Visting Local Charities
July 1, 2001
So what has been the most interesting thing you have done since becoming a Member of Parliament?
I guess I have been asked that question more times than I would care to remember during the six weeks since the General Election. I must confess that sitting on the famous green benches in the debating chamber for the first time was quite a high point as was the making of my maiden speech. You have to wait and listen to other speakers for several hours before being called and there were certainly a few butterflies in my stomach as I rose to speak for the first time. It all went off very well. My speech lasted ten minutes without notes, and Tony Banks, the Labour MP for West Ham and former Minister of Sport who spoke immediately after me, praised me in fulsome terms. I must admit I had never met Tony before and had not been terribly impressed by what I had seen of him until then on television, but I think I have now become a firm member of his fan club!
One of the things than entered my mind as I first stood up in the House of Commons was my late father who passed away ten years ago. I know he would have been very proud to have been there at that moment and I am sure for many of you who are reading this who have lost close relatives will understand exactly how I felt.
Although making a maiden speech is an exciting moment in any politician’s career, I really think that the two episodes that have stuck in my mind most during my first month or so as an MP relate to meeting members of the public.
Two weeks after my election I was invited to St Bartholomew’s Hospital in the City of London, which is in the far-east of my constituency. The Mental Health Trust was handing out its Annual Awards. There were over 300 people present, including NHS staff and local residents who had used Bart’s during the past twelve months. It was a valuable opportunity for me to see the City’s local hospital in action, and I was taken aback by how grateful the local NHS Trust was that their local MP had taken time out to be at the presentation.
A few days later the National Breast Cancer Coalition charity held a presentation in the new building next to the Houses of Parliament. Unfortunately, I was running a little late but I was amazed at how pleased the half dozen local residents at the event were to see me to tell me their stories about pain, suffering and eventual triumph over breast cancer. I sat alongside half a dozen women aged from 35 to 70 and chatted with them over a cup of tea about the health care they had been receiving here in Central London and discussed what I as a local Member of Parliament could do to lobby on their behalf to improve their lot. In no time an hour had passed. I will not forget the genuine gratitude they felt that someone in power was listening to what they had to say. It was a moving moment for me, and amidst all the speculation and gossip surrounding my own Party’s leadership election, it made me realise precisely what being an MP is really all about. I hope that those ladies went back to their Westminster and Marylebone homes thinking a little bit more positively about politics and politicians because there is no doubt that they made a great impact on me. Naturally the difficult part of all this is to try and make a real difference now and in the years ahead, but I have already written to the Health Authority and the relevant junior Minister in an attempt to ensure that breast cancer treatment remains a high local priority.
By the time you read this the Parliamentary term will have ended. I know that most people must look enviously at us MPs and think having a three month holiday (we don’t start again until 15 October) is an easy life! I can assure you that it is nothing of the sort although Michele and I will get away on holiday in late July and also again at some point in September, I expect to spend much of the next few weeks meeting local businessmen, Council officers and other key decision makers. Having just got my feet under the table as a parliamentary new boy, this month provides an excellent opportunity to understand more about what goes on locally without the constant pressure of Parliamentary debates and votes. My next column will be in mid-August and I hope for those of you who will be away on holiday before that time you have a restful break and those remaining here in England I pray that our country’s cricketing fortunes improve!