An Interview With Mary Macleod MP

At Portcullis House on 23rd May, By Tom Moore


Part One – The Early Days of being an MP

Part Two – PPS to Nick Herbert

Part Three – MP for Brentford and Isleworth

Part Four – The Coalition Controversies

Part Five – The Future

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Part One – The Early Days of being an MP

How did you feel when it was announced you were to be MP for Brentford and Isleworth and why do you think you won?

I was naturally excited and enthusiastic and delighted at winning. We put in a huge amount of work into winning over a three and half year period and the team had done a huge amount of work so that was great. You do get the sense that it’s an incredible privilege of being an elected MP at the same time.

As for why I won I think there was a national and local element. On the national side there was a swing towards the Conservatives at the time which helped my area as well and I think people were fed up with what Labour were doing prior to that and it’s what happens with any party which has been quite a while in government.

On the local side we had campaigned for three and half years on a mix of local and national issues and I think people were very keen to see something done on those issues. I was up against Ann Keen of Labour who had had expenses issues but she still managed to get a lot of her vote out so it didn’t seem to make a huge impact surprisingly.

Can you explain what went on between May 7th 2010 and May 11th, when David Cameron was appointed Prime Minister?

First of all the new MPs came into the house the following week and we got settled in around Portcullis House. They gave us some hot desking space to work from. They gave us a computer and laptop on the first day and then we signed all the relevant forms on day one. The e-mails and the letters start flooding in so they need to be responded to. We also had to hire staff as well.

Then there were the coalition discussions. David Cameron brought together all the MPs of the party to discuss the options for the coalition. He said we could either go it alone as a minority government, let Labour and the Liberal Democrats form a government or go into coalition with the Lib Dems. It was agreed that a coalition with the Liberal Democrats was the best option.

What areas of your maiden speech in the poverty debate have been acted on?

The aim of the maiden speech is to get them out as quickly as possible as then you can enter into the detail of what’s going on in Parliament so, to some extent, the topic of the debate becomes less important. However, I thought poverty was relevant to London. In such a large city there is the potential for an increase in poverty and with just the whole worry of the budget cuts that we had to make, as to how that would impact on poverty as a whole. I think we have been doing some really good things. One being raising the income tax threshold, which for me is a great way of saying we support those with the lowest income to make sure that work actually pays.

The Queen’s Speech and the Emergency Budget were the first tests for the coalition. How was it in these early stages?

We were still new MPs at the time. We were very positive about what was going on. The coalition was new to everybody but as a whole it was very much about a huge credible challenge ahead of us that we needed to get on top of. We needed to come together as two parties for the good of the country and really define very clearly how we could take the country forward.

Part Two – PPS to Nick Herbert

How did you become Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) to Nick Herbert (Minister of State for Police and Criminal Justice)?

I don’t know is the right answer. I got a call from Nick saying would you like to do this job. I was on the select committee prior to that and if he was wanting to see who was interested in home affairs that would be the first place to look. We had to put ourselves forward for the select committee and then we were elected onto it. I put myself forward for home affairs and got elected onto that and then got pulled out to become PPS.

What is a PPS?

A Parliamentary Private Secretary is the eyes and ears of the minister in Parliament. I’m meant to keep closely in touch with MPs about their concerns and issues relating to policing and raise those with the minister. That might mean arranging meetings with groups of MPs so we can explain part of the policy of what we’re doing in the Police Reform Bill (for example) or maybe some people have some other issues. It’s really making sure that our own MPs are comfortable with what they’