On 29th November 2012, I was elected as the first female MP for Rotherham, with 46.3 per cent of the votes and a majority of 5,318. At the 2015 General Election I increased my majority to 8,446, and at the 2017 General Election I received 56.4 per cent of the total votes, increasing my majority to 11,387.
I do not consider myself a career politician. In an interview with BBC Radio Sheffield on 30th November 2012, I said:
“There are some people who from the moment they were born wanted to be a politician, whereas for me, since I started working, I’ve always been working with the community and I want to carry on doing that.”
From 2015 to 2016, I served as Shadow Minister for Preventing Abuse and Domestic Violence as part of the Shadow Home Office team, and from 2016 to 2017, I was Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities.
I was born in Essex in 1969 and moved to Northamptonshire in 1977. I went to a comprehensive school and graduated from the University of Sheffield with a BA in Psychology. I was the first in my family to get a degree, but could only afford to attend because I was fortunate enough to get a full grant – and there were no tuition fees.
I graduated at a time of high unemployment so made a living running art and environment workshops in schools and libraries for Rotherham Borough Council. I then gained full-time employment running the Rotherham Arts Centre until, in 1994, I went to work for Ashfield District Council as their arts worker.
In 1996, I became CEO of the Chinese Arts Centre in Manchester, which I ran until 2008. This was an international agency promoting contemporary arts and culture. I became heavily involved in promoting diversity and equality, including advising the Arts Council of England on this for eight years. In addition, I was a Trustee and Chair of many arts and community organisations, including a community print co-operative, Boojum Theatre Company, Creative Capital and Step Out Arts.
In 2008, I decided that I wanted my career to have direct social benefit and I was fortunate to become the Chief Executive of Bluebell Wood Children’s Hospice in Rotherham. The Hospice supports terminally ill children and their families. It was a deep wrench to leave the Hospice to become an MP, but I am committed to creating a fairer and more just society for everyone and I believe Parliament is the most effective way to achieve that nationally.