British Left-wing Politician
Robert or Bob 'Pongo' Wareing has been the Member of Parliament for Liverpool West Derby since 1983, initially as a member of the Labour Party but most recently as an Independent.
Early life and career
Robert Nelson Wareing was born in Liverpool on the 20th August 1930 the son of Robert Wareing and Florence Mallon. He was educated at the Ranworth Square Council School, or Ranworth Square Primary School as it is now, followed by Alsop High School, and left school at sixteen to work as an administrative assistant in the Liverpool City Building Surveyor's Department from 1946 until 1956, during which time he completed his National Service in the Royal Air Force between 1948 and 1950.
Whilst employed by Liverpool City Council he also studied as an external student at London University and having graduated with a BSc in Economics in 1956, he left his job to attend the Bolton College of Education where he received his Teacher's Certificate in 1957. He then became a lecturer in the field of adult education and was in the employment of the Brooklyn Technical College (1957-1959), Wigan and District Mining and Technical College (1959-1963), Liverpool College of Commerce (1963-1964), and the Liverpool City Institute of Further Education (1964-1972). Having joined the Central Liverpool College of Further Education in 1972 as a principal lecturer he eventually ended up as the deputy head of adult education by the time he left in 1983.
Wareing joined the Labour Party in 1947 and eventually became one of the leading figures in the local party in Liverpool. He served as president of the Liverpool District Labour Party between 1974 and 1981 and was elected a member of the Merseyside County Council in 1981, when he became Chief Whip of the Labour group, and chairman of both the council's Economic Development Committee and of the Merseyside Economic Development Company Ltd.
His first venture into parliamentary politics was when he contested the solidly Conservative safe seat of Berwick-upon-Tweed at the General Election of 1970. A much better prospect came into view when he was later selected as the Labour candidate for Liverpool Edge Hill following the death of the incumbent Arthur Irvine on the 15th December 1978. However although Liverpool Edge Hill appeared to be a safe Labour seat, the resulting by-election was held on the 29th March 1979 during the dying days of the Callaghan government, and was duly won by David Alton for the Liberal Party with a truly awe-inspiring swing of 32.4%. Wareing again contested the seat at the General Election which was held two months later on the 28th May 1979, and succeeded only in denting the size of the Liberal majority.
Wareing was therefore forced to look around elsewhere and was selected as the candidate for Liverpool West Derby, following the defection of the incumbent Eric Ogden to the Social Democratic Party, whom he then soundly defeated at the General Election of 1983.
Although Wareing did serve as an Assistant Whip between 1987 and 1992 under Neil Kinnock, he was very much 'Old Labour', too much so for John Smith, let alone Tony Blair, and was therefore destined to be free from the burdens of public office.
Released from the Whips' office in 1992, he served as a member of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs until 1997, since he was known to possess an interest in foreign affairs with particular regard to eastern Europe and the former nations of the Soviet bloc, and was said to have never missed an opportunity to promote greater ties with the former Soviet republics. Indeed Wareing was especially concerned with improving relations with Yugoslavia and was a member of the British-Yugoslav parliamentary group of which he was the Vice-Chairman in 1985-1994 and chairman in 1994-1997.
His enthusiasm subsequently came under the spotlight when the Sunday Times reported on allegations of his links with a 'Serbian' company named Metta Trading which it claimed was a front for Bosnian Serb war criminals. The Select Committee on Standards and Privileges duly investigated the allegation. It issued its report on the 29th July 1997 and concluded that Metta Trading UK Ltd was a company active in the metal futures market whose directors were primarily Russian, and appeared to have no connection to any Bosnian Serbs. However the Committee also established that his company Robert Wareing Limited had signed a contract with the company and received a fee of £6,000. Although Wareing never actually performed any work for the company and later returned the £6,000 with interest, the Committee decided that he had failed to declare his interest in Robert Wareing Limited, and therefore concluded that he "should make an apology to the House by means of a personal statement and that he thereupon be suspended from the service of the House for one week".
If nothing else this explained why he became known as 'Serbian Bob', or the 'member for Belgrade', as he was once referred to in The Guardian, and indeed he was amongst the handful of Labour members who voted against the NATO bombing of Kosovo in 1999. Of course by the time Wareing had faced the wrath of the Select Committee on Standards and Privileges, the Labour Party had finally won a General Election and was now in government. However since Wareing was a socialist and a member of avowedly left-wing Campaign Group he was clearly never going to be in step with New Labour, and his opposition to the bombing of Kosovo proved to be not the only occasion on which he felt obliged to vote against the party line.
