WORKING HARD FOR LEEDS CENTRAL
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Hilary recently wrote a diary for Parliament's House Magazine describing his work both in Leeds Central and Westminster:
Friday 8th Oct
I don’t know if the House Magazine knew something that I didn’t when they asked me to write this diary starting today. Suffice it to say that my Friday began with a call from the Leader of the Opposition asking me to become the new Shadow Leader of the House of Commons. It’s a great job, and while convention dictates that the content of our conversation remains private, I can exclusively reveal that I was sitting in the car park of the excellent Yorkshire Evening Post at the time. I was there to present cheques to a host of community groups, all of whom show how the big society has been operating in Leeds for years. Then it was off to Leeds University to talk about the use of scientific evidence by government in taking decisions, followed by a catch-up with Judy and Olivia who make sure that everything in the constituency – including me – runs smoothly !
Sat 9th Oct
Today began with a Radio 5 interview at the kitchen table and then an appearance on BBC Breakfast. The rest of the day was spent trying to catch up on piles of paperwork after our conference in Manchester. In the evening, my son and his girlfriend had friends over to celebrate their engagement. They had cooked assiduously, laid the table and decorated it with flowers. Just before the off, I was told that my job was to open the door and make sure all the guests were properly looked after. This I did to the best of my ability, and was rewarded by the sight of the guests clearing up after themselves. Young people weren’t that tidy in my day.
Sun 10th Oct
Lured out by the warm autumn sunshine, Sally and I decided that we would plant some bulbs in the pots. Soon, however, one thing led to another and we ended up giving the roses their annual haircut. This involved a ladder, a head for heights, secateurs and an ability to dodge falling thorn-covered stems. The roses’s shorn locks filled several bags by the time we finished.
Mon 11th Oct
Monday began with a meeting to look at the week ahead. Our new work experience student Aaron is very able and quick.
And then a solemn House heard from the Foreign Secretary about the circumstances surrounding the death of Linda Norgrove in Afghanistan. Those who ordered the rescue mission faced a terrible decision. I am sure they made the right one, but her loss weighs heavily - above all on her distraught family. A young life taken away by cruel kidnappers. And why ? Simply because she was trying to improve the lot and lives of her fellow human beings.
I met up with Mary Creagh – newly elected to the Shadow Cabinet - and my successor as shadow Secretary of State at Defra. A way of instantly transferring all the accumulated knowledge and experience of the person who has actually been doing the job before us would be really useful. Sadly, science hasn’t yet come up with one so we had to make do with interrogation and recall, supplemented by an excellent handover note written by my special adviser Wesley Ball.
I called on Sir George Young who kindly welcomed me to my new post. I reminded him that the last time we faced each other across the field of battle was in 1976 in a football match between the Acton Labour and Conservative parties. We won. I hope this is a good omen.
Tues 12th Oct
First meeting of the new front bench team chaired by Ed Miliband. Someone had thoughtfully put a bigger table in the shadow cabinet room so that we could all get round it. I am not sure that Charles I approved, as he still looks down on us from his oil painted canvas eyrie with a stern eye. Mind you, he must have heard a lot of interesting conversations over the years.
During his statement on the Browne review, we heard Vince Cable tear up his pre-election pledge to vote against lifting the cap on tuition fees. It seems that the deficit now confers absolution on anyone who feels like standing on their head. I wonder what all those people who voted Lib Dem will make of this.
In the evening, I had England’s match against Montenegro on in the corner of the room as I tried to catch up on correspondence. I was put out of my misery by a vote with eight minutes to go; sadly I missed nothing while doing my democratic duty.
Wed 11th Oct
In the chamber bright and early to observe a series of polished debuts on our front bench. Ed Miliband’s was the highlight. Firm, calm and forensic, he laid bare the contradictions at the heart of the Government’s decision to take child benefit away from families with a higher rate tax payer. The Prime Minister was clearly unprepared for this, and the unsmiling faces on the government benches said it all; our man won. Just to confirm it, Denis Skinner kept shouting ‘5-0, 5-0’ from a sedentary position.
Following a meeting with our excellent team in the Lords, ably led by Jan Royall, we watched as the first of the trapped Chilean miners were freed. It has been a biblical story of faith, redemption and perseverance, and a bit like Apollo 13 in reverse. A return from the depths of the earth – rather than of space – but ending safe on the surface. The joy and relief of their families could be seen as they clasped their loved ones and refused to let them go. Many a tear was, I am sure, shed by those who looked on.
In the evening I popped in to see Chris Mullin ‘In Conversation’ with Peter Riddell. I loved the latest volume of his diaries – as I did the last. Chris is self-deprecating, witty and wise, and such is his reputation that I counted in the packed audience in the Attlee room: one former Secretary to the Cabinet, one former permanent secretary at the FCO, three former cabinet ministers and one current one, along with a number of MPs. That’s a tribute to the person Chris is, and we miss him in the House.
And as I pen these last words, my mind turns to Business Questions tomorrow. We still see major policy announcements being leaked to the media – the latest was the Browne review - in defiance of the ministerial code and the displeasure of the Speaker. But, I can feel the House re-asserting its position, and it is a process I intend to encourage.
Two kindly colleagues came up and wished me luck. We’ll see if it helps.