The Labour Party has confirmed that Gordon Marsden MP has been handed the universities brief alongside his new role as Shadow FE and Skills Minister, ending days of confusion about the identify of Labour’s appointment.
Blackpool’s first ever Labour MP, Marsden has represented Blackpool South since 1997. He retained the seat in 2015 with a slightly increased majority of 2,585. He will not speak for Labour on science issues, which will be covered by Yvonne Fovargue MP.
Along with Andrew Smith, Gordon Marsden was one of the last two MPs to nominate Jeremy Corbyn in the leadership contest to ensure the Islington North MP attracted the 35 nominations needed to make it onto the ballot paper. Marsden tweeted that he nominated Corbyn at 11.55 because “he would not have got the 35 nominations crucial for [a] broad contest.” But he voted for Yvette Cooper, who finished third.
After growing up in Stockport, he was first in his family to go to university; his dad became an apprentice engineer at the age of 14, making steam engines, hence Marsden’s continued interest in skills and apprenticeships.
Marsden attended New College, Oxford, where he got a First in Modern History. As a postgraduate, he studied at Warburg Institute, University of London, and Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, as a Kennedy Scholar in Politics and International Relations.
Prior to becoming an MP, Marsden was also an Open University tutor between 1994 and 1997, leading some to speculate that he might bring about a greater focus on part time provision.
The 61-year-old spent 12 years as editor of History Today magazine and also edited New Socialist. He was Chairman of the Fabian Society from 2000 to 2001.
Marsden previously served as Shadow Skills Minister and Shadow Transport Minister under Ed Miliband between 2010 and 2015.
He has also been a Parliamentary Private Secretary to Lord Irvine when Lord Chancellor, Tessa Jowell when Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, and John Denham while Secretary of State for Communities.
The experienced Manchester-born MP has never been given such a senior role, although he has been a member of the Innovation, Universities and Skills Select Committee, the Commons Science and Technology Committee and Education and Employment Committee.
He has pinpointed FE’s “funding crisis” as an area of concern and previously said: “With the scrapping of EMA, cut backs in fee remission and co-funding and other student support, Ministers risk sabotaging colleges’ vital contribution to training, skills and economic growth.”
Less is known about his plans for HE, although he has consistently voted with his party on tuition fees, for a raise to £3000 in 2004 and against the raising of the cap to £9000 under the coalition.
A supporter of the Iraq War, Marsden has rarely rebelled against the Labour whip, with the notable exception of Tony Blair’s plans to build a “super casino” in Manchester, rather than Blackpool, which he was an outspoken critic of.
During the expenses scandal, Marsden was listed by the Daily Telegraph as one of the MPs “to have gone to great lengths to save every penny of taxpayers’ money where they can.”
He is Chair of the Associate Parliamentary Skills Group and a Visiting Parliamentary Fellow of St Antony’s College, Oxford.
It will be interesting to see how supportive he is of Corbyn’s call for free education, and how the new shape of the role Marsden is set to occupy affects Labour’s focus over the next couple of years with important issues across, FE, skills, higher education and science set to remain at the top of the political and policy agenda.
Follow Gordon Marsden on Twitter @gordonmarsden
UPDATE: This article has been updated to reflect the decision on 25th September to give the science portfolio to Yvonne Fovargue, MP for Makerfield.