He is a former director of the West Midlands Enterprise Board and chaired the West Midlands Co-op Finance Company and the Black Country Co-op Development Agency. He was previously a member of the Labour Party's Plant Committee on electoral reform. Previously he was a teacher of modern languages and history, and was once the Vice-Chair of the Labour Friends of Israel group.1
Member of the subsequently abolished West Midlands County Council 1981–86.
He was first elected an MEP in June 1989. He served as leader of the European Parliamentary Labour Party (EPLP) from 2002 until January 2009.
In January 2004 a letter bomb was sent to his office and opened by his wife, a member of his staff. It immediately started to smoke and then caught fire, but no one was injured.
As a result of his activities in the European Parliament he has been made a Commander of the White Rose of Finland, and holds the Austrian Gold Cross, and the Order of the Lithuanian Grand Duke Gediminas.
He announced in 2009 that he would not stand for re-election in the 2009 European Parliament election.
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