In probably the lowest-profile political announcement of the month it’s been confirmed that the Labour MP for Cardiff South and Penarth, Stephen Doughty, is to be Labour’s candidate for the constituency in the 2015 General Election.
After eight months in Parliament we now look back at Stephen Doughty’s political career to date:-
THE NOVEMBER 2012 BY-ELECTION
Stephen Doughty was born in Cardiff on April 15 1980, educated at Llantwit Major Comprehensive School and took a 2.1 PPE degree at Oxford -becoming an advisor to Douglas Alexander and subsquently head of Oxfam in Wales – a charity with strong Labour affiliations .
Doughty had originally been shortlisted for the Pontypridd Parliamentary constituency for the 2010 General Election – but had failed to be selected.
When the sitting Labour MP for Cardiff South and Penarth – Alun Michael – announced in 2012 he would stand down to seek election as South Wales Police and Crime Commissioner, the Labour Party drew up a shortlist of potential candidates to replace him – which did not include Doughty.
Alun Michael, a long-time friend of the Doughty family, promptly intervened. He persuaded Ed Miliband and Labour’s General Secretary Ian McNichol that Doughty’s name should be included on the party’s shortlist – shrugging-off grumbles from party activists (reported in the Western Mail) that he was “interfering inappropriately”. On 14 July 2012 Doughty was duly selected as Labour candidate for Cardiff South and Penarth for the forthcoming by-election.
In the by-election campaign the Lib Dem candidate Bablin Molik claimed Doughty’s name did not appear on the local Register of Electors – and promptly came under fire on Twitter from Stephen Doughty himself – who demanded a retraction (which never came) – and direct criticism from Alun Michael.
In the course of the campaign Doughty failed to turn up at radio debate in which all the main by-election candidates had been invited to take part.
Doughty also failed to put in an appearance at the only public hustings of the campaign – sending AM Vaughan Gething to deputise for him instead . There was speculation that Labour “minders” might have considered that, as this ‘safe-seat by-election’ was already ‘in the bag’, there was nothing to be gained by subjecting their candidate to what might be unpredictable public scrutiny.
On by-election polling day, November 15th 2012, there was an unprecedented drop in voter turn-out – down 38.2% compared with the 2010 General Election. Only one voter in every four cast their ballot – the worst-ever voter-turnout ever recorded in the constituency.
Stephen Doughty garnered a total of 9,193 votes but the turn-out was so low that this figure comprised 47.3% of the overall vote .
Stephen Doughty’s first weekend as an MP was spent not in his new constituency but in Rotherham – campaigning for new candidate to succeed disgraced Labour MP Denis MacShane.
Doughty formally entered Parliament on Monday November 19th 2012 . In his maiden speech, on 28/11/2012, he paid a fulsome tribute to his predecessor Alun Michael who had done so much to get him elected in the first place.
Doughty has spoken in 50 debates since joining Parliament (above average amongst MPs) and has received answers to 46 written questions (again above average). Based on Hansard most of his questions have been about the Dominican Republic, Public Expenditure, Food Banks, World War II: Military Decorations, and Veterans.
He has voted in 73% of votes in the House (which is average for MPs). His voting record on key issues (based on figures provided by the Public Whip) notes only that he has “voted very strongly for gay rights”.
Doughty’s early forays in the House of Commons chamber seemed to have little directly to do with his constituency. He spoke about relief agencies in Palestine, about the EU (26/11/2013) and had asked the House to note his “recent employment with Oxfam”(20/11/2012). He also attacked David Davies MP (Conservative Monmouth) for having said in a BBC interview that “most parents would prefer their children not to be gay”.(10/12/2012)
He said “In Penarth, the more affluent part of my constituency, I visited a food bank collection-point in the local Tesco and asked whether the parcels were going to other, more deprived areas of Cardiff” – but, he claimed to have been told that the food parcels were actually “going to the Penarth area.” [In fact Stephen Doughty was probably misinformed on this occasion . The Tesco “foodbank”to which he was referring was, in fact, only in action over one weekend and its food parcels were actually being distributed throughout the Vale including deprived areas of Barry].
