THIS WEEK I took part in a very important and historic ceremony in the Council Chamber.
I was delighted to be asked to say a few words at this in support of a man that I know very well indeed – Michael Meacher MP.
This event saw him bestowed with the highest honour that the Council can give: Freeman of the Borough of Oldham.
This is, rightly, a rare accolade and one that is given neither lightly nor often.
In becoming only the 25th person or organisation to receive it, Michael has joined esteemed ranks that include the likes of the 75th Engineers Regiment, Sir Winston Churchill and Sir William Walton.
Michael is a truly rare breed and I don’t think we will see his like again.
You do have to wonder if any future MP will serve for more than 40 years. It is easy to imagine him now serving for a half-century and beyond, which is both humbling and impressive.
What is equally striking is that his long-running campaigns for fairness and for a balanced economy, which have earned him many followers over those years, are probably even more relevant today in 2013 than ever before.
Indeed, he is such a long-standing part of Oldham life that it is difficult to imagine politics here without him playing a central role.
If anyone deserves to be recognised with this accolade, then it’s certainly Michael.
He is held in high regard by his constituents – almost as a star by some – and then there are also well-recanted stories about his visits to engineering works, mills and public houses where people remember someone “who spoke for us”. That is a very special thing to have said about any politician.
His ability to connect with the public is quite something – believe me, I’ve seen it first hand while out campaigning alongside him – but it does also have its drawbacks…
For those of us who knock on doors with him to canvass potential voters, we know only too well how this plays out.
Usually people recognise and know Michael, and the response is mixed.
Some dismiss (very, very few), some are overwhelmingly positive, and some are keen to enter into a debate. That’s when we know he’s going to be ‘some time’.
It is common to begin canvassing with him only to lose him mid-flow. As you move onto the next street you realise the MP hasn’t caught up, so you go in search.
You trace back your steps and don’t see him on the last street, so you move back to the previous one…
Usually he can be found back at the very first door where the debate started and, as he walks back to us, we’ll ask “Labour?”. Often they are, but sometimes he will say, “No, they’re Tory!”.
Whereas most of us would have likely said thank you and left quickly, Michael feeds off the interaction and debate. Indeed, I sometimes wonder if his opponents have a secret agreement just to keep him talking as long as possible to prevent him speaking to potentially Labour-minded supporters.
It’s not just locally that Michael has made his mark either – he’s also had a big impact on national and international stages.
As Minister for the Environment he oversaw many positive changes which still enhance our lives. I know he still holds one of these, the Right to Roam Act, as his greatest achievement in that it enables us all to enjoy our beautiful countryside today.
His list of achievements is too long to list here, but on behalf of all residents I sincerely congratulate Michael on this honour – and thank him for his support as an ambassador in helping to make Oldham the best that it can be.
Following the ceremony to bestow this honour upon Michael, I then attended Full Council where it was time to deliver my annual report on the state of the Borough.
Rather than expect you to read through a lengthy document, I have recorded a special video-blog explaining where we are in 2013, and the big challenges that lie ahead for us all.
This can be found on the Oldham Council website or you can watch it by clicking here.
Thanks for listening,