Earlier this week Keir Starmer, the new leader of the Labour Party, called to offer me a job in his front bench team. So keen am I to be part of reconnecting Labour to communities and residents that I said ‘yes’ before he’d even told me what job he wanted me to do!
I’ve joined the team that shadows the Ministry of Justice, and I’m the shadow minister for victims and youth justice. It’s a wide brief that also covers domestic violence, family and coroners courts, and several other really important areas of policy.
For those of you who don’t fellow politics closely, you’ll have noticed that when you see me in the Commons before I’m usually speaking from the third row back. This is where MPs who are in the party but not formally leading the party are in an area speak from. From now on I’ll be speaking from the front row at the despatch box that’s famous from the exchanges at PMQ’s.
It also means that I can help develop policy, spend time leading the opposition as we scrutinise legislation, and represent the Labour Party to all of the people and groups what are affected by these areas of the justice system.
If you’ve been following my work for a while you couldn’t have missed the things I’ve tried so hard to champion for domestic violence where I got the rules of family courts changed, and in ‘sex for rent’ where I’ve tried but so far not succeeded in getting the law tightened. Well these are all areas I will now have formal responsibility for. Am I pleased….you bet!!
This is a really important and technical area of policy with real consequences. It’s about how we make our justice system one that prevents crime and helps people and families avoid prison rather than just responding when it’s too late. It’s about giving the most powerful voice to victims as justice is sought and caring for them as they recover from trauma. These are things I care deeply about.
I’m also nervous. I know I have a lot of learning to do, but luckily enough I love learning! I’m going to have to learn the court system, many laws, and also gain insight tot he experiences of many people’s different experience of our current system. I’m also going to have to get used to a whole new raft of Commons procedures and conventions. So yes, I don’t mind admitting that it’s daunting as well as exciting…I want to get this right!
It’s really important that you know I won’t be disappearing anywhere. My work here in Hove and Portslade won’t change, my style won’t change, and my ability to campaign on things like care homes, the impact of COVID-19 on the self employed and fighting for more opportunities for young people will continue just as it does now. But I now have a new set of tools to use and a new specialist that I can use to make a difference.
I hope you are coping with the challenges of seclusion. We are now entering into the most challenging period because the number of people who die from COVID-19 will become more alarming each day, hospitals will fill. And yet we are growing tired of seclusion and the weather is glorious outside so it will be tempting to ease off.
When you’re tempted to sit down outside, or walk along the beach when you know it could be busy, please remind yourself that almost a thousand people died yesterday alone and that figure only includes people who died in a hospital. The hundreds dying in care homes or in their own home aren’t counted (I want this changed, every life should count). We need to stay aware, we need to see this through.
I find seclusion difficult too. I really miss being around people. I really miss the gym and meeting friends outside when the weather is nice. I miss seeing my amazing team and having some lovely chats with them between meetings. I know many more of you will be missing church, football, and pubs. Being together is important, more so than we probably realised until now. So let’s get this done and look forward to the time we can do these things again.