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Yes, I'm Fighting to Stand in Oldham West and Royton

Oldham West needs an MP who will lead for the country. An MP who can take the fight back to Ukip, and Tories, and fight for the best in us. An MP who can look you in the eye, and know - because I've been there and I am there still... Yes, I'm standing in Oldham West and Royton, and yes, I care.

It was a message from Oldham that stopped my heart.

'You standing?'

A message from someone who is struggling. An Oldham voter. Someone who is struggling, and who is ill. Someone who is told every day that he doesn't have value, and is sanctioned as much as he is helped.

Someone like me.

A man in middle age, kept alive by the love and sacrifice of a mum who now is frail in her turn, and worries about nothing but what will happen to her son. Who worries about who will see him fed.

A man who made contact with me late one night almost a year ago, and said that anyway, he had given up on Labour, and anyway, he was going to vote Ukip, but he liked what he had heard about me and the cancer privatisation, and by the way, he never voted anything but Labour in his life.

And his mum who never voted anything but Labour in hers, but wasn't going to vote at all.

In another constituency and another place, Labour had let them down.

I put them in touch with Michael Meacher's office, and they weren't let down one bit. They were helped, and they were buoyed, and they were believed in.

No one worked harder than Michael for his people. And we were all Michael's people. He valued us all.

I'm disabled, and no-one believed in disabled people like Michael. His work on the work capability assessment, on that great fight against disabled people's right -- it was an inspiration to me and to all of the people like me. Michael Meacher fought for what he believed in.

His death left a great crack at the heart of Labour.

It's not that anything has changed: it's not that we have changed; it's just that something has gone. And sometimes, when you take something out of place, the loss fractures the things around it.

It will take someone extraordinary to knit up that loss.

As for my friend in Oldham, I don't know if I changed his mind. I doubt it - it's hard to change someone's mind by telling them they are wrong.

He says Labour tell him he is wrong - wrong about jobs, wrong about Europe, wrong about immigration and most of all, wrong about his own life.

What could be worse than being told you're wrong about all the things that you have lived through?

My friend thinks Labour don't believe him when he says he has had it tough. We don't believe him when he says he used to earn £200 for a day's labour and now earns £60. We don't believe how hard he has grafted, or in his kindness, or the way he looks after his mum, and the way the two of them look after their town. We don't believe in either of them.

I believe in them. I come from the same place.

If the Tories are the party of the right, Labour are too often the party of telling people they are wrong.

I worked that out in three years of fighting the toughest seat in Britain.

Stafford isn't easy for Labour. As a key seat candidate from 2012 to 2015, I fought it with everything I had, and I made friends along the way -- friends near my family in Manchester - and I stayed in touch with them when I had to go back behind the bar of my local pub and start paying off the debts I'd built to fight.

And now there was this text message, from a friend who wasn't quite sure he could believe in Labour right now, but thought that he might perhaps be able to believe in me.

'You standing?'

And I texted back, 'Yes.'

Yes, I am fighting to stand in Oldham West and Royton. Yes, I've prepared my references and my absurdly long candidate cv, and yes, I'm asking Labour's NEC to give me a chance, and to let me put my case to our members in Oldham West.

That's all I'm asking for - a chance to put my case.

Because I don't think Labour has enough people like me. I don't think Labour has enough people like me in parliament. Labour voters, or Ukip voters, or Tory voters - I don't think any of them are represented enough by people like me.

I save my respect for people who have lived pitted against extraordinary odds, and somehow made it work - because that is where I'm from too. It's where all my Labour values are from.

I know what it's like to be on your own in the world. I know what it's like to be fearful.

But yes, I know what it's like to work beyond exhaustion and still not to have the money to pay your bills. I know what it's like to count the days, and know that there are no credit cards, no overdraft extension that can save everything that you've worked for.

I know what it's like to know that you can't have an overdraft extension when the rent is due, because you've had two nights in hospital this year. And that two nights is too much for most employers.

And you know what? There are millions of us out there. There are thousands of us in Oldham West alone. All we need is a bit of help from someone - an MP - who can look us in the eye and say, 'I know.'

'I know. I know how tired you are. I know that for once, just once, you need just a little bit of help, and I know how painful and humiliating it is to have to ask.

'It hurts me that you have to. I'm sorry that in the face of global struggle, none of us - not one of us political parties has managed to deliver the economy you need.

'I'm sorry that none of us have turned £60 into anything like enough. And I'm sorry that the Tories are so well-launched on their great project of taking away from those who have not much left but their pride, and I'm sorry that Ukip are offering solutions that would diminish us all, and I am so very sorry that Labour are on the back foot against them.

'It hurts me that Ukip are the threat to the towns I grew up in, and it hurts me that they talk a big game while sending their insiders to the European Parliament to collect a salary that makes me gasp.

'It hurts me that the Ukip MEPs spend those salaries on telling people who are having a tough time that their jobs don't matter. That they know leaving Europe would hurt the jobs we have left, and it doesn't matter to them as long as their little industry - the industry of easy answers - is there.'

