down when she be­came an MP.

In 2005 she was elected as Labour’s MP for Wake­field, re­plac­ing David Hinch­liffe, and last year be­came Shadow Sec­re­tary of State for In­ter­na­tional Devel­op­ment. do things and I had mine, but she has al­ways been there for me. She hand­knit­ted a hat and jumper for my son when he was lit­tle which I still have.”

As Mary’s po­lit­i­cal ca­reer took off she also got stuck into the role of grand­mother and child-min­der. “She’s re­ally helped me with the chil­dren. When I was very busy or needed to be in the House of Com­mons for an im­por­tant vote she would come down and look af­ter them, she’s like a ‘su­per gran’.”

It’s a role she con­tin­ues to rel­ish. “The chil­dren still go and stay with her and she takes them swim­ming and to the cin­ema and I’m ex­hausted just hear­ing about it. She’s one of those high en­ergy peo­ple who are al­ways on the go, she’s never had her hands sit­ting idle.”

The world, though, has changed from when she was a child so have the ba­sic tenets of moth­er­hood changed, too?

“Ev­ery­thing changes and ev­ery­thing stays the same. Moth­er­hood is el­e­men­tal at its ba­sic level; it’s about sheltering, nur­tur­ing and pro­tect­ing that lit­tle baby.

“Then as they grow older it’s about pre­par­ing them to be adults and to play a part in the world.”

The world may have changed, as have the pres­sures fac­ing chil­dren grow­ing up in to­day’s ever-shift­ing dig­i­tal world, but Mary be­lieves that moth­er­hood, and all its in­her­ent wis­dom, boils down to a few sim­ple, but im­por­tant, truths.

“It’s about creat­ing won­der­ful happy mem­o­ries in a safe and lov­ing en­vi­ron­ment, and my mum did that in spades.”

To­mor­row, the au­thor Milly John­son on the spe­cial bond she has with her mother as an only child.

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