When I heard the results of the by-election announced, I felt a mixture of things. Ecstatic, because this opens an exciting new chapter for me. Impatient, because I’m desperate to get on with the work I’ve been talking about for months. Humbled and grateful that the people of Norwich North have given me the great honour of representing them in parliament. Now the by-election circus has left town, I’m glad to be getting down to the really important job: being a strong champion for the people of Norwich North.
But Friday wasn’t just a victory for me. It wasn’t just a victory for the hundreds of volunteers who gave their time and effort to the campaign, and to whom I owe so much. It was a victory for the thousands of people who voted for a new politics.
Our political system has long had a difficult reputation amongst swathes of the population. It can be seen as an elite club run by too many people who look the same, closed off to those who don’t fit the mould. I’m the latest in a long line of women who have been elected to Parliament, and there have been younger MPs than me in the past. But I hope that people look at me – a 27 year-old woman about to take her place on the green benches – and think ‘I can do that too.’
Britain faces huge challenges in the years ahead, and to meet them we’re going to have to draw on the talent of people from across the country; men and women of all backgrounds, races, ages, perspectives. And if my victory means just one more person who thought the door was closed decides to write to the Conservative Party, the Labour Party, the Green Party – whichever – and say ‘where do I sign up? How can I represent people? How can I play my part in public life?’ then that’s a great thing for our politics, and for our democracy.
But the new politics that the victory on Friday represents is not just about people, it’s about practices. Our political system has been through the wringer in recent months. Promises broken. Sleaze uncovered. And of course, an expenses scandal which has understandably shaken public faith in those elected to serve. I’ve felt the force of public anger on the doorstep day in, day out. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t been elected yet – they saw the rosette and let me know exactly what they thought about politicians.
So I knew it wasn’t enough just to talk about doing things differently – I had to put that talk into action. That’s why my campaign was fought – and won – on a platform for a new and different type of politics. That platform had three elements: cleanness, openness and honesty. Let me take each in turn.
First, clean politics. Along with the Green Party candidate, I signed a pledge to fight a clean campaign. People have had enough of negative campaigning – the smearing, the backbiting, the unpleasant personal attacks. They want to see politics that addresses the issues they care about. That’s why my campaign didn’t churn out leaflets that belittled my opponents. Instead we focused on the big issues – helping people through the recession; equipping future generations with the skills they need; protecting local NHS services that people can rely on; and making sure our streets are safe and pleasant for people to walk down.
Of course the biggest issue of all, for many people, is expenses, and how their hard-earned money has been abused by some MPs. And that brings me to the next element of the new and different type of politics that I campaigned on – openness.
Throughout the campaign I made it clear that if I won, I would publish all my expenses as an MP – every receipt, every claim – online, for everyone to see. More than that, they will be independently audited. I’m not afraid of the scrutiny – instead I welcome it. Parliament has a responsibility to change and I know that I – as the first MP to take up a seat in the House since the expenses scandal broke – have a bigger responsibility than most to show that it has changed. This is about turning over a fresh leaf and showing that the old politics of privacy and treats on the taxpayer is over – and a new era of openness and transparency has begun.
The third element of the new politics that this is a victory for is honesty. Everything I campaigned on – from cleaning up politics to talking about the big issues and making the whole system more open – comes down to one thing: having respect for the public you serve. And the most important expression of that respect is being straight with people – straight about the problems this country faces, and straight about the difficult decisions that need to be made to put them right.
One of the biggest problems we face right now is the state of the public finances. There’s only one way out of this debt crisis, and that’s cuts in public spending. David Cameron has made it very clear that years of extravagant spending are over. It might be tough to hear it, but when I was on the doorstep people told me they appreciate being spoken to as adults. They saw through Labour’s scare stories and Gordon Brown’s claims that he can continue to increase spending despite the debt crisis. So I will serve the people of Norwich North in the same way I campaigned: with honesty and respect.
In many ways, this was the broken politics by-election. But as I go to take my seat in Parliament, I have never been more confident about the future of our democracy. By voting for change, the people of Norwich North have closed the chapter of the old politics and started writing a new one. It’s a politics based not just on new people, but on a new way of doing things – with cleanness, openness and honesty. I’m thankful to them for giving me the chance to serve. I will not let them down.