That's what I want to say.

I am fed up of Labour giving Ukip a free run. I am fed up of London conversations which start in confusion and end in mutual reassurance that one day Ukip will run out of money, and that if Labour are just defensive enough, we don't need to worry.

We do need to worry, and we need to show how much we care.

Ukip are here now, and they will give us a run in Oldham West.

There is no God-given right for the Labour Party to exist. There is nothing that entitles us to 36% of the vote.

Political parties do not take it in turns to win, and all of our research and all of our figures tell us it is past time Labour remembered that.

To remember that Labour win, when we deliver.

Labour win when we show up for the towns that we are part of, where we are knitted into the bones of Labour voters like me, and when at last, we bring something new.

Labour win when we go to London and tell people that the towns that for a hundred years have been the heart of Labour, are the heart of Labour again.

I am putting my name forward for Oldham West and Royton because although these shoulders might be slight, they are strong enough to take the fight to Ukip.

No Labour candidate can bring together the communities in Oldham - give people a reason to get out of bed on the morning of a by-election when there are kids to get to school and angry bosses and miraculously make time for the vote - like I can.

No-one else can change this by-election from a defensive fight - from a 'Ukip will run out of money eventually' fight to the start of the Labour fightback.

Because no-one else has a background like mine.

For a year after I was most ill, I ran from my illness and I refused to believe I couldn't live the life everyone else could live.

And then eventually I let it light a flame instead - a flame that kept me in extraordinary places.

At twenty-two I went overseas. For ten years I worked for international organisations in the most dangerous countries in the world. I was ill when I had to be, and slowly, painfully, I worked my way up.

I worked in Iraqi reconstruction; I worked in Syria - for many years in Syria, the country I love and now fight for in parliament. I worked in Libya and I told the Gaddafis where to get off. I kept the lights on in Pakistan and fought viciously hard for funding to make the power stations of Sindh and Balochistan safe. I lived in Kibera and in Karachi and in Damascus and in and out of UN compounds. I saw people unable to stand because they were so hungry, and lived with wondering what would happen to the people who braved everything to tell us about Libya.

And then eventually I came home.

I'm not sure any Labour candidate has ever been selected as fast as I was in Stafford. After everything that I had seen overseas, I couldn't bear not to talk about it. I couldn't bear not to fight for the countries that I had grown to love.

For nearly three years I fought for Stafford. I worked in a pub, and I washed dishes until the skin around my nails bled, and I worked. And after I worked I went and knocked on a thousand doors, and then I knocked on a thousand more.

Tory MPs say that there are jobs. There are no jobs. Believe me, I tried.

People think it's easy fighting an election. Believe me, it's not easy. Experience tells.

I set up a casework office and I borrowed library books and I taught myself to be an expert in the rules that breaks people like me. I learned how to understand the Work Capability Assessment, how to find homes for people, how to fight back when our food bank nearly failed.

When the time came and the wards started to shut in our hospital, I re-mortgaged my home - the only thing I own - and I taught myself the law.

With no funding and no protection I built the legal case - the first case after Lewisham -against the closure of wards that save lives, and the downgrade of our so much needed hospital.

And then I got a letter to say that the facts might be right but that judicial review isn't welcome any more and I was personally liable for thousands of pounds of Jeremy Hunt's costs. And I made them withdraw it.

And then I did it all again. I built the case and the fight against the biggest privatisation of frontline NHS services in history - the £1.2billion privatisation of cancer and end of life care in Staffordshire.

Stafford was a hard seat for Labour, and it was the biggest fight of the 2015 election. One by one, I went after the US companies who wanted our cancer care and one by one, they dropped away.

One company still thinks they can push through the privatisation in defiance of all competition law. They can try.

There is no-one more qualified to fight for Royal Oldham, or for the NHS, than the Labour candidate who for three years fought the first Tory ward closures - closures that slowly killing our hospital - every inch of the way.

There's no-one better qualified to understand Devo-Manc, the project I've spent six months examining - spending more time with my family in Manchester than I have since the start of the Stafford campaign.

I understand the project but I also understand the risks. I understand how much of Devo-Manc is a project resting on one man's shoulders. I understand the lack of oversight, and the ambition and the grandeur and the risk of it all.

And I think Oldham West needs an MP who can be dispassionate. An MP not directly involved in the project nor invested in its success, but able to stand back and reign it in, and make sure it delivers.

Oldham West needs an MP who will lead for the country. An MP who can take the fight back to Ukip, and Tories, and fight for the best in us.

An MP who can look you in the eye, and know - because I've been there and I am there still.

An MP who can bring all of the pride of being Labour back; raised in the towns where Labour is part of the architecture, and who can write Labour into our future.

Yes, I'm standing in Oldham West and Royton, and yes, I care.

And all I'm asking now is that the Labour Party - the NEC panel, who will make the decision on shortlisting, give me a chance. Let me talk to the members of Oldham West.

For years you have told me that you want more disabled candidates, more female candidates; more candidates who have been hit by life and lived. More candidates who stand out.

Well, here I am.

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