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27th March 2024

Opinion: Rob Halfon MP is one of the great parliamentarians of our time

Christopher Jackson

The departure of Rob Halfon MP from Parliament at the next election, which was announced yesterday, will leave a huge gap: by turns charismatic and passionate, Halfon has for over a decade been one of the most likeable figures on the political scene.

It has been an extremely impressive career. The outgoing Minister for Skills, Apprenticeships and Higher Education, has served as the MP for Harlow since 2010. But this was the sequel to over a decade on the front lines of the constituency which he has devoted so much of his life to: he was selected as the Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Harlow in 1999 and subsequently fought two elections, reducing Labour’s majority on both occasions.

Announcing his departure yesterday, Halfon said: “It was a childhood dream to be an MP. It has been the honour of my life to be the longest-serving MP for Harlow – being part of the Harlow Conservatives is like being part of a family. However, after almost three decades as the Parliamentary Candidate and as MP, I feel that it is time for me to step down.”

Halfon will be remembered also for his brilliant chairmanship of the Education Select Committee, a role which he fulfilled with great gusto, always championing the vulnerable.

What Halfon brought to Parliament was, quite simply, a belief that things could be changed. His campaigns as a backbencher included the Petrol Promise and his campaign to scrap hospital car parking charges. His passion for apprenticeships was another thread in his career: he was the first MP to employ an apprentice in his office. There was perhaps an air of throwback about Halfon: during his great tenure of the chairmanship of the Education Select Committee, Halfon proved himself to be in that line of other great parliamentarians which goes all the way back to Joseph Chamberlain and Edmund Burke: those who speak from the back benches with that air of authority which means ministers have to listen.

This is not the place to consider his many achievements – but it is a moment to pause and thank a politician who has vividly fought for many important causes. Above all, what sets Halfon apart is his personal and approachable manner: ever kindly – and from the journalistic perspective, delightfully quotable – Halfon never approached the media with fear but with trust, and so always found a way to get his message out. He also has a passion for literature and journalism, and perhaps he shall have more time for reading now.

As to the future, Halfon has reassured his friends: “Please be assured that I will continue to work hard and do all I can for Harlow until the election, and will continue to champion education, skills and apprenticeships in and out of Parliament.” All this remains to be seen, but there seems little doubt that he will go on to greater and greater things. For now, it feels as though the House of Commons will be an empty place after the next election.


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