Women in politics: A female political dynasty is forming which is made in Sheffield

Think about political dynasties and it seems like it is always men. Kennedy, Bush, Milliband, Benn. Then think again because a female dynasty is forming which is made in Sheffield.

Tuesday, 30th November 2021, 1:56 pm

Midgley is the name and one which is revered in political circles in the city.

Pat Midgley was a Sheffield councillor for 33 years, who campaigned right until the end of her life in March 2020.

Her daughter Joanna Midgley will become deputy leader of Manchester Council next month.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The Race for life at Don Valley Stadium. Pictured is the Lord Mayor of Sheffield Coun Pat Midgley joining in with a lap of the Don Valley course

Like Pat, Joanna became a councillor in middle age.

Now 57, she says: “I can’t remember my age, my mum took years off hers but it caught her up eventually!”

Joanna was brought up in the Granville Road area near Park Hill. Her mum Pat was born, raised and lived her whole life in the Manor Castle council ward, which covers Park Hill.

Mum-of-two Joanna went to school at Manor Lodge primary and Norfolk Comprehensive in Arbourthorne.

Joanna Midgley, campaigning for speed awareness

She then studied social sciences at what she calls Manchester Poly.

Her mum became a councillor in 1987 and served until her death aged 82. Pat made the decision to stand for election in her late 40s but politics were always a part of her life.

“She’d always been involved in the Labour party, I remember us being sent out leafleting for Labour around the area with my brothers,” says Joanna, who has two brothers Jamie and Neil.

“She was secretary of the local Labour group and when she decided to stand as a councillor I campaigned for her.

Joanna Midgley hard at work with a rake and wheelbarrow

“She was always involved in committees, organising trips to the seaside, raising money so if some couldn’t pay they had some spending money.

“She was a regular churchgoer at Victoria Methodist church and ran the youth club.”

Behind the scenes was husband Don, now 89, who drove his wife everywhere. Joanna says: “Mum was always working, always busy.

“Politics was something we talked about and I was always political. At Poly, I was Red Jo, we were a political family.

Joanna Midgley, highlighting the importance of breast screening

“In terms of becoming a councillor, I used to think that’s a really thankless task. We’d go for dinner and mum would have to answer the phone to sort out someone’s problems. It wasn’t a job I wanted to do and now I’ll be deputy leader in Manchester in December!

“I’d always been involved with Labour and the turning point was when we lost the election in 2010. It dawned on me that we faced decades of Tory rule so I got involved locally.

“Before I knew it I was asked to stand as a councillor. My mum was delighted.”

It was 2012 when she was elected to become Labour councillor for Chorlton Park.

She’s now executive member for health and care. Maybe her daughters Hattie aged 20 and Lucy, 16, will carry on the dynasty.

They all still think of Sheffield. “I love it and always wanted to come back but I couldn’t get the right job.

The Lord Mayor of Sheffield Coun Pat Midgley, during her sponsored sleep over in the haunted Sheffield Manor Castle for charity ...in the background is statue of Mary Queen of Scots who was imprisoned there.

“I was offered a role in the homeless department of Manchester Council and then trained as a teacher, which I did for 20 years.

“I come and see my dad every weekend and I’ve loved living in both cities. What I like about Sheffield is it is so friendly. I went to Bramall Lane recently and the first thing the programme seller called me was Flower. I miss that.

“I love both Manchester and Sheffield because both are vibrant and diverse cities with proud and radical histories. Manchester could benefit from more availability of Hendersons relish though.”

As for football, Jo’s Twitter profile says Sheffield United supporter.... character building. Brother Jamie is an Owl so the Midgley house was split. Dad Don worked on the turnstiles at both grounds, which gave the children a choice. “I chose the Blades because Tony Currie was in his heyday,” says Joanna.

So what about this political dynasty? “It’s one of middle-aged women! I never really sat and thought about it. Mum had a massive influence on me and becoming deputy leader happened quickly.

“Our leader stepped down in May, the deputy got the vacancy and I wondered if I could do the deputy job.

“I thought ‘what would mum say?’ She would say yes you bloody well can! She was a massive influence on the decisions I made.

“The thing about her politics was she was a do-er, always on the go. A visit to her made me feel exhausted. She was always at a meeting, inviting people round to the house, people would just pop in.”

Pat was born on Park Hill Lane before the flats were built and passed her 11 plus to go to a grammar school.

