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Stephen Kinnock: From Red Prince to Steel King

06/04/2016 20:15 | Updated 06 April 2016

When Stephen Kinnock was selected as Labour's candidate for the Welsh constituency of Aberavon in March 2014, there were suggestions he was just another 'Red Prince'.

The son of former Labour leader Neil, he was filed alongside the sons of Jack Straw and John Prescott - also selected as General Election candidates - as proof nepotism was alive and well in the party.

Although he was born just 30 miles from Aberavon in Tredegar, Kinnock had spent much of his adult life not only out of Wales but out of the UK.

He worked in Russia, Sierra Leone, Brussels and Switzerland, and his wife just happened to be then-Prime Minister of Denmark.

Was this really the right man to represent the steelworkers' constituency of Aberavon?

Even after he was elected, one member of the Shadow Cabinet dismissed him to me as just one of the "beautiful people" - implying that for all his style, there was little substance.

But Kinnock's handling of the steel crisis, which threatens thousands of jobs at the Port Talbot works in his constituency, has shown what an astute political operator the 46-year-old is.

His fellow Labour MPs have been quick to heap praise on Kinnock for his work:

Michael Dugher: "The steel crisis has shown again what a first class Member of Parliament Stephen is: deeply committed, passionate about the people he represents and a tenacious and formidable campaigner who is always in command of his brief. He never, ever lets the Government off the hook".

John Woodcock: "Stephen has been leading the way for all of us in fighting for UK steel jobs. His commitment to the cause and clear knowledge of the industry and economic environment makes him a brilliant champion for his constituents and the Labour Party."

Wes Streeting: "People expect to see a local MP fighting for their community, but I'm not sure anyone expected to see their local MP flying to Mumbai to fly the flag for British steel and Port Talbot while the Business Secretary took his eye off the ball in Australia. If Sajid Javid had put in half as much effort as Stephen Kinnock, UK steel might be in a better position. It's why we need Labour MPs like Stephen back in government."

Conor McGinn: "Stephen is showing the difference between having a Labour MP who cares about the community and people he represents, and a Tory Government that would let places like Port Talbot - and St Helens, for that matter - sink in to an abyss of joblessness and hopelessness. He's doing a great job and all of his colleagues are fully behind him and proud of the stand he is taking for his constituents."

One Tory backbencher, who, like Kinnock, is part of the 2015 intake, has also been impressed by his political rival.

The Tory told me: "He is a quality piece of work - one of the strongest of the new intake. On this type of issue it's really easy for the local backbench MP to come across shrill. I think he's played it very, very well. I think there would have been enough pressure through circumstances for Sajid to work really, really hard so I am not convinced his trip [to Mumbai] forced Sajid's hand, but his stock on the Tory side of the House has gone up."

Yet even before he stole a march on the Government by flying to India ahead of the crunch meeting of Tata executives last week, Kinnock was quietly building a reputation as an MP who is going places.

He directly attacked Ukip and the SNP, accusing them of being "unpatriotic".

"The Union Jack, the Welsh Dragon, the Cross of St George, and the Scottish Saltire belong to the British people, but for too long the Labour Party has allowed others to claim these potent symbols of what it means to be British as their own," he wrote.

It was a bold statement to make at a time when the party had just elected a leader who seems uncomfortable with any kind of patriotic action. Indeed, the pamphlet came out just weeks after Jeremy Corbyn was criticised for not singing the National Anthem at a Battle of Britain memorial service.

Kinnock's identification of "patriotism" as one of the three pillars on which to build the UK - alongside "purpose" and "resilience" - shows he is one of the few Labour MPs willing to talk about how to win back voters who have flocked to Ukip in recent years.

He understands that what unites those working-class Ukip supporters who used to back Labour is not a hatred of the European Union, but a love of the UK.

In October, Kinnock's profile was raised when he appeared on BBC's Question Time, and successfully managed to balance his leader's anti-nuclear weapons view with his own pro-Trident renewal stance.

While it has been in recent weeks that Kinnock's defence of the steel industry has made national news, he has been campaigning on the issue ever since he was elected.

In his maiden speech, Kinnock described Port Talbot steelworks as "the beating heart of our community" adding: "I therefore wish to use the platform accorded to me today to urge the Government to understand that they must do more to support the British steel industry."

In January he secured a backbench debate on the future of the UK steel industry and in the very final question of PMQs before the Commons broke up for recess, Kinnock raised the Mumbai meeting directly with David Cameron.

Kinnock has shown he is an internationalist who can think local - someone who can consider the big, extensional issues of politics and society and also get stuck in to the nitty-gritty of constituency problems.

Amid an unstable Labour Party, and questions over who could be the next leader, don't be surprised if his name is in the frame in the not too distant future.

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