As I approach my first year anniversary serving as Member of Parliament for Lancaster and Fleetwood I’m taking this opportunity to reflect on the events of the past twelve months.
My first contribution in the House of Commons chamber, which happened to be the first contribution by any of the 2015 intake, was on the 28th May when I asked the Leader of the House for a debate on the issue of fracking in Lancashire. Throughout the election campaign this had been a widely felt issue, with the majority of my constituents opposing the moves by fracking company Cuadrilla to drill on the Fylde Coast.
I’ve raised fracking many times in my first year as an MP, and I remain angry that the government will allow local communities to say no to onshore wind but don’t afford that local autonomy to fracking wells. Lancashire County Councillors, under huge pressure from the industry and the government to accept fracking, turned down the applications in July 2015. This was a local democratic decision, but the fight goes on as government seems hell-bent on fracking our beautiful Lancashire countryside. But my opposition is not nimby – fracking is not the answer to the big question of my generation on catastrophic climate change.
Which brings me nicely to reflect on the most difficult event in my constituency this year; Storm Desmond hit Lancashire on 5th December last year. It was a Saturday and I was visiting small businesses throughout my constituency starting with a local community pub for breakfast which later became a refuge point for those who had flooded homes or who were stranded. The second business I visited, a newly opened FairTrade café and shop was devastated and is still not back in its premises. By early evening I was in Fleetwood and struggled to get through to Lancaster that evening because all the roads had flooded into the city. I still don’t know how I manged to get home that evening! Much television coverage of the floods means you have probably seen more pictures than I have given we were three days without electricity. The government’s reaction to the North Lancashire floods has been pathetic – not one mention of Lancashire in the flood defence announcement in the Budget. Indeed, their general approach to flood defences has been shocking – cuts to the Environment Agency and cancelling of projects in places like Leeds.
One of my favourite things to do as an MP has been to visit local schools and take questions from children – some as young as 5 years old and right up to the sixth formers. Apart from a brief stint as a Brownie Leader I’ve never worked with children before but it’s something I’ve really got a lot out of it. I am always very clear they children and young people can ask anything they want (which I think scares the teachers most!) and I’ve had so many thoughtful questions. You can’t ‘spin’ an answer to an eleven-year-old so it’s a great chance for me to be the open, honest and accountable politician I pledged to do in my election literature.
One of the frequent questions I get asked in schools is a question rarely asked by an adult; “why are you Labour?”. It’s an important question. Identifying with a political party isn’t something you can do on an online multiple choice quiz. Nor should it be something you inherit unquestionably from your parents. I should make the disclaimer that when I joined the Labour Party I had no idea my Dad had been a Party member for many years when I had been younger!
Sitting as a Labour MP in the House of Commons I feel really at home in the vision we have for Britain and our local elections campaign tag line for these May elections sums it up for me “Standing Up Not Standing By”. I’ve always believed in getting stuck in and helping out, something I learnt through my faith as a Christian. Being an MP I see people at their best and their worst, and at their most despairing. I know my neighbours go to bed hungry, that food banks are sadly a necessity in our rich country. I see the pressure we put on our children in impossible to answer SATS questions, the difficult zero-hours jobs market they leave school and enter into. I know that Britain simply isn’t working for the vast majority of people. But for the richest 1,000 families who have more than doubled their wealth since 2009, and own more than the poorest 40% of British households, well it was a good financial crisis for them. So I haven’t stood by, I’m standing up against this poverty, hunger and stress which is being felt by those I represent.