I will soon take up my seat as the newest and youngest Member of Parliament. As I was elected in July, during Parliamentary Recess, the House’s arcane procedures might still be something of a mystery to me until the first sitting day in October when I can be sworn in.
I don’t believe that politics should be arcane and obscure. Our political system has long had a difficult reputation among large swathes of the population. It can be seen as an elite club run by too many people who look the same, closed off to those who don’t fit the mould.
Parliament has a responsibility to change and I know that I — as the first MP to take up a seat in the House since the expenses scandal broke — have a bigger responsibility than most to show that it has changed.
I’m the latest in a long line of women who have been elected to Parliament, and there have been younger MPs than me in the past. I’m also just one of many people that want to change the country. But I do hope that people look at me — a young woman about to take her place on the green benches — and think, “I can do that, too.”
However, it will never be enough simply to look different to other politicians. I certainly won’t be the baby of the House forever. And being female is hardly a qualification for office.
It will never be enough just to talk about doing things differently — I and others in politics must put that talk into action.
On the doorstep, in my experience as a candidate both before and during the by-election, people are turned off politics because it feels as though you don’t get what you pay for. Why bother paying?
In some cases, money really is at stake — such as the ever-higher amount we pay in tax for returns that don’t seem readily obvious. Or most recently, the use of public money on some outrageous expenses claims. In a wider sense, too, people feel they don’t get their money’s worth. Politics is disjointed and bureaucracy in our state is distended. “The system is wrong,” commented one of my new constituents recently. “The machine is just broken. I’m a reasonable, law-abiding man,” he said, “but whatever I do seems to make no difference.”
In my time as a new MP, I want passionately to help that man and others like him. I want to change the way that Whitehall works, and reduce its rambling regional powers. I want to shine a light on opaque quangos. There is also much to do in improving the front-line services so that they make more sense for people like that man up and down the country.
I entered politics because I think that you can and should make some things move. During the by-election, I published a contract in which I set out exactly what I want to do for the local community. I tried to be absolutely clear — if, come the general election, Norwich North feels I haven’t kept my promises, people should vote me out.
I’m just the newest member of the Parliamentary Conservative Party. But I know that, at the general election, we all face the kind of test encapsulated in that contract. My own contributions to improving politics — my youth and energy, my efforts as a brand new MP — can only go so far. I am confident that my party will lead the way this autumn in being honest about the challenges this country faces. We must also be honest in showing that voting has an effect and that you can get what you pay for. Only that will help people feel that it’s worth voting at all.