Dehenna's Diary, Tuesday 5th April (Teesdale Mercury)
"Whilst being interrogated by students from my old university course last week, one of them asked me what a job description for an MP would look like. I found it hard to answer, but I think there’s a good reason for that.
My colleagues and I have a vast range of local and sometimes personal campaigns we want to pursue, alongside the ministerial roles some of us take on. Subsequently, every Member of Parliament does things differently, and no one week is the same.
As Minister for Levelling Up, I am so lucky to have a brief that truly benefits our local area, whilst I pack the rest of my time into other local and personal priorities. Writing this on Thursday 30th March, the past seven days are a perfect insight into the somewhat hectic nature of the job.
Last Thursday, I was in Northern Ireland on a mission to review the progress being made on levelling up projects. The day started at Gatwick airport just after 7am, before I went through Portrush, Ballycastle and Antrim to see how the £121 million allocated for projects in Northern Ireland is being spent. Activities included sporting a hardhat to see the construction of a new office development, jumping around with kids on a newly built playground, and playing bowls with the local mayor at the newly restored bowling club. Naturally, childminding both a horde of kids and a Mayor is tiring work, so I returned to Bishop shattered but ready for a packed weekend.
My Friday started with an update on broadband investment from Netomnia, who are working with Believe Housing to expand full-fibre broadband access to tenants in the dale. It was great to meet the teams involved in taking this project forward, and I emphasised how crucial this will be to local residents - and pushed them to go quicker to get the rest of the dale gigabit ready! Then, I headed over to Barnard Castle School for a grilling from the lower-sixth class. The pupils are never afraid to tell it how it is, but always do so with courtesy and politeness. We covered everything from the levelling up agenda to immigration policy to my plans for the future.
Whilst in Barnard Castle, I called in at the Cricketers’ Arms to present them with a certificate for winning my best local pub competition. This is the second time the pub has won this accolade, having built up a loyal following of punters over the years. Finally, I headed to Spennymoor town centre to place a charity bet on the upcoming Grand National. You heard it here first- Longhouse Poet will be the name on everyone’s lips next weekend (but with my luck on the horses, please don’t hold me to it!).
Saturday morning took me into Bishop for a residents' surgery. My staff in Bishop always prepare me before these meetings by going over the case so far, then I draw on my own knowledge to suggest how best to move forward. The local team are my ears on the ground, and I have a lot to thank them for. Cases this weekend varied from child maintenance to behaviour in schools to policy around coal and the impact of Storm Arwen.
A semi-restful Sunday (housework aside!) was needed in preparation for a whirlwind week in Westminster. On the ministerial front, I started by answering oral questions from MPs in the chamber. The stakes are always high on those green benches, but more often than not, you’ll see a smile exchanged between opposite numbers after a verbal tussle. That’s because, after years of working together, a lot of Labour and Tory MPs have built up a mutual respect that transcends political allegiances. Last week a member of the Labour frontbench even complimented my hair from across the Despatch Box!
One of the most adrenaline-fuelled parts of being a Minister is the media round. In the space of forty minutes last week, I appeared on seven different BBC local radio stations across the country to share news about the Government’s anti-social behaviour action plan. The plan itself is something I hope will stop the scourge of nitrous oxide cannisters strewn across our parks and includes over £2m extra cash for hotspot policing here in County Durham. So I was happy to do a tour-de-force of local radio to get the point across.
Finally, one major highlight this week has been holding town hall meetings with LGBT+ groups. As the first openly bisexual female Conservative MP, these groups made me feel so welcome when I came out. I am often asked during these meetings, mainly by young people, if being open about their sexuality would hinder their political ambitions. The question popped up as recently as last week. That is why these chats are so important - democracy only works if all groups of people are involved, championing the causes personal to them.
I hope that gives a flavour of why there isn’t (and shouldn’t be) a singular job description for MPs!"