Angela Richardson MP on her first year as MP for Guildford

Angela Richardson MP has given an interview to Co-Editor of Hillbers, Ed Schofield to mark the end of her first year as MP for Guildford which is approaching. The interview was conducted over Zoom on Friday 23rd October 2020, and covers the following topics which we have sub-headed.

  • First year as Member of Parliament for Guildford.
  • The challenges of being a woman in Politics
  • Guildford and Brexit
  • The COVID pandemic
  • Surrey as a Unitary Authority
  • Her best achievements so far as an MP

For security reasons the Interview could not be recorded over Zoom, so audio recording was made of the interview, and what follows is the transcript:

Angela Richardson MP on her first year as Member of Parliament for Guildford.

Ed Schofield: You are approaching the end of your 1st year as MP for Guildford on the 12th December. What was it like walking into Parliament for the first time, and how is it different to what you were expecting?

Angela Richardson MP: Walking into parliament on the Monday after being elected in the early hours of the Friday morning was quite surreal, it was a bit like the first day of school, I think you can imagine. I had only been into the palace, maybe, less than half a dozen times beforehand for various things, so I wasn’t an MP coming in with loads of experience or having been a special advisor, or just hanging around haunting the place like a lot of keen aspirant politicians do. All my work had been outside of Westminster so it was very exciting, I hadn’t been into the chamber before so that was quite special, and it’s a lot smaller than you think. On the television it looks huge, but it’s actually a lot smaller in real life.

I do hope that once Covid has passed, and we are able to have visitors, tour groups can start back up and school visits can continue so other people can get a chance to see what it’s like. But it’s an amazing place full of winding corridors and you could get lost very easily. Thankfully, I have a good sense of direction, so I’ve managed to work out all the shortcuts because you tend to run from a meeting to a vote, and you need to know the quickest way to get there so you don’t get locked out. But COVID has changed it massively, so Westminster as a place is a lot quieter now and there are a lot of rules about what we can and can’t do, so I would very much like to see a vaccine or some measures… maybe testing, that could return parliament to the way it was when I first arrived.

 

Angela Richardson MP on the challenges of being a woman in Politics

Ed Schofield: You are the third consecutive female MP for Guildford, after 600 years of male only MPs. Do you have any advice for women of all ages, who may look up to you as an MP, about getting involved in local Politics, and what challenges do you think could deter women from entering politics?

Angela Richardson MP: It’s a real privilege just to be a member of parliament, regardless of the fact that I’m male or female. I think I’ve been well served by having two female MPs in the seat prior to me, you know, sometimes it can be a bit of a challenge for people to get their head around the idea that women can do this job, I believe there is now 87 Conservative women MP’s, Labour have got quite a few as well, as they have had all-women shortlists, but I was heavily involved with the Conservative Women’s organisation, and they’ve put a lot of resources into me in terms of preparing me, and that’s the one thing I would do, is advise women to get involved in grassroots. Advise them to go campaigning. Knock on doors, talk to people, because that’s the real way that you find out what’s going on, and in some ways that’s the real way you can form your opinions and serve your local community well, because a lot of people think politics is about the philosophy and the policies. It is, but it’s also got to have a practical implementation and in order to do that you’ve got to know how people’s lives are lived. So that’s the one thing I would say to women, get involved, become a local parish Councillor, be a governor at one of your schools if you possibly can, become a magistrate, find ways you can enter into public life and get used to how it works because it is very different if you come from the private sector. Also being a volunteer in organisations helps transition from working in the private sector to working with volunteers, because being a Conservative activist or being a political activist, you’re mostly dealing with volunteers, so being able to get people to turn out and help is a real skill and having worked in the voluntary sector it will give you the skills to encourage people to give up their time with no financial reward.

On the second part of your question, a lot of my female colleagues have received an awful lot of abuse at the tail end of this week unfortunately, because of some of the votes that have been happening at parliament. I’ve been very lucky so far, I have not received the abuse in the same way that some of my female colleagues have received, but I also make it a rule not to go after people on social media, not to call for resignations or sackings and things like that. I think there is a calmer, measured way that we can do politics, where we recognise that everybody is human, that we are all going through things, and that we all need to support each other. So I would say to women, Twitter is awful, but there is a mute button and you can block people; I have a rule not to block people if I possibly can. And use your voice wisely, get stuck in on the things that really matter.  But, you don’t need to be trumpeting an opinion out about every single thing that’s happening, every single day on the news, otherwise you use up all your emotional energy that needs to be focused on delivering for your constituents.

 

Angela Richardson MP on Brexit

Ed Schofield: You were born in New Zealand and moved to the UK 20 years ago. You must be pretty excited about the potential new relationship with New Zealand post Brexit, and why should Guildford residents be excited about Brexit?

