She was Chester’s first woman MP, elected in the 1997 Labour landslide. But now Labour are out of power – and Christine Russell has lost her seat. She tells DAVID HOLMES about life after Westminster – and what she’ll miss about being an MP
CHRISTINE Russell made history when she became the first Labour and first woman member to represent Chester after defeating sitting Tory MP Gyles Brandreth in 1997.
But her comfortable 10,500 majority dwindled in 2001 and even further in 2005, until she was ousted from power on May 6 by the Conservatives’ Stephen Mosley after 13 years.
Now back at her Chester home, Ms Russell is sad to be writing out redundancies to her loyal office staff, surrounded by cards and flowers from well-wishers including a-political figures such as Cheshire Chief Constable David Whatton and Recorder of Chester Judge Elgan Edwards.
“Perhaps its like a bereavement,” says Ms Russell, who is still busy tying up loose ends. “It might hit me in a month’s time when somebody asks for my help and I have to say “Sorry, I’m not the MP any more’.”
Ms Russell says she hasn’t changed since her days on the city council. For her it was never about the ego or the title.
“I genuinely like helping people or empowering someone to help themselves,” says Ms Russell, who at 65 is now technically a pensioner.
But she intends to continue in public service by serving as a governor at Victoria Infant School and West Cheshire College, and remaining as president of the Chester Women’s Hostel Association.
And she is looking forward to spending more time with her family – being grandma to her son Patrick’s two children and daughter Charlotte’s baby boy who is due any day now.
“My biggest regret is that I was not able to spend long periods of time with my mother in her last year or two of her life. I feel really sad about that.”
She also hopes to go travelling and support international development projects such as Safer Motherhood programmes addressing the high mortality rates among women during pregnancy and childbirth.
A cinema buff, she added: “I want to catch up on the movies I have missed over the last 13 years and I’m looking forward to the first match at the Deva Stadium.”
Ms Russell believes most of the reasons for Labour’s defeat come down to poor communications rather than having the wrong policies.
Always a Blairite and never a big fan of Gordon Brown, she backs former foreign secretary David Miliband in the current leadership contest and would have supported him had he challenged Brown at an earlier stage.
Of Brown, she said: “When there is a vacancy for the chief executive you shouldn’t automatically promote the finance director. They might be good at their job but they don’t necessarily have the personal skills to take over the top job. That’s always been my view of Gordon Brown, but the prevailing view in the party was it was his turn.”
She urges her own successor to keep in touch with all sections of the community and says she never resented being stopped in the street, even though it took her an hour to walk just a few hundred yards.
“One of the most valuable experiences is the feedback you get walking around the supermarket with a trolley.”
Ms Russell believes Chester is better off in terms of health, education and policing than it was in 1997 and gave Mr Mosley this advice: “The way to make sure Chester gets its fair share of resources and make things happen on behalf of Chester people is by building up relationships with people.
“You don’t achieve results by banging on the table demanding things and standing in an empty Commons chamber late at night.”
A fridge magnet in Ms Russell’s kitchen offers a more humorous angle on the serious business of politics, featuring a quote from the late American comedian George Burns who apparently quipped: “Too bad all the people who know how to run the country are busy driving taxi cabs and cutting hair.”