He was elected as a councillor to Cleveland County Council in 1984, becoming the vice-chairman of the committee, he served on the council until 1997. He was a member of Stockton Borough Council from 1999 until his election to Parliament at the 2010 General Election. He served as the north eastern chairman of the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, 2002-08. He was very active in the Stockton North Constituency Labour Party, as the press officer from 1984–2010, vice chairman and secretary, 1985–95, and its chairman, 1995-2000.
He has been a member of the Co-operative Party since 1986.
Following his election he has appointed to the Work and Pensions Select Committee in 2010. In 2011, he became a member of the Committee set up to scrutinise the Bill that became the Armed Forces Act 2011. He then became a member of the Education Select Committee, and was a Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan MP.
In Parliament he has pursued a ban on smoking in cars when a child is present.