In May last year, I was elected as the Member of Parliament for Plymouth Moor View. I was a little over a year out of the army, based in the Citadel on the Hoe, and had spent the previous 14 months on the campaign trail across the north of Plymouth in what proved to be a crash course induction into the world of politics.
I knew from the outset that I wanted to make everything local and bring it back to Plymouth because to me, our previous representatives had lost sight of their key role-representing the brilliant people of Plymouth. I had set myself the target of getting around every single home in Plymouth Moor View before the General Election to give people so disenfranchised with Politics, something to vote for. In the end I fell just short of my goal, but it was an excellent exercise in getting to understand what local residents thought and what was needed to start fulfilling that word which people so often associate with our wonderful City-potential. There was a genuine feeling amongst many people I spoke to, that Plymouth had been forgotten by governments of all colours over the years and I saw a real desire for something different. The rest, as they say, is history.
Going to Westminster was a completely different experience, yet I knew I had to continue my Plymouth focus and do right for the people of Plymouth Moor View. One of the most prominent ways this principle was tested was over tax credit reform. Lots of people I’ve spoken to want reform of public spending and to bring it back under control. Gordon Brown’s huge expansion of the welfare system allowed it to morph into an unsustainable machine that simply could not be afforded; reform was necessary. However, tax credits have become a huge part of many peoples’ lives in the north of Plymouth and to reform the system too quickly would have been really damaging to many of my constituents. I had to do something to air my views, but as a new MP you find yourself quite daunted by taking a dissenting position to your leader and your colleagues.
I decided to speak up in the Chamber of the House of Commons and say we needed to reduce the speed of these reforms. To my mind there were 11,500 of my Constituents who were going to be worse off, and the vast majority were those I came into Politics to help-our most vulnerable. There was no-way I was going to run the sort of Election campaign I had run, and not speak up for those who put their faith in me, whatever the cost. It was nerve wracking of course; but it was worth it. Along with a couple of fellow parliamentarians, we spoke our dissenting words and eventually, the Chancellor changed his policy. This experience was a real lesson for me, particularly in the sense that it reinforced in my mind that all this talk of not being able to change anything in politics is the myth I always thought it was. It may not be easy, but nothing worth doing rarely is and if you go to Westminster with a drive to work for your constituents and improve your constituency you really can make a difference.
One of the best things about being an MP is being invited to schools to talk to students about what they are working on and hear their ambitions. It is absolutely fantastic to be amongst our future-our children-with such great ambitions and goals, it really acts as another reminder of the people we are working for. No, kids can’t vote, but they will inherit this city from us and we need to give them the best place to live and work as we possibly can. That’s why it’s important we get to work on improving what needs to be changed while we have a government that now hears our voice.
I have been busy recently chasing up the review into the feasibility study about whether Plymouth airport can run viably – called for by many in Plymouth; this Government recognises why it is important. This Government understands why transport links are so vital to our future: retaining our young talented people to work in our City; attracting better job opportunities and supporting our world-class firms already here; as well as making it easier to get to and from our beautiful City for the hundreds of thousands of people who visit each year to see how special we are for themselves.
I think Plymouth is on the cusp of something great. Last year, there were £24million worth of publicly funded grants awarded to Plymouth including funding for a Forder Valley link road to ease pressure on the Tavistock Road that makes so many of us sit in traffic each morning. We have seen investment in our dockyard, new trains for our railway and a rise in the personal allowance. Although frankly, I want more. As such, I will be spending everyday I have in Westminster telling those people that we’ve got a very proud and historic city down here and it will hit it’s former heights of glory; just keep that investment coming which has only really just started – you won’t be disappointed.