After a momentous first week in Westminster, Warrington South's new Conservative MP answered a few questions for the Warrington Guardian about life in the House of Commons:
How was your first day in Parliament – and did it feel somewhat like going back to school, with meeting new people and finding your way around?
After the election result was announced in the early hours of Friday morning I was handed an envelope by the returning officer which had details of going to Westminster to take my seat in Parliament. My first day was actually Sunday, I arrived around 4pm at Portcullis House which is just over the road from the Palace of Westminster. The brilliant staff were clearly expecting me: my email account was set up, pass organised, directory of new members printed, computers set up. The team at the House of Commons had clearly been working non-stop since Friday to make sure new MPs could hit the ground running. I was looking forward to being shown to my office with a view of the Thames. Instead, I was given a key for a temporary locker on the committee room corridor and shown to a hot desk. Many former MPs still have to clear out their offices which means we can’t move in until the middle of January. As I walked back to the hotel I took a selfie outside the House of Commons which then appeared in many of the National Newspapers the following day.
Monday did feel a little bit like going back to school, new friends to make, new rules to learn. The day was all about gaining information and compiling a long list of dos and don’ts. We spent some time sitting in the chamber itself and met the Chief Whip, who’s responsible for party discipline – if you’ve watched the original House of Cards you’ll know all about Francis Urquart! The day finished off with a photo session of the 109 new Conservative MPs and the Prime Minister in Westminster Hall.
Briefly, can you outline what your first week has consisted of?
Early in the week, it was a case of information overload, lots of briefings from experienced MPs, meeting with House Authorities and a programme which started early in the morning and ended late at night. On Tuesday I received an invitation to meet the Chancellor for breakfast along with other new Conservative MPs from the North of England at Number 11 Downing Street. The walk along Downing Street, through the big black door, was quite a moment! On Wednesday I was officially sworn in as the Honourable Member for Warrington South, by chance Charlotte Nichols the new Labour MP for Warrington North arrived in the Chamber at the same time to be sworn in – so we had a quick chat for the first time. I went to my first 1922 Committee where the Prime Minister addressed Back-Bench Conservative MPs on the Government’s plans for the forthcoming year and on Thursday The Queen came for the State Opening of Parliament so I saw the pomp and ceremony that we are brilliant at first hand. On Friday morning I voted for the first time, through the ‘Aye’ lobby, with the Government in favour of the EU Withdrawal Act which means we will now leave the European Union on 31st January.
Along with focusing on the key vote on Brexit, have you had chance to speak to any Government figures over other important issues facing Warrington – such as the NHS and rising demand for the foodbank?
Getting Brexit Done is key for the government but I’ve had several conversations already with Ministers, following up on conversations during the election campaign. On Thursday I met with Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Communities, Housing and Local Government who has responsibility for planning and the green belt. I’ve re-iterated my objections to the plans submitted by Stobart. We made a manifesto commitment to protect the green belt and I don’t believe there are exceptional circumstances to grant permission nor do I think there are sufficient infrastructure improvements to accommodate the level of traffic which would follow as a result of the plans being approved. I’ve also had conversations with Matt Hancock the Health Secretary about the need for spending at Warrington Hospital and Jake Berry, who’s the Minister for the Northern Powerhouse about how we can regenerate brownfield sites for housing development.
What has been the toughest aspect of life in Parliament so far?
When you’re in Westminster it’s about knowing where to be and when – there are so many meetings happening, some at the same time, so it’s often a case of popping in and out of meetings alongside being available to vote in the chamber. Receiving my first mail bag was quite a shock, there were hundreds of letters which needed a response. Keeping on top of emails and social media is quite a challenge too – I don’t yet have any staff in place so it’s taking a little longer to reply than I would like.
And amid all the travelling and long hours in Westminster, has it been difficult to balance family life with life as an MP?
Working as an MP is no different to many other jobs where there’s travel away from home and long hours, I’ve got to set up two offices, one in Westminster and one in Warrington. Spending time with my family, walking the dogs and switching off from work has always been important to me, getting the balance right over the next few months is something I’ve got to work on!