Jesse Norman, MP for Hereford and South Herefordshire, is this week's author of ConHome's new parliamentary diary. Follow Jesse on Twitter.
What a day! Spring is in the air, the birds are nesting busily and the Black Mountains look absolutely gorgeous. Yet again it hits home how lucky I am to represent Hereford and South Herefordshire. Not every constituency selection meeting is the start of a love affair. Mine took place on a cold wet December evening in 2006, and there was a huge shout when I was chosen. I learned later that this was because that meant the bar was open. But it still feels like first love to me.
Never more so than tonight, when I see Tune for the Blood, a new locally-made film about young farmers in Herefordshire. It casts an extraordinary light on the lives of eight young people, but still more on what it is to live in the countryside; the value of community, of personal responsibility, of living close to the land. It was made on a shoestring, and I am proud to have helped to raise money for it locally. It should be compulsory viewing for young people in cities—including Hereford—and for the many thousands of urban politicians and journalists who know nothing about rural areas.
2012 is the Year of the Co-op, and I’m at a board meeting of the Conservative Co-operative Movement to plan our latest publication. The Left has long regarded co-ops, mutuals and employee-owned businesses as its exclusive domain, so much so that the Co-operative Party is formally affiliated with Labour. Neither thing makes sense: these organisations are often highly entrepreneurial, indeed small-c capitalist, in nature, and they were all but ignored under Messrs Blair and Brown. The good news is that this government is already doing more for them than anyone ever imagined five years ago. Onwards!
I have an op-ed in the Times today (£) arguing that House of Lords Reform should not be a priority. One reason is that it will inevitably clash with a referendum over Scotland. How can you decide an absolutely fundamental issue of governance when you don’t know the shape of the Union, or if there’ll be one? I’ve no idea. The point is echoed in a Financial Times leader, and gets picked up by Nicholas Watt of the Guardian, who likens it to an argument used by Gordon Brown in 1998… er, thanks Nick.
Then to the Financial Services Bill Committee. Trapped as we are between two eternities of nothingness, it’s a little dispiriting that my short time on Earth will include four weeks of listening to Chris Leslie MP, the shadow Treasury minister. But I rather like Chris, not least because he and I are the Little and Large of financial comment; so much so that he always grumbles to the BBC about not having a box to stand on when we’re debating something on TV. His sidekick Owen Smith MP is no giant, either. It’s obvious that Ed Balls has decided to ape Woody Allen in Casino Royale and adopted a policy of hiring only women, or men under 5’ 6”. Well, it’s one way to stay ahead.
For various reasons I have had a series of needless dust-ups recently with Sir Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England. This morning’s Treasury Committee meeting is no exception. Sir Mervyn keeps insisting that Quantitative Easing can’t include any assets except Gilts, or it would be subsidizing one industry over another. I point out that the Old Lady lost her virginity a while ago–not quite in those terms–and QE has been consciously favouring different parts of the UK economy for years. Banks, borrowers and equity holders do well; small business and savers do badly. So the no-subsidy argument is a non-starter. Sir Mervyn’s reply is to launch a general rant against politicians as such, and then change the subject. It isn’t wildly edifying.
If it’s Thursday it must be Bill Committee, but grâce à Dieu and the whips I am allowed to stagger out of another eyeball-peeling Chris Leslie-a-thon a little early for the long drive back to Herefordshire. Destination: Pickles. The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is visiting my fair county, and in the evening he gives a brilliant, impassioned and hilarious address to a packed Association dinner. Eric has a genius for conveying complex ideas in straightforward (sometimes very straightforward) terms, and Herefordians love plain speaking, so it goes down a treat. Especially the bit when he’s asked about deporting extremists, and recommends a “sunshine break” for Abu Qatada.
One of my goals as a candidate and MP has been to shape the future direction of my county, by getting people from all points of the political and social compass together around a common agenda. So far we’ve done fast broadband, local business development, sustaining our villages and higher education; disabled transport and young people are the next ones up. It really makes a difference, and has also helped us to win one of the first fast broadband pilots, and a new Enterprise Zone.
Today we have a “Herefordshire 2020” conference, aiming to set priorities for the county over the next eight years. The Courtyard Theatre is heaving when I arrive–two or three hundred people–and there’s a lot of local and regional media. Eric gives the keynote address, and quickly gets the audience going by describing how he abolished the idiotic laws on bunting (yes, really) and the councils’ bunting police. But the real point is localism and social empowerment, and the feedback at lunchtime from delegates is terrific.
In the evening I am off Cheltenham, to do a debate there at the College on behalf of a local Conservative students group. Then, exhausted, to bed. An MP’s life is no bed of roses. But you can’t say it isn’t interesting.
> Next week's Diarist is Nicky Morgan MP.