One year ago today I made a promise to represent you in the same way I campaigned to earn your trust. I meant that I would do my best to be accessible, hard working, and put Labour and my values into action solving the problems local residents tell me are their priorities.
I’m amazed at how often people ask me ‘what’s it like being an MP?’ or ‘are you enjoying being an MP?’. It happens several times a day. The truth is that it’s like having several jobs at the same time. As an MP I’m simultaneously a social worker, campaigner, manager of two teams (one in Hove and one in parliament), parliamentarian, and media commentator.
All of those jobs happen at once, so one of them can be going really well while another has a problem. So it’s usually very complex and I’ve learned that I have to choose where to focus my emotions because there’s always something great and always something negative happening and if you focus disproportionately on either you’ll loose focus or become unhinged!
The trickiest bit of the last year has been the learning curve it’s steep! The last two bits of my job – parliamentarian and media performer – are two trades like a nurse or lawyer for which you get no training at all. You’re thrown in at the deep end in a big way.
The chamber of the Commons was far more intimidating than I’d expected. Its like nothing I’d ever experienced and like no other public speaking environment on earth. When you normally speak in public, whether its for a best man’s speech or talking to a community group or conference, you face people who want you to succeed. In the Commons you face only people who want you to fail and see the backs of the heads of the people on your side. Then there’s the press and public galleries looking down at you, a dozen TV cameras, and an awful lot of noise. On top of all that you can’t call people by their names or refer to them in the ‘first person’. The dynamics are very complex and intimidating.
One of the first times I spoke in the chamber I hadn’t planned on speaking. I was sitting there watching and learning. But a Tory was giving a terrible speech that was very patronising towards young people. But when she said that youngsters couldn’t be bothered with politics because they were more interested in X-Factor I saw red and my legs sprang into action before my brain had thought about what to say, or even how I needed to say it. She gave way to me and I stumbled and spluttered my way through a short intervention, my head racing, my voice trying to accommodate the odd acoustics, until I eventually stopped just as my voice wobbled to end end and the word ‘Hove’ came out as a strange squeak! To rub salt into my wounds an old-hand sitting next to me patted me on the back and said, ‘don’t worry, it’s gets better’.
I’ve spent a lot of time in the chamber and sought the advice of people who are brilliant Commons performers. Dennis Skinner, for example, has been brilliant and gives me advice and encouragement, as well as criticism, after every time he’s seen me speak. Others, including a few Tories, have written me notes if something I’ve said have struck a chord. The Commons is a funny old place!
Loads of people said, ‘once you get elected you’ll disappear up to London and turn into one of them’. I know what they mean and I’m very conscious of it. It’s something I really struggle with because if you’re in the Commons what you wear, the language you use and even your vocabulary is regulated. You have to talk in a way that is alien to most people. If you’re on TV you usually have a journalist looking for a headline and an opponent trying to trip you up. Its really tough to appear ‘normal’ because the situation I’m in now is often abnormal. I try my best though and I do things like change into clothes I’m comfortable in once I’m finished in the chamber for the day, it’s something I’m still working on.
But when all is said and done, when you get it right there is nothing like this job. For example, one morning I was home in the city and spoke to a local police officer. He told me something that shocked me, something that needed to be challenged. I double-checked the facts, then jumped on a train to London, went to my office in parliament and got changed into a suit. Then walked from my office, through the underpass, through the Members Cloak Room and up the austere stone stairs that take you to the entrance of the House of Commons chamber. The door keepers are lovely (despite having to wear shiny shoes, morning dress and buckles) and said ‘good morning Mr Kyle as one of them opened the door to the chamber. In I walked, nodded to the speaker, took my place on the green benches facing the despatch box at which stood Teresa May, the Home Secretary. I bobbed up and down until the Speaker called me and at which point I belted out the information told to me a couple of hours earlier by a police officer and challenged her to guarantee the safety of my constituents. She prevaricated and the media noticed. That evening the BBC used the story as the headline on their regional news bulletins and broadcasted live from my office. I remember thinking to myself at the end of that day, ‘wow, what an amazing job I have!’.
As a direct result of that intervention I was able to sine a spotlight on an area of policy being overlooked and putting us at risk and since then I believe there have been real changes of approach. This job is incredibly privileged, but I have tried my best to use that privilege to impact in a way that will really change things for people and not just to grandstand for the sake of it.
And then there’s the constituency work. Thousands of people have contacted me asking for help in the last year and thanks to my truly incredible team we’ve helped as many as possible. From the woman who walked into my office having suffered domestic violence and is now in sheltered accommodation to the man who was in the Heathrow detention centre about to be deported and almost certainly killed once returned but is now back living in our community; and from the foster parent who lost state support when her foster child went to uni and was told to rent out her room to earn income meaning the child wouldn’t be able to stay at home during holidays but has now had all state support reinstated, to the HIV positive man who was persecuted by neighbours but is now rehoused into a caring community he loves. And finally, the man who was savagely attacked and mugged but was refused compensation from the governments compensations scheme. After I appealed on his behalf he was finally granted the compensation he deserved and the letter he sent me saying that he spent it on a new set of teeth to replace the ones lost in the attack, and the transformation in his life that followed, is something I will treasure.
So, here’s a few numbers and facts on my first year:
34,000 leaflets have been delivered updating you on community issues, events, and activity
2,600 people have walked into my office asking for help, to express a view, or say hello
1,000 people have attended advice surgeries
At the moment I’m receiving 450 emails per day
I’ve made 260 visits to businesses, charities, community groups and families
How is this possible? Because even though I have a staff allowance, and an incredible team, over 500 volunteer hours has been given to help run my office, and I have 268 registered volunteers who actively give time. I love them all!
And in parliament:
I’ve spoken in 52 debates (above average according to ‘They Work For You’)
Tabled 180 written questions to government (well above average according to ‘They Work For You)
Elected onto the Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee
Have completed 3 Bill Committees (Education and Adoption; Charities; Investigatory Powers)
Chair the Further Education All Party Group
Chair Labour’s backbench group on Business
Championed NHS/111; policing; rail; young people and apprenticeships; and social care in parliament and the media
And took part in a trade delegation to China
I’m also the lead MP for the ‘IN’ campaign for the EU referendum, having already toured the region and will be flat-out in every part of the South East until June 23rd.
And finally, in case you hadn’t noticed (!), I’ve responded personally to thousands of comments here on this Facebook page.
Thank you for giving me this opportunity. There are many challenges that come with this job but there has never been a day when I’ve not found it a privilege to be given all these tools to advocate, campaign for change, and speak up for people and communities. Along the way there have been only a few tears but an awful lot of laughter. There are things, looking back, I would have done differently, but there are certainly no regrets. I will keep learning, keep trying, and always do what I think is best for the people who elected me and the city I love.
Going forward I’m also going to try and find a little more time to go to the gym too, but that’s a different story! I hope you’re all enjoying the weather, Peter