“She always remembered a moment when she was asked to read a poem to her class,” Joanna says. “She was ridiculed for her accent. It gave her a sense of injustice and she became a champion for comprehensive education.

“I was offered a scholarship to the Girls’ High school. She did not agree with private sector education but left the decision to me. I decided not to go.

“She lived by her principles.”

Pat was a former Lord Mayor, magistrate and school governor for more than 50 years. She was also honoured with a Women of Sheffield award in 2019, hosted by The Star.

And there’s a road named after her in Park Hill. Joanna said: “She was passionate about the improvements to Park Hill and she would have been so pleased, although completely disbelieving, to know a road is named after her at the heart of the new complex and see the latest phases come to life.”

Pat was chair of housing in the 1990s and spearheaded Park Hill’s application for English Heritage Grade II listed building status, fielding criticism at the time from a sceptical public about the benefits of such a move. That decision led to Park Hill’s regeneration.

She was due to stand down in May 2020 to relax and spend more time looking after her husband of 60 years. But she got Coronavirus and was the first serving politician in the UK known to have died from it.

Paying tribute to her mum at the time, Jo said: "She was and always will be my hero.

"A wonderful caring, selfless and generous person with an ability to make anyone and everyone feel immediately welcome and loved - usually with endless cups of tea, cakes, scones and sandwiches!

"She was committed and devoted to her family and friends and always tried to keep people together and connected.

"She loved a get together - and could put an impromptu buffet together in record time - and it’s hard to imagine one without her."

Her tribute added: “Mum was a formidable and tenacious fighter for social justice. She introduced me and my brothers to politics at an early age and her values shaped mine.

“I am so thankful to her for that despite the endless hours of leafleting I had to do as a child!

“Until March 17 she was working hard, as usual, as a local councillor representing the people of Manor Castle ward.

“At the age of 82 her continued energy and dedication to improving the lives of others was truly inspirational. Her weekly schedule often made me feel tired!

“She had planned to stand down in May to take things easy and spend more time looking after dad but unfortunately that wasn't to be.

“They would have been married for 61 years in June and had such a loving and solid bond. Dad will be lost without her. Mum was also an amazing nannan to Hattie, Lucy, Theo, Jude and Madeleine who she doted on.

“We are all heartbroken not just because we have lost the lynchpin of our family but because of the manner of her illness and death.

“In typical Pat Midgley style she was feisty to the end despite being very weak. She knew her own mind and what she wanted.

“She refused morphine because she wanted to carry on fighting.”

Just before she died, Pat talked to Joanna about her sister Rebecca. Sadly, Rebecca was stillborn in 1967, something her mum talked very little about until the end of her life in the Northern General. The doctors had told Pat she would not live so she started to tell Joanna about Rebecca.

“Our family never talked about it. People didn’t. But mum told me Rebecca was full-term and she wanted her to have a proper burial. We got her name put on mum’s gravestone.”

That recognition of stillborn babies was something Pat had campaigned for. “It was a really important issue to mum and one she fought for in the 1980s.”

She remained political right until the end, insisting on voting for Keir Starmer in the Labour leadership election despite being in hospital.

“Mum said she had something to say and I thought it was a terrible family secret. It turned out she hadn’t voted for Keir and wouldn’t forgive herself if she didn’t. I got her pin number for the vote and we did it.”

She had been campaigning until the end, out on the streets just hours before Boris Johnson announced over 70s should stay indoors on March 16.

“If lockdown had come earlier she would still be with us.

“She was all about making life better for people, it came from her background, education, fighting poverty. I feel the same way.”

Joanna Midgley outside a covid vaccination centre
Joanna Midgley and mum Pat
Joanna Midgley and mum Pat
Winifred Gales Award for Politics. Winners Pat Midgley, June Griffiths, and Sara Hill. The Star Women of Sheffield 2019 Awards presentation. The Star launched the awards to celebrate females who have made a difference to others in the city. Picture: Chris Etchells
Unveiling of the Pat Midgley Lane as part of the Park Hill flats regeneration scheme Coun Terry Fox speaks about his friend and colleague Pat Midgley
Pat Midgley, when she stood as Labour candidate in Nether Edge in 1986
Joanna Midgley after being elected deputy leader of Manchester Council
Joanna Midgley and mum Pat
Joanna Midgley after being elected deputy leader of Manchester Council