Parson Cross lass Gill Furniss on her whirlwind six months as Sheffield's newest MP

"When I turn that corner and see Big Ben I can't believe this lass from Parson Cross is allowed in Westminster."

Wednesday, 30th November 2016, 8:12 am
Updated Tuesday, 6th December 2016, 3:44 pm
Sheffield Brightside & Hillsborough MP Gill Furniss

Sheffield Britghside & Hillsborough MP Gill Furniss sometimes has to pinch her self she's now walking the corridors of power.

Born and bred on working class Parson Cross, it's an area not renown for crafting Westminster politicians.

Gill in the House of Commons. Picture: Parliament TV

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The former Southey councillor previously worked at Sheffield College, the NHS and as a librarian assistant but now finds herself challenging the Prime Minister from the prestigious green benches after securing a by-election victory back in May.

She's also an MP who has lived in the area where she represents for most of her life with stints in Birley Carr, Fox Hill, Parson Cross and Fir Vale - which can be the opposite for many MPs.

As Gill stands for a brief photo shoot on Hillsborough shops, she breaks off half way after constituent who she saw at a previous surgery. A warm hello with hug and a kiss greeted the elderly woman - Gill almost seemed to forget she was halfway through a media appearance.

"I loved every minute of being a trade union rep, loved every minute of being a councillor and this now is just brilliant being an MP," she said.

Gill with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn outside the EIS after her bye-election win. Picture Joe Giddens/PA Wire

But her path to Westminster has resulted from tragic circumstances.

Her late husband and former striking miner Harry Harpham held the seat before his death after the 2015 general election.

Harry, who was lost his battle with cancer earlier this year, stood up in Parliament for the final time just two weeks before his death to grill the former Prime Minister David Cameron over job losses at Forgemasters.

It seems fitting that Gill would follow in his footsteps and carry on the work he started but admits they didn't always seem eye-to-eye on politically despite being politicians from the same party.

Gill during her time as councillor for the Southey ward

"We had the most blazing rows about politics, we didn't always agree and people might think we did!" Gill said with a chuckle.

"He was one on his own he was very unique, very affable but he was a bloody tough politician who lived through the miner's strike to the very end.

"He learnt the hard way through life and he wasn't afraid of taking anyone on if he was right and sometimes even when he was wrong, in my own view!

"What drew us together was our sense of justice and wanting to do something about it when we thought something is not fair. I think we were very similar in our beliefs and that's why we got together."

Gill in the House of Commons. Picture: Parliament TV

On her first few months as an MP Gill admitted the whole process was extremely daunting to start with and like Harry when he was elected, finding your way around Westminster is one of the biggest challenges to deal with.

"It was initially very bewildering, it's an enourmous place so at first finding your way around the place was very difficult but after six months I'm getting there.

"It was like being the new girl at school because I came through on my own not in a general election year."

Her political leanings were made clear while Gill was in her late teens being involved with the unions.

"I've got a strong trade union background, much to my father's horror," she said.

"I can remember him saying to me 'don't you put your head above the parapet lass you'll get shot down' and I said to him when I was about 19, 'I don't care' - he was a bit worried."

Gill with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn outside the EIS after her bye-election win. Picture Joe Giddens/PA Wire

Gill thinks every young child in her constituency should be able to come and see Westminster and learn about what goes on there. School classes are often down in London for educational visits. But with the amount of schools, there a certainly many more to visit.

"All the kids are amazed when I say I'm off the Cross - they think before they meet me I'm going to be really posh so I'm always at great pains to tell them I'm not!

"They're staggered to find out someone who has lived on a road near them - they can't believe it."

The state of the Labour party has been a big talking point over many months. Jeremy Corbyn's initial election as leader then re-election after a challenge by Owen Smith has filled hundreds of hours of news broadcasts and a vast amount of column inches.

But Labour under Corbyn are currently 16 points behind the Tories in the polls.

"Do we believe the opinions though after all what's happend?!" Gill said with a laugh.

"It's a big task, I'll not shy away from that but I believe the party is more united now than when I first was elected. People are getting on with it and our enemy is the Tories and not one another and I think that's coming together well.

"I think Jeremy did marvellous responding to the Autumn statement at PMQs - he's come on in leaps and bounds and he's getting support from us all and as Harold Wilson used to say, a week is a long time in politics."

Gill during her time as councillor for the Southey ward