From council flat to prime job should not be a shock, says Labour’s Darren Jones

Darren Jones could be about to complete the journey from growing up in a council flat to a seat around the Cabinet table.

But there is one thing that annoys him – when people say: “difficult upbringing, haven’t you done well?”

“I get deeply frustrated that people assume that just because you’re from here, you can’t achieve certain things in life,” he says as he stands in front of the block of flats he lived in as a child on the Lawrence Weston estate in Bristol. “There are clever kids here that will be able to do brilliant things as long as people believe in them and give them the chance.”

The 37-year-old, who was the first ever Darren elected to Parliament when he became the MP for the Bristol North West seat where he grew up in 2017, says: “There’s lots of people here that could go on and become lawyers and politicians and run businesses. But the challenge is the barriers that stop people from seeking opportunities and knowing about them in the first place. There’s still tons of that.

“So I get annoyed. I’m not one of those people that has a chip on my shoulder about where I come from. But equally I want kids now to have chances and a lot of them don’t.”

Darren Jones as a boy with his dad

Darren Jones as a boy with his dad

The Labour frontbencher as a teenager

The Labour frontbencher as a teenager

The Labour rising star says he is “proud about where I’m from”. “Life was difficult and we didn’t always have the things that we needed, but I lived with my mum and dad,” he says as he plays down his difficulties as a child. “We had a roof over our heads. I had great teachers, even if my schools were not doing well.

“I used to love growing up in the flats because you had friends in your block. I was a single child until my sister came nine years later. So for most of my early years I was a lone child, so it was great having other mates in the block to be able to play around with. But that experience of poverty drives you to not want to have that insecurity.”

As Labour appears likely to get into power at the election in less than a fortnight, he says the only thing he really remembers from the party’s historic 1997 win is “seeing it on TV the day after polling day and my mum and dad being excited”.

“The New Labour government was quite formative for me, because I experienced the difference that politics can make,” he says. “The national minimum wage was huge for us. Back then mum was an administrator at the hospital and my dad was a security guard. Because there was no minimum wage, you could be in full time work, but only get paid a quid or something an hour. There were situations where you saw your parents not eating in favour of you having food.

Darren Jones says he remembers his parents' excitement when Tony Blair won the 1997 election

Darren Jones says he remembers his parents’ excitement when Tony Blair won the 1997 election
Jon Rowley)

“So when the national minimum wage came, suddenly my mum and dad were doing the same job but they were actually getting paid properly. And that felt like a huge pressure had been lifted.”

After becoming the first person in his family to go to university, he admits he has ended up “sounding like a posh lawyer that became a politician”. “I always had two priorities really,” he says. “One was to try not to be horribly poor anymore because it’s not a very nice thing to live with. And the other thing was to try and make a difference, because I felt like I’d been given that chance, but not everybody had.”

Now he is determined that Labour gets back into government to “do it again for the next generation”.

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Asked if a comfortable majority would boost the economy by restoring stability, he says: “Yeah, I think so. People at home rightly pretty p**sed off that their rent and mortgages went through the roof… There is a direct link between what politicians do in Westminster and family finances. And people have really experienced that.”

Referring to his boss Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves, he adds: “And that’s why I think Rachel’s message around economic stability is really important for people because they want to get back to that. They won’t have to pay the cost for reckless political behaviour in London.”

Pressed on whether a Blair-era majority would make it easier to change the country, he says: “Yes and no. Yes in that clearly a majority government of any party has the mandate to be able to push ahead with change. But the size of the majority doesn’t change the fiscal inheritance. So the state of the economy is still the state of the economy, and that does mean it’s going to be really hard to begin with. We’ve got plans for turning that around, but we’re not going to be able to do that overnight. So it doesn’t matter whether you have got a 50 seat majority or a 450 seat majority, if that’s possible, the economy is still in a really bad place.”

But he insists a key role for Labour, if elected, is giving people hope. He adds: “Those of us in politics have got a job to do to show people that we can affect change. If I didn’t think that, I’d probably just do something else. But I do genuinely believe that. We’ve got to get some optimism back into the country.”