Angela Richardson MP: The good thing is we have already left, we are trying to just get through the last bits of our future arrangements – the talks are ongoing, but at the same time, we’ve been going out and striking more of these free trade agreements with other countries, and I believe Liz Trust MP has just announced a signed, sealed and delivered [trade] deal today with Japan so you know there is always excellent news. I know that Guildford voted for remain, but I’m so excited to see that even in the midst of a Pandemic we are seeing new retail shops opening up in Guildford, there is investment coming in. Every opportunity I can, I stand up in the chamber and try and be the one-woman tourist board for Guildford because you know, I’m excited about this place, I believe it’s got loads of opportunity; it has rested on it laurels a bit in the past, but the government has been really good at putting out advice and guidance as to how business can transition as we leave the European Union. We will get to the end of this negotiation phase, we will see what comes out of it, and the government will put out advice again very quickly to help businesses. We’ve had horror stories all the way through about how awful Brexit’s going to be, well I have not seen them come to pass, so there are so many opportunities out there in a global world for outward facing global Britain. So lets be positive, because if there are challenges – we’ve had massive challenges this year with COVID – and we keep trying to overcome them, we keep investing money into the things we need, and there is new technology all the time that is being used, and Guildford is a real centre of excellence for science and innovation, and research and some of those wonderful things will make a huge difference, not just to the people of Guildford, but people right around the world, so there is a good story to tell.

 

Angela Richardson MP on the COVID pandemic

Ed Schofield: According to government figures, since the start of the pandemic, 97 people [at the time of interview] in Guildford have died with COVID-19 on their death certificate. 

Do you agree with the current 10 p.m. curfew for pub closures, and do you think the current restrictions go far enough?

Angela Richardson MP: It is very sad that number of people have lost their lives, because each has a family who are mourning them, and I receive letters in from constituents letting me know about the fact that they have lost loved ones, and it was at a time where they weren’t able to say goodbye, and it was a bit difficult with funerals, and arranging that. I am hoping that once this is all done and we are in a new way of dealing with this, that memorial services can be held. And, we are coming into a new phase where more people will lose their lives locally, unfortunately it’s just a sad reality of the pandemic But I’m pleased to see at this stage, and it is at this stage, because we have seen further North in other parts of the country that this virus seems to have taken off in significant numbers. In terms of restrictions, my personal view always is that I don’t like restrictions on liberty, I’m a Conservative, I’m not for huge state intervention, and I’m not for Government having to tell people how to live their lives every second of the day. I think it’s really important that people have ownership, and that they use their common sense, and self-reliance and self-responsibility, but at the same time I think the people who are making these decisions have access to a lot more information than perhaps I do as an MP who’s a lot further down the pecking order as it were, in a very very junior role in the government as a PPS. Therefore I have to take all the advice on balance, and, as you will have seen from my voting record, I did vote with the government to keep the pub hours at 10 ‘o’ clock. I have engaged with [Professor] Jonathan Van-Tam [Deputy Chief Medical Officer], we have had lots of engagement as Members of parliament, so we can understand the full story. I think it’s fair to say that we know more than we did back in March and April when we locked down, but we still don’t know everything now. One of the health ministers Nadine Dorries MP got up in the chamber yesterday and said, having had a very strong case of Covid she was tested many weeks later, and she doesn’t have any antibodies any more, so she feels that she could get this virus again. While I understand that the restrictions to liberty and the 10 ‘o’clock closure, which seems in some places cause people coming out on the streets together feels like a real imposition, I think the evidence is showing that hospitals aren’t seeing the same numbers of A&E incidents in terms of people coming in with accidents and injuries that are the result of excessive drinking, which just happens all the time, that’s just part of life, and people will be making a choice to drink elsewhere, and in their homes. So as long as we can keep the rules simple and easy to understand, and as long as we dont keep changing them, my personal preference is to not go into another lockdown. It’s right that we have these localised lockdowns and the packages of support coming in from the Chancellor. We will see how we go, we are very much on the cusp here locally of going into tier 2 from tier 1 and I expect to hear an announcement on that sooner rather than later.

Ed Schofield: The Pandemic has been a turning point for business, a lot of companies are abandoning their offices in favour of employees working from home. Have you found the same as an MP, and what impact has this had on family life?

Angela Richardson MP: I ended up working from home, as we went into lockdown. Unfortunately I became symptomatic as well with COVID symptoms and I had to let my whip know, and I had to self isolate. That was about the 19th to 21st. March, and then we went into national lockdown on Monday 23rd. I think, if I remember correctly, and there was an announcement from the Prime Minister, so I worked from home, and even though I was unwell. Unfortunately, my inbox just was absolutely rammed, and colleagues who had worked as a member of parliament for a long time, have never seen the email traffic that we have had across the country anything like it in their time as an MPs. And so we were locked down, we were working from home, but the minute I was able to go back to Westminster and work from Westminster, even though I wasn’t able to go into the chamber, and was going in virtually, it felt important to me to try and keep going back there, because that’s where I have to do my job and represent my constituents. I wasn’t able to do the things I wanted to do locally, but we just kept working seven days a week, and I have been able to go back as I was classed as a key worker, I was always able to travel back and forwards but I had noticed that the trains were very empty. There was a period in the ‘eat out to help out’ time in the summer when I went back, I think on the August bank holiday weekend, and I have never seen Waterloo so busy, I have never seen train carriages so busy. People were wearing masks and they were complying, but then the advice came out to say ‘if you can possibly work from home, do!’, and the train carriages were empty again as I was going backwards and forwards. But London was fairly busy, there was traffic and there were people out and about the streets, there are tourists and there are the tourist activities which seem to have started back up again.

