Nicky Morgan, Conservative MP for Loughborough, is this week's ConservativeHome Diarist. Follow Nicky on Twitter.
Being an MP requires the ability to keep a lot of spinning plates in the air at the same. I am asked to write this week’s diary as I am standing in the playground at Queen’s Park, Loughborough with my 4 year old son. Trying to concentrate on a telephone call and also wonder why my son hasn’t reached the end of the long covered slide (so where is he and what is he doing?) at the same time is not that easy.
Life in Westminster doesn’t involve any less juggling. There is so much going on at the moment – although we are waiting for more legislation to find its way back from the Lords to the Commons. This is a relatively quiet week for my duties as PPS to Universities and Science Minister, David Willetts MP. Working with David is a pleasure. Given his studious reputation I aim to confine my advice to him to backbench feeling on BIS policy as colleagues have relayed it to me. I try to catch up with him during or after divisions of the Commons – divisions are often the only time backbench MPs get to really talk to Ministers about a pressing matter which is why voting electronically would be such a bad idea. Standing shoulder to shoulder with a Minister, when they cannot escape, is an invaluable time to remind them about the pressing need of a project or group in my constituency.
Monday morning sees me talking to Years 10 and 11 citizenship classes at Burleigh College in Loughborough about politics. The Year 11 group is mixed and not all of them want a lesson with their local MP. I get some good questions though about tuition fees, capital punishment and the Clare’s Law pilots – and I try to get them thinking about some topical issues.
The Year 10 group is all girls and more engaged. One of them asks if I find my job boring. This is a question I am able to answer with conviction – how could I find a job which in a week enables me to talk to them, ask the Prime Minister a question in the House of Commons chamber, visit Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland, attend lunch with HM The Queen and have discussions face to face and via e-mail with constituents on many and varied topics, boring? No two days are ever the same. I just wish I had a bit more time to think!
I had never worked in Westminster before my election in 2010 – so, the role of All-Party Parliamentary Groups was a revelation. Clearly some work better than others but I think they can be extremely valuable ways for Parliamentarians in both Houses to stay in touch with experts in the particular area. I am involved with quite a few given my diverse constituency and Chairman of two groups – Heritage Rail, which I set up last year, and Athletics, which is appropriate given I represent Loughborough University.
This week sees me attending meetings of the Heritage Rail and Mental Health Groups. At the Mental Health Group we are conducting our last evidence session on the likely effect of the Health & Social Care Bill on mental health services. We hear evidence from minority groups, specifically from the BME community. As always there is never enough time to discuss things and we could spend hours listening to those who very kindly give up their time to come and talk to us.
The Heritage Rail Group allows members to indulge their passion for our heritage railways – for me, the wonderful Great Central Railway in Loughborough. Our speaker is Lib Dem Transport Minister, Norman Baker, who discusses the issue of metal theft and also the impact of modern health and safety requirements on heritage rail. The railways are a fantastic blend of volunteers and paid workers and are a key part of our local economies as well as offering opportunities such as apprenticeships.
I have become quite a steam buff which my husband is bemused about. But it does hopefully show how being in Parliament gives us the chance to take any issue and run with it.
For two days this week I hosted a sixth form student, Robert, in my Commons office. Bright and very keen he is a real pleasure to have sitting with us and does not grumble when confronted by lots of letters to put in envelopes. I simply don’t understand the recent fuss about work experience. How can it be a bad idea to get someone used to the working environment and learning new skills such as mixing with people they have never met before and customer service? I offer short work experience placements in both my London and Loughborough offices, primarily for constituents.
On Tuesday afternoon I say to Robert that he really should see the House of Commons Chamber. We sit in the Special Gallery East which is in front of the public gallery security glass and overlooks the Government benches. I am explaining to him who sits where when he says breathlessly “I can’t take it all in. I really can’t believe I’m sitting here…” I stop and realise that, leaving aside the constant e-mails and feeling that no one thinks much of MPs anymore, it is a pretty special place to work and perhaps I should just shut up and enjoy the Commons atmosphere too.
Out of London
Having spent almost 21 years as a Conservative member, including over 6 years as the candidate in Loughborough, before I was elected, I worked very hard to get to Westminster. However, now I’m there I seem to spend a lot of time asking the Whips to let me leave early to get back to Leicestershire. I think I can escape by 7pm on Wednesday but am delayed a bit by Maria Miller’s statement to the Commons on employment support for those with disabilities – the RNIB College in Loughborough is one of the Residential Training Colleges mentioned in her statement. I’m pleased to hear the Minister’s commitment to the colleges but longer-term they will need to change the way they work.
The reason for escaping early this week is because HM The Queen, HRH the Duke of Edinburgh and HRH the Duchess of Cambridge are starting the Diamond Jubilee tours in Leicester. All the city and county MPs are invited to join the Bishop of Leicester’s lunch. Once I have located a hat it is a great occasion and although I don’t get to meet the Royal Party it is fascinating to see them in the flesh. Having seen so many pictures the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh seem terribly familiar and the Duchess of Cambridge is very glamorous and very, very thin – not something that any MP can aspire to given the many food and drink temptations which lurk in every corner of Westminster. Hence my training for the Loughborough Half Marathon at the end of March which isn’t going very well. Oh well, I’ve still got a fortnight!