He was one of nineteen Labour rebels who voted against the government's compulsory national ID card scheme in 2004, and was one of the twelve Labour MPs who backed the call by Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National Party for an inquiry into the Iraq War in 2006. Indeed voting against the government became something of a habit. According to the Liverpool Daily Post, since 1997 Wareing had voted against the Government more than two hundred times, a figure that was very likely to have been an underestimate as he voted against the whip on 121 occasions between June 2001 and April 2005 alone, and thus held the record for rebelling against the government. Even when Blair stepped down in 2006, he was less than impressed by the change as he called for "a reversal of Blair's dreadful policies on Iraq, student fees and privatisation, but I'm not holding my breath."
"The sky is full of vultures"
As Labour's number one rebel there were naturally those within the New Labour project who wanted rid of Bob Wareing. The first sign of trouble came when he failed to be automatically re-selected for the seat in 2001, although he survived that particular challenge by the skin of his teeth.
In March 2007 he lost a ballot of constituency committee members by twenty-one votes to six, in what is often referred to within the Labour Party as the 'trigger ballot', as it triggers the process by which other potential candidates can put their names forward for selection. Wareing made an attempt to have this selection process suspended pending an investigation into his complaint that the ballot had been rigged against him, but no avail, as Dianne Hayter, the vice-chair of the National Executive Committee ruled that "procedures had been followed and the decision was safe".
Once the news was out that the seat was up for grabs, the result was what the Liverpool Echo referred to as a "feeding frenzy" as more than fifty hopefuls put their names forward, including Dave Rowntree, the former drummer for Blur. His interest and that of the other fifty or so interested parties being easily explained by the fact that Liverpool West Derby was one of the safest Labour seats in the country. As far as the selection process itself was concerned, Wareing was comprehensively dumped, as even the second placed candidate, a local councillor named Roz Gladden, received twice as many votes as he did, with the winner being Stephen Twigg, the one-time member for Enfield Southgate. An ironic result in some ways, as whilst Twigg has the reputation of being the first openly homosexual Member of Parliament, Wareing himself had generally taken a 'conservative' view on social issues, and voted against such things as the equalisation of the age of consent for homosexuals.
However despite Ms Hayter's view regarding the matter, there were persistent rumours that the whole thing had indeed been a fix, and it was claimed (amongst other things) that it was the sudden affiliation of eighteen USDAW branches that had swung the decision against Wareing. It was all certainly too much for five members of the Croxteth Labour Group, including the chair, vice chair and group secretary who all resigned in protest soon afterwards, claiming that party rules had indeed been broken, no matter what Dianne Hayter thought. On the other hand there were those who asserted that, despite Wareing's own claims that he was "known locally for being a tireless campaigner for his constituents", he had largely ignored his constituents and the local party over the years, and had only himself to blame for his predicament.
After his formal deselection Wareing announced that he was "proud to be in the party of Clem Atlee, Aneurin Bevan and Harold Wilson" and that he had fought against both Blair and Brown because of "their betrayal of the basic principles of the Labour Party", citing their general Anti-Labour policies and "worst of all" the "disaster of the invasion of Iraq, an "illegal war in defiance of the United Nations". Since he then immediately announced that he would stand again at the next General Election as an independent, it was only matter of time before the Labour Party officially withdrew the whip.
After his suspension from the House in 1997, Wareing became active within the British-Russian and British-Azerbaijan parliamentary groups, and later joined a number of other parliamentary groups such as the British-Ukranian (1999), Serbia-Montenegro (2003), Armenia (2004) and British-German (2005). His recreations include football (he is a supporter of Everton FC) concert-going, ballet, motoring and travel, and he was married to Betty Coward until her death at Lambeth in March 1989.
- Ben Turner, Rebel MP Bob Wareing axed by Labour, Liverpool Echo, Sep 17 2007
- David Bartlett, Rejected MP Bob Wareing vows to stand as an independent, Liverpool Daily Post, Sep 17 2007
- Labour MPs who rebelled on Iraq Tuesday, BBC News, 31 October 2006,
- Profile Robert Wareing, BBC News, 14 May 2003
- Robert Wareing from Vote 2001
- Robert Wareing
- 'WAREING, Robert Nelson', Who's Who 2008, A & C Black, 2008; online edn, Oxford University Press, Dec 2007
- Standards and Privileges - Fifth and Sixth Report