Back in July, I told Ashfield Labour members that I wouldn’t be standing again at the next general election. I said I didn’t know whether that would be in three months or three years, but fearing it would be closer to the former, I was determined that local members should have the chance to select my replacement in time. I never wanted to be carried out of the House of Commons in the proverbial box, and from the moment I first stood for selection I always thought about a decade would be the right length of my tenure.
That I’m no longer a Labour MP doesn’t change the fact that I still support the party with every bone in my body, so I giggled when I did an LBC interview alongside the Tory MP Ed Vaizey, who is also retiring from parliament. Eddie Mair’s first question was: “Do you miss campaigning, Ed?”
“Absolutely not,” he replied.
I am still campaigning in Ashfield for the wonderful Natalie Fleet, who was selected as Labour candidate for the Nottinghamshire constituency last month. I remember meeting a 24-year-old Natalie when I was running to be the Ashfield candidate in 2010. From the first moment we talked it struck me that there was something special about the articulate and passionate mother of four, and I encouraged her to get more involved. We became good mates. I watched her speech to Labour conference as a first-time delegate a few years ago and saw the conference floor erupt in a standing ovation.
I’ve always thought that part of what makes a good community leader is being on permanent lookout for the next one. There is no one I’m more pleased to have held my hand out to than Ashfield’s Natalie Fleet.
Back to mine for a mean Miami
I’m loving being a Labour Party volunteer again. It’s great to see socialism in action with the number of party members and candidates in safer seats coming up to Ashfield to lend their support. Leicester West and Nottingham Labour members and candidates have done so, and on Saturday, the Guardian’s Owen Jones, Sheffield Heeley’s Louise Haigh and Barnsley East’s Stephanie Peacock came to knock on the doors of Ashfield. I know Owen will be gutted that he missed karaoke back at mine – Lou and Steph do a mean “Miami” after a few Proseccos.
Taking the temperature
There are still a lot of “don’t knows” on the doorstep with a little over three weeks until polling day. One undecided Ashfield woman summed up her dilemma: “I can’t decide whether to vote Labour or Tory; I want Brexit but I’m worried about the NHS.” That seems an accurate barometer of where the election will be won and lost. There are millions of voters like her in seats like this and the result could be determined by whether the NHS or Brexit is the motivating factor on the day.
Labour will increase the NHS budget to £155bn by 2023-24 – £6bn more than the government has promised. The Tories, meanwhile, have pledged to reduce immigration – something they say will only be possible if we leave the EU. The battle lines in this election are becoming clearer.
Garraway in the jungle
It’s easy to forget that for many people, the fact that I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! is back on TV is more interesting than the start of a second election campaign in just two years. I usually give in to my husband James, who moans about watching shows such as this one, but this year I’m holding firm because my former colleague and friend Kate Garraway is in the jungle. She is warm, quick-witted and daft as a brush. I might be struggling to persuade people to go to the polling station on 12 December, but maybe I’ll have better luck getting people to vote for Kate.
Battle of the buses
My London life as an MP was dictated by the strange rituals and unconventional working hours of parliament. That often entailed staying late in the Commons and then going to bed in my rented flat in south London. In one sense, then, I haven’t seen much of London life for the past nine years.
Now that I am no longer an MP, I have a bit more time to spare on the rare occasions I come back to the capital, and so I went to see my friend Vicky Foxcroft MP at home in Lewisham. The journey reminded me just how regular, reliable and cheap London buses are. The same bus journey from my home in Ashfield to Nottingham would have taken twice as long and cost me twice as much. The whole experience of being an MP, after living in London for 15 years, has reminded me what life is like outside the capital, and I wouldn’t have missed the opportunity to work with the people of Ashfield. Despite the stresses that come with the job, I would recommend it to anyone. It’s the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done – and probably ever will do.
The problem with the party line
I left the Commons for the last time with very little time to reflect on nearly a decade as an MP. As soon as this “on/off” election was finally voted through, my colleagues hot-footed it to their constituencies, many of them in the Midlands and the north. Parliament may have been log-jammed over Brexit for the past few years, but events sometimes unfold at sudden speed. Hasty farewells were said and good wishes exchanged and I will now see some of my former colleagues on the campaign trail.
Strange as it may seem, if I have one personal regret it’s being on the Labour front bench for almost the entire time I was an MP. It was an honour to serve but I found “delivering the party line” extremely difficult and I think others were better at it than me. I feel as if I should have said yes to interviews more often, but it’s sometimes easier to campaign from the back benches than as a shadow minister. My advice to new MPs: take your time. Find your own voice before you contemplate climbing the ladder.
This article appears in the 20 Nov 2019 issue of the New Statesman, They think it’s all over