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James Byrne- Labour

James Byrne

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Name: James Byrne

Avatar: Jurgen Klopp

Date of Birth: 12th October 1954

Sex: Male

Ethnicity: White Irish

Marital Status: Married

Sexual Orientation: Heterosexual

Party: Labour

Political Outlook: SCG

Constituency: Hackney South & Shoreditch

Year Elected: 1983

Education: Attended University of Exeter

Career: Teacher and Trade Unionist

Political Career: MP for Hackney South & Shoreditch (1983-)


Byrne was born in Dublin on October 12th 1954 to an impoverished Irish-Catholic family. He was the eldest of 3 sons. When Byrne was aged just 2 years old his family moved to Liverpool, staying with family who were also migrants at first until they eventually managed to move into a council house of their own, where he attended a state school. His father worked at the docks in Liverpool and was active in Trade Union organising.


Byrne then moved to Exeter to attend University to get a degree in history as well as his teaching qualifications. Whilst at university in the early 1970s, Byrne combined his academic study of history with a private love for poetry, the literature of Fydor Dostoevsky and the political theories of Karl Marx. In Byrne’s time at university, he was a very active member of the student union and was active in many groups, such as the the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the Anti-Apartheid Movement. It was early on in his time at university that Byrne also joined the Labour Party.


Following his graduation, Byrne moved back to Liverpool where he worked at schools for a year before eventually moving to be a high school teacher in his mid-to-late-20s in a comprehensive school in Islington. After only a few years, Byrne became shop steward at the school. He was seen as an effective operator, winning higher pay and better working conditions for the teachers and in 1981 he was approach to be promoted up to a higher ranking position which he accepted.


Following two years of working in the union, Byrne was selected as the Labour Party candidate for the Hackney South and Shoreditch constituency. In 1983, Byrne defeated SDP incumbent Ronald Brown and became the MP with a majority of over 7,000 whilst Labour suffered huge defeats across the country. Speaking after his election, Byrne said “this is not a defeat of the socialism that those of us on the Bennite wing of the Labour Party stands up for, it is merely proof that some of those who are supposedly socialists would rather have Thatcherism than a left wing government. Now it is our responsibility to fight against the evils of Thatcher’s government and for a true socialist alternative.”


Following his election, Byrne joined the Socialist Campaign Group and began to work closely with the likes of Dennis Skinner, Jeremy Corbyn and, after claiming victory in the 1984 Chesterfield by-election, became good friends with Tony Benn as well as having comradely relations with Ken Livingstone and John McDonnell of the Greater London Council, before falling out with Livingstone over the sacking of McDonnell.


Byrne was resentful of the changes that began throughout the party and the drift of the Labour Party to the right, rejecting the ‘modernisation’ as a “coup from those who do not seek to put the ideals of socialism into power” and was one of the key personnel in Tony Benn’s unsuccessful leadership challenge in 1988. However, much like many other figures from the London Labour left, Byrne was very much out of step with the leadership and began to largely fade into obscurity despite showing signs of potential early on in his political career.


Whilst continuing, to no avail, to push for a more left wing Labour Party whilst the left was out in the wilderness, Byrne was also a respected constituency MP, spending most of his time with constituency issues as well as causes such as the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, but, whilst Byrne knew he was fighting a losing battle, he would never give up the flame of socialism. However, Byrne had seemed to develop a way of doing politics that did not rely on Westminster.


During the Blair government, Byrne was in the “sealed-tomb” of the SCG, completely out of touch with the rest of Parliamentary Party, with the exception of his SCG comrades and a few allies in other parties. Byrne did not even receive a pager from the Labour whips but Byrne still enjoyed a healthy relationship with his constituency party, even with those who were not on the same wing of the party as him.


In 2001, Byrne was one of the founding members of the Stop the War Coalition and was one of those who spoke, protested and voted against the Iraq War in 2003 and consistently was one of the most rebellious Labour MPs throughout the Blair years along with Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Jim Connelly and called for Labour to “return to its founding principles and push for real democratic socialism to uplift the working people of Britain”.


Following the mass loss of seats and votes for Labour in the 2005 election, Byrne called for Blair’s resignation, stating “he has lost the confidence of people across the country, and, regardless of my views on New Labour, he cannot lead Labour into any future General Election or we will be returned to opposition”.


Byrne nominated John McDonnell in his unsuccessful candidacy for the Labour Party leadership in 2007 and, after Labour lost the 2007 General Election, Byrne said “this has to be the end of New Labour and signal the return of Labour that listens to people, not talks at them”.


Despite coming from an Irish-Catholic background, Byrne’s view on religion is more of an atheistic persuasion with a soft-spot for Buddhism. Byrne married his wife Nora Conroy on April 10th 1982, the couple have 2 children, a son and a daughter.

James Byrne MP

Member of Parliament for Hackney South and Shoreditch (1983-)

Shadow First Secretary of State (2007-)

Shadow Foreign Secretary (2007-)

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