Parliament is in recess for Easter. This means that I trade my daily commute from East Sussex to Westminster for time knocking on doors in the constituency. The electoral cycle brings County Council election time so, in addition to campaigning for my team, I get to find out how residents are and ask how I can help.
Knocking on doors and speaking to constituents is a great way to get a feel for how residents are feeling about their villages, towns and the nation at large. Understandably, constituents do not tend to book time in my diary to inform me that things are going well for them. More often, it is the difficult personal challenges which cause people to come to me for help and advocacy. Being on the doorsteps gives a better barometer for public feeling and, having spent many days over Easter doing so, I am better able to go and press these wider issues when I speak in Parliament as a result.
The biggest disappointment on the doorsteps is when residents tell me that they will not be voting. Brave people from this country, during war and in peacetime, laid down their lives to preserve our democratic freedom. It is down to all of us seeking elected office to try and inspire voters to turn out and keep democracy alive.
As for the election at hand, this one really does matter. It may surprise residents but a large proportion of my casework does not require me to lobby Government in Whitehall for action or change. My postbag is heavily dominated by concerns about schools, housing, roads and care for the elderly and vulnerable. It is for this reason that I spent three hours last week with the local education authority at County Hall working out how we can improve and better fund our local schools. I maintain that a County Council team which can stretch value from your council tax is even more impressive than a Government juggling larger national taxation revenues.
Before I became your MP, I spent eight years as a local councillor in neighbouring Wealden. As your MP, I am aware that residents like to see their MP and local Councillors working together (as I do, regardless of political affiliation). I am a firm believer that the best ideas and policies are those formed by local communities rather than being imposed by central Government. Across our parishes and towns, local Councils are using new powers to find solutions particular to the challenges in their neighbourhood. This week, I attended Northiam’s annual parish assembly. It was standing room only. Not everyone was in the room was supportive of the Parish Council’s imaginative and radical proposals but the attendance demonstrated that interest in local decision-making is strong.
Regardless of the candidate you support, please use your vote. I’ve just hired a new member of staff from a fellow MP’s office. This member of staff informs me that we seem to have three times the level of correspondence compared to his previous office. This tells me that constituents in this constituency know their rights and know how to exercise them. Let’s demonstrate that we can do this via the ultimate democratic change mechanism.