Going to Waugh for Rochdale
Political editor Paul Waugh has revealed the part his hometown of Rochdale has played in his reputation for holding prime ministers to account.
Waugh is the HuffPost UK’s Executive Editor, Politics, and made headlines of his own recently for his questioning of Boris Johnson at the Downing Street press conference.
The journalist, who is born and bred in Rochdale, asked the PM whether he acted with “honesty and integrity” in his relationship with US businesswoman Jennifer Arcuri. Johnson said he had. Speaking afterwards Waugh said: “Always at the back of my mind I think ‘what would my mum and cousins in Rochdale think?’ What questions would they want asking?
“I had a chat with my mum (after the Johnson press conference) and she said ‘you got him there didn’t you?’ so I passed that test! “If you grow up in the North you’re going to ask questions that reflect your own background that perhaps others might not ask.”
Waugh is a lifelong Rochdale Football Club supporter having grown up in the shadow of the ground, he has worked at Westminster since 1998 but remains a vocal supporter of Rochdale. “I was born in Birch Hill Hospital, in Wardle and was raised on a council estate at Spotland opposite Rochdale Football Club,” he recalled.
“I’ve got an identical twin brother called Mark and my earliest memory of Rochdale was mucking about at Healey Dell with my pals. “When I was a geeky teenager I used to go to Tiff’s nightclub in the town.
“It was hard for people in Rochdale in the 70s and 80s with a lot of factories closing down. A lot of people in my family worked in the cotton mills and these job opportunities started shrinking. It was tough.
“There’s a great community spirit in Rochdale.
“I started supporting Rochdale because I lived at the back of the ground. The football floodlights went into the bedrooms in our house. I didn’t have much choice but to support Rochdale.”
Waugh went to Meanwood Community Nursery School and then to Oulder Hill Community School before getting a place at Oxford University.
“I had some fantastic teachers,” he said. “I did work experience at the Rochdale Observer and then I went to Cardiff Journalism College and started working in local newspapers and eventually politics.” Waugh is also a presenter of the BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and has been impressed with Rochdale’s transformation.
“I was in Rochdale only a few weeks ago and I was really impressed with Rochdale Riverside,” he said. “Opening up the river has made a big difference and brings pride to the area. There’s a sense of regeneration in Rochdale.
“When you read the news you can see the businesses in Rochdale are doing well locally and that’s great news. “I felt really proud when I was researching a story about track and trace and one of the companies involved was called Source BioSource based in Kingsway Business Park.
“Rochdale still has a lot of pioneering businesses and it’s a continuation of its history. Rochdale has always been pioneering. You can see the ‘Rochdale Pioneers 1844’ sign as you drive into the town.
“I’m incredibly proud of where I’m from because it’s the home of the modern co-operative movement.
“People forget this but the south relied on the north for its income in Victorian times. That’s how a lot of people would like it to return to.” Earlier in his career Waugh was hired by Max Hastings to the Evening Standard in the late 1990s, which shared the building with the Daily Mail, and he brought a taste of Rochdale to London.
“My big claim to fame was getting them to add mushy peas to the Friday menu of fish and chips instead of those boring old garden peas,” he joked. However it’s as a straight-talking political editor that Waugh has forged his reputation and he believes the Conservatives’ success in the 2019 general election in Labour’s ‘red wall’ constituencies will be good news for northern towns like Rochdale.
“There’s been more of a focus on the north,” he said. “People don’t necessarily want a hand-out, they want a hand-up and around the north, particularly places like Rochdale, they want some support to be able to thrive. “From my point of view it can only be a good thing that there’s renewed focus in the north in recent years. It’s a lot more advantageous to invest in the north.
“It means the north is getting more attention than it has done in the past. For a long time it was just seen as a Labour heartland. Now the best scenario is that the two main parties are fighting over the seats.”