One year in: reflections on 12 months as an MP

I knew as soon as I was elected that although I would have the huge privilege of representing my constituents in Parliament, Labour would not shape and mould the rebuilding of our communities that is so desperately needed in the aftermath of the 2007/08 financial crash and after five wasted coalition years.

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5am on 6th May 2015 is etched in my memory.

I had just been returned as the new MP for Holborn & St Pancras. Against expectations we had almost doubled our majority and I was able to celebrate with family, party members and those who had worked so hard on the campaign. It was a fantastic moment.

At the same time, though, the enormity of the defeat Labour had suffered across the country had hit me.

It was always going to be a struggle to form a majority government after one term in opposition but the scale of the defeat took me by surprise.

I knew at that moment that although I would have the huge privilege of representing my constituents in Parliament, Labour would not shape and mould the rebuilding of our communities that is so desperately needed in the aftermath of the 2007/08 financial crash and after five wasted coalition years. Worse still, the Tories now had the chance to dismantle the unwritten social contract agreed in the post-war period when the welfare state, the NHS and our key public services were created.

Since then a lot has happened.

Arriving in Parliament had all the usual ‘new job’ problems: have I got an office? How does the IT work? And how do I understand the plethora of obscure practices that dictate and constrain the behaviour of MPs in the House of Commons.

The first four months were dominated by the Labour leadership contest.

Although it was perhaps inevitable that the Party would be engulfed by a leadership battle after such a devastating defeat, my view at the time was that it would have been better to focus our efforts on analysing why we had lost and to begin the task of devising the bold and ambitious project we will need to win again before we alighted upon a new leader.

And I have to say, a year into this Parliament, I still feel that work has yet to begin in earnest.

Nonetheless, Jeremy won a huge mandate, which should be respected. I agreed to serve as a Shadow Home Office Minister, taking on the brief for immigration, refugees and investigatory powers.

Since then life as a Shadow Minister has been a steep learning curve and, while frequently frustrating, it has been anything but dull.

We have made real progress in a number of areas: setting out to recast and rethink immigration policy – a task I believe is absolutely essential if Labour are to win back power – dragging the government to a more compassionate response to the refugee crisis and arguing for important safeguards in the government’s Investigatory Powers Bill.

But one thing is crystal clear: the government holds all the cards and is the decision-maker.

The Opposition can probe, challenge and scrutinise but whereas in Court a well-made argument can win the day, in Parliament the government’s majority nearly always settles the dispute.

During the Committee stages of the Immigration Bill and the Investigatory Powers Bill the number of votes won by the opposition was a very round number. I have also voted over 150 times in the main chamber in my first full year as MP. In that time we have won just one vote.

This a powerful reminder of the raw fact that, out of power, Labour cannot set the agenda and craft a better future for the many people who desperately need change.

This does not mean that a year in opposition has been fruitless.

In fact, the government’s long list of U-turns – tax credit cuts, forced academies, changes to disability benefits, on unaccompanied child refugees from Europe and some deeply unfair elements of the Trade Unions Bill – shows what concerted opposition can achieve.

Constituency work has also been very fulfilling - even if busy and challenging. The big ticket items have been the never ending misery caused by the housing crisis, with every other person in my full advice surgeries being an anxious council tenant in overcrowded accommodation; the devastation that HS2 will wreak in Camden and a popular revolt against assigning the Heath cafe contract to Benugo!

But while we can oppose and prevent the worst excesses of this government, we cannot set the terms of debate.

That reality dictates that we must all keep an intense focus on how we get from where we are to how we win in 2020. There is much to do.

But while it has been a year of experiencing the limitations of opposition, it has also been a year that ended on a uniformly positively note: campaigning with my local party in Camden and watching a resounding Labour victory at City Hall.

Roll on 2016/17!

Keir Starmer is MP for Holborn & St Pancras and Shadow Immigration Minister