One of the unexpected benefits of Parliamentary life is the way in which MPs across different political parties are able to build up common interests.
Although my parliamentary career is barely two months old, I have already had discussions with a number of London Labour MPs here in London about pressing issues where a cross-party approach is more likely to ensure that things get done. This process is particularly important to a new Conservative MP because, except for Michael Portillo next-door in Kensington & Chelsea, I am the only inner city MP that the Party has in the entire country, In fact if you head either due south or due north out of Westminster you have reach beyond the M25 before finding the constituency of another Tory MP! With Labour’s enormous Parliamentary majority across the country the only way I am likely to make an impact on behalf of my constituents on cross-London matters is by working closely with neighbouring Labour MPs.
I first came across Frank Dobson when we were handing out prizes together at Bart’s Hospital and later that evening, after I had made my maiden speech, he popped over not only to congratulate me but also to say how much he hoped we could work closely together to protect the interests of residents in the Covent Garden and Fitzrovia areas, which straddle across our two constituencies. Like me, Frank is intending to ensure that any move towards licensing deregulation by the current Government is only made after full consultation with Central London residents. I read in Alan Clark’s famous diaries that Frank tells some of the funniest and rudest jokes of any MP, but obviously at our first meeting he must have thought I was too young and innocent to be subjected to any of his racy humour!
I had briefly met Karen Buck a couple of years ago in Kensington Town Hall when I was a local Councillor there, because her constituency includes not only St John’s Wood, Maida Vale and part of Queen’s Park but also North Kensington. Almost all of the Kensington Labour Councillors speak highly of Karen’s assiduity and hard work, and in early July she made an important speech in parliament during the homelessness debate. Although I couldn’t agree with every word she had to say about Westminster City Council (which wasn’t entirely complimentary), she said some very sensible things about the strains in housing for key workers in Central London and how the Government must be willing to treat London as a special case in certain aspects of its housing policy. I found myself saying hear hear during Karen’s speech from the other side of the Chamber, and a couple of my Conservative colleagues looked round somewhat curiously! No doubt Karen will blush when she reads these words (just look at the photograph on the other side of the page!), and I have probably done her no good in the eyes of her Labour colleagues as a result. Perhaps I am being unduly idealistic, but I believe it is important that politicians of all parties do have the courage to say when they agree with their opponents. I only hope that, when I look back and read these words in the years ahead, that I will not have changed my mind about the importance of working together, because it is fair to say that almost all MPs have a genuine concern for their constituents’ interests and that must surely extend beyond party lines.
I hope that all of you will have been able to get at least a few days away seeing friends or relatives during the summer. The political debate, particularly within my own Party, will have livened up considerably by the time of my next column in late September, and I look forward to writing for you again.