It still has changed the way that I’m doing things, as I’m having my meetings largely via Zoom. I was supposed to be going to Reigate today to visit the Surrey Fire Service, I’m now having to do that ‘virtually’. Two weeks ago I was meant to be going to the Royal Surrey [Hospital] to watch some operations being done by robotics. I had to log in virtually, and watch virtually, and meet the consultants and have a conversation like that. It does seem to be working but I would much rather be in the room with people. I think you can just have a much better conversation, and you can understand and with body language where people are coming from more easily than through a screen. But it does cut down the travel time – I’m still trying to do virtual visits and I’m in hope that if we go into tighter lockdowns, that I’m still able to go and visit schools and things like that, because it’s really important. And I think it’s important for people who run businesses; if you invest in something, say for instance, you can look at, say a company’s balance sheet, but you can’t get the full picture unless you go and visit that business and see how things are running. It’s the same thing if you were going in to make sure, say a school or a care home or a hospital are meeting their standards, you can’t do that through Zoom. You’ve got got to go physically into a space. So we are nearly a year in as you say, parliaments completely different, my job’s completely different. Everyone else has had to go through the same things, so I’m not complaining about it at all, I would just like it to go back to normal as soon as possible as I’m sure everybody does.

 

Angela Richardson MP on Surrey as a Unitary Authority

Ed Schofield: Cllr Tim Oliver (leader of Surrey County Council) has been advocating the creation of a Unitary Authority. There are questions as to whether this will still go ahead.

Do you agree with Cllr Oliver when he says “that it is the best system of government for Surrey”?

Angela Richardson MP: I believe that it’s the future for Surrey and for democracy in Surrey, and I believe it’s been sped up, the need for it because of Covid. I’ve said before in interviews, that local Councils have been given a lot of money by central Government to try and keep essential services going, but we need to be able to find those economies of scale in terms of getting good contracts for services from good companies over a greater area. I think where Unitaries may have failed in the past is where they have been too small, and so I know the conversation really is around the size and how this will best serve residents. What I want to see, and one of the things I want to point out is that during COVID we had the local ‘resilience forum’, that was at a county level and it was incredibly effective, they delivered really well for residents. When we were trying to get the meals out to those who were shielding, that was delivered on a Surrey level, and that did an amazing job, we got so many parcels of food out to residents, so I think there is evidence that it works well. Surrey also covers some of those essential services out to all of those residents already. Where its problematic I think, is in things like planning, and for local people to feel like the have a say over the design of where they live and what come in. So there has got to be a mechanism where it doesn’t feel like it’s detached, where you don’t have one Councilor looking after so many different residents in areas; I think perhaps divisions need to have two Councillors per division rather than just one. But the boroughs and districts do very well, have done well, have delivered great services and as long as we keep the Parishes and that micro level of engagement, I think that’s really good. At the moment, the government have only gone out to a select number of councils for them to bid to become a Unitary. We had started the process, it has stopped at the moment. It’s started with some of the councils in the country, and I believe Surrey will be offered that opportunity in the future. All the consultation work and the money spent on that is not wasted, because it’s there in situ ready to go for when this happens again. Not everybody’s going to agree with it, but I think we can’t stand in the way of progress and change, and I think it’s probably important that we look at reorganising our local democracy, and my understanding is that all political parties at county level were signed up to this in principle.

Angela Richardson MP on her achievements so far

Ed Schofield: Finally, what is the proudest achievement of your first year in office?

Angela Richardson MP: That’s a really good one! So funnily enough, when we were in lockdown, it was getting so many constituents home from abroad. I can’t count the number of emails about concerned family members who had daughters, sons, Mothers, Fathers stuck overseas, worried about being able to get home. I think we can’t forget, we’ve got to remember that that was a really challenging time. But the Foregn Office worked really well, and I’m proud that I put together a small, but dedicated team that care about the people of Guildford and what they’re going through, so It was getting those people home. And the thanks we got in… because quite often you only hear about the negative things, but I do have a little folder in my inbox that is dedicated to thank yous from constituents, and there were a lot on there. There were also people who were genuinely struggling with going into lockdown, worried about their job security, self-employed people worried about how they would go to work, and we just worked relentlessly to try and get them as much information as possible, to tell them where they could go to get support, and the thank you’s that came back in as well. And the number of homeless situations we have dealt with, you know, that’s the stuff that I feel I’ve really made a difference in that short period of time.

There are bigger projects that I’m working on that are going to take time to try and see fruition, and they will probably impact a much larger number of peoples lives, but to have been able to make a difference for you know, scores of residents, probably into the hundreds,  that had very very unique concerns and issues. That’s the sort of thing that drives me, that’s what I feel I can make a real difference in. The other thing that’s given me a huge amount of joy is to help parents who have children with special educational needs, who are struggling to get school places for their children. Just to be able to help with the County Council and get good results for just about everyone we have been in contact with.

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