FIRST PERSON: Islwyn MP 'inspired by JFK'
Updated 4:09pm Wednesday 5th March 2014 in News
Chris Evans, 36, was elected by the voters of Islwyn in 2010 to be their MP after Don Touhig stepped down. He speaks to DAVID DEANS about how a fish bar queue sparked his interest in politics.
“IT’S quite a corny story really, but my interest in politics started when, after a lunch hour at school one day, I realised there was no queue at the fish shop.
“When you’re 13, you’d think to yourself being first in the chip queue was the be all and end all — but as I ran down the hill I forgot about the main road right in front of me.
“I went straight in front of a car and got run over. I smashed my left leg in four places and couldn’t play football anymore. At that point I was, like a lot of kids, obsessed with the sport.
“I was stuck in bed for six weeks convalescing and, after I got tired of reading comic books and magazines, my mother brought in some books from the library.
“One of them was called One Brief Shining Moment: Remembering Kennedy, which was a book by William Manchester.
“As I read the book I became fascinated by the former US president and that whole period of upheaval in America at that time, the period of the civil rights movement, Vietnam. I was very interested in JFK in the way that he put forward a progressive platform that talked about civil rights for everyone and special privileges for none.
“Had his brother Robert Kennedy won the presidency in 1968 then the whole world would have been different, and would have probably been much more compassionate.
“His assassination, more so than probably his brother’s three years before, was a cataclysmic event not only in America but for the world as well.
“My fascination grew then into politics. I started reading more and more, and by the age of 14 I knew I was extremely interested in it.
“I really wanted to actively get involved. That was the point I joined the Labour Party, and I’ve been a member ever since.
“I’m from Wattstown in the Rhondda valleys. Mike, my father, was a bookmaker and my mother, Lynne, was a guard on the railways.
“There was no political background whatsoever in my family. My mother and father split when I was 11, and I was brought up by my mother in a one-parent family alongside my sister Cara. My father passed away when he was 51 after suffering with stomach cancer.
“I went to Porth County Comprehensive School and then I went to Pontypridd College where I did my A-levels, which is no longer there. Later I studied history at Trinity College Carmarthen, which now doesn’t exist either.
“Politics was always around me. Heavy industry was leaving, and a lot of my friends were leaving school without a job to go to. A lot of my friends’ fathers and family didn’t have a job.
“I grew up on a street where a lot of my neighbours were elderly and had lived through the Depression, the General Strike and the Second World War. I knew everyone there — Uncle Dick, Aunty Moira across the road, Mrs Rowlands.
“I was inspired as well by the workers of Tower Colliery going back to work, taking over their own pit and running it as a co-operative. That microcosm was the spirit of the Valleys coming together.
“Being the youngest in the Labour Party they leave you to deliver the leaflets. But what was very good was my own political awakening. It was the first time when I realised there were others who felt the way I did about politics.
“I was a delegate to the European Youth Parliament when I was 18. It was the first time I met Wayne David, who was my local MEP and is now the MP for Caerphilly.
“It was such a brilliant experience. Like many people I rarely left the valley, and to go to Brussels my eyes opened up to the wider world. It was the first time I spoke in public.
"Everyone was so encouraging, and I thought: 'I could do this'.
“It made me realise that the key to anything is having confidence in yourself.
“I worked for Jack Brown bookmakers in Oakdale and Pontllanfraith — I was there for four years. I was a relief manager and at the time the company owned 90 branches. My father was a bookmaker, we grew up around the trade.
“Unfortunately foot and mouth came along and there was no horse racing so I had to leave. I became a banker with Lloyds TSB where I worked for two years, and went on to work as a full-time trade union official.
“The idea of becoming a Member of Parliament didn’t crystallise with me until my father passed away in 2003. I thought the best thing I could do was try to help people.
“By April 2004, within six months of my father dying, I was a Labour candidate in Cheltenham.
“I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, I loved being on the campaign trail. The tribute I paid to the Labour movement in Cheltenham was the commitment they’ve got.
"They are 100 per cent committed to the cause.
“I worked with the former Islwyn MP Don Touhig for four years. Don was not only an employer to me but a mentor.
“He’s a great friend of mine and a great teacher as well.
"Working for him was a real masterclass in being an MP. He was an excellent constituency Member of Parliament, and I know Don really cared about this area.
“He was only ever encouraging and he’s the type of person you want in politics.
“Don stepped down in late January 2010. I loved the constituency and I loved the people. We meet so many nice people, so many people in need, I really wanted to continue the work that Don started.
“When he stepped down I felt ready to be the Member of Parliament. I didn’t want to be the MP just for me but I wanted to represent all the people we met.
“The one thing I have always had sight of is that I have a voice that other people don’t have. I use it to the best of my ability. I hope in the future I will be able to continue doing that.
“Two days before Christmas Day I married my partner Julia Ockenden at Our Lady & St Michael’s Church in Abergavenny. She looked beautiful and radiant, it was a fantastic day.
“One of my great heroes is Richard Burton. What I admired about him is that he was super successful but never forgot his roots.
“He did everything he could to promote Wales, particularly where he was from.
“The accent I speak with, where I come from, who I am, my family and my friends.
“That is extremely important to me.”
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