Doughty persisted with his Penarth foodbank theme in January 2013 when he asked the Prime Minister David Cameron in the Commons whether he was “proud of the growth of food banks across this country, including in my constituency” and asked whether Cameron had ever visited a foodbank and, if not, when he would do so.
Cameron brushed Doughty aside saying “we have made sure that the lowest paid are not paying income tax and that we have protected the poorest families…Unlike the hon. Gentleman” – the Prime Minister said ” I do not look down at, or talk down to, people who work hard in our communities to help people.” Undaunted Doughty persisted with his theme and subsequently wrote to Cameron. again asking whether the Prime Minister had visited a foodbank.
Doughty has spoken out in the Commons in support of same-sex marriage several times, saying on 5/2/2012 “My Church currently does not permit same-sex marriage and will not be forced to do so under the proposed legislation. I will argue from within for it to change its mind”. He also wrote on Twitter than he supported what he called “equal Marriage“.
His comments did not find favour with the local Roman Catholic community. St Josephs and St Mary’s Catholic Churches in Penarth and Dinas Powys urged their parishioners to write to Doughty and all the other local MPs to complain. In May Doughty admitted in the Commons that he’d received correspondence from “many people in my own constituency who were against this bill and I’ve responded in respect – but disagreement .” Doughty claimed to have had “much positive comment back for the way in which I’ve done that”. He went on to tell the House of Commons that when the House of Representatives in New Zealand had passed similar gay-marriage legislation there had been “much happiness and the singing of love songs”.
Doughty also supported measures to give legal status to humanist marriages carried out by the British Humanist Association (12/3/2013) claiming that “an increasing number of my constituents choose humanist ceremonies” and saying that he had “listened to appeals from Penarth humanist celebrant and former Labour Assembly Member for Penarth Lorraine Barrett”. (Mrs Barrett is a former Labour AM and close associate of Alun Michael).
CONTROL OF THE PRESS
In March 2013 Doughty was amongst the MPs voting in favour of tighter control of the press and backed the controversial “Clause 21A — Awards of Exemplary Damages” amendment which would heavily penalise any newspaper not signing-up to the regulation scheme in the event of its losing a libel action.
On March 21 2013 Doughty demanded to know why there was what he described as a £500m “underspend” on foreign aid . He asked what programmes had been stopped in order to – as he put it – “sort out the borrowing figures” .
The Secretary for International Development Tobias Ellwood retorted that Labour was still in a “state of denial” . He told Doughty “Labour, which created the economic mess, offers no helpful solutions whatsoever, other than to repeat past mistakes such as encouraging spending of money we do not have.”
By the following month however (23/4/2013) Doughty appeared to have undergone a Damascene conversion and was taking a completely different tack – apparently now recognising the UK’s debt problem, criticising the scale of the borrowing figures and taking the Government to task for them saying “We are not balancing the books; at this rate it will be 402 years before we eliminate the deficit” . .
In March 2013 Doughty was reprimanded by the Deputy Speaker Lindsay Hoyle for using unparliamentary language in the House: he’d accused a government minister of being “hypocritical”. He was required to apologise and to withdraw the remark, which he did with good grace.
20 MPH CAMPAIGN :Green Party candidate Anthony Slaughter has asserted that Stephen Doughty supports a 20 mph speed-limit for the whole of Penarth but PDN can find no record of any comment on this issue from Doughty himself.
THE RAILWAY PATH: Stephen Doughty has studiously remained on the fence on this issue. When it was suggested he make a weekend visit to Sully Terrace to meet the Railway path campaigners in person he said constituency commitments prohibited his doing so.
The existing Cardiff South and Penarth constituency, is acknowledged to be the largest and most unwieldy in Wales with a population of 77,000. Its map is not due to be re-drawn until after the 2015 General Election.