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Tuesday, 23 December 2014

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Workington MP awarded knighthood

Workington's staunchly working class Labour MP Tony Cunningham is to be awarded a knighthood.

Tony Cunningham photo
Tony Cunningham

The son of a dock worker, who grew up on a council estate in Salterbeck, has been prominent in Cumbrian politics for 25 years.

The 59-year-old is among a handful of people from the county named in this year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours List today.

His knighthood – one of the highest possible civic honours that can be awarded – is for Mr Cunningham’s service to politics and the public.

Mr Cunningham, who is “thrilled”, said keeping the news of his accolade secret over the last few weeks had been incredibly difficult.

“It’s not just about me,” he said.

“I feel that this is recognition for my family, including my mam Bessie, who brought up six children on a council estate.

“It’s also for the staff I work with and it’s an honour for the people of west Cumbria.”

Though known in Cumbria primarily as a constituency MP, Mr Cunningham has played a key role in the Labour Party political hierarchy, working as a government whip under both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

It has been an impressive achievement for a man with a solidly working class background. One of his grandfathers was a miner and the other a steelworker.

The first member of his family to go to university, Mr Cunningham gained a degree from Liverpool University in politics and history.

After graduating, he spent time volunteering in East Africa and returned home with a passion for politics, inspired by the poverty that he had seen there.

He became a district councillor in 1987, winning the seat from a Tory predecessor, and rose to become leader of Allerdale Council in 1992.

From 1994 to 1999, Mr Cunningham was MEP for Cumbria and North Lancashire, in 1995 penning an influential report on landmines which called for a treaty to instigate an outright ban, now adopted by 150 countries.

More recently, Mr Cunningham has been prominent in his constituency, working to aid recovery from the floods that devastated large areas of Workington, Cockermouth, and Keswick in 2009.

He is also proud of his efforts to generate jobs in his constituency, his influence helping to secure the building of the £21m Energus Centre at Lillyhall and the HMRC call centre.

The married father-of-two, who also has two stepchildren, added: “I’m in politics because you can make a difference and as long as I feel I can do that it will be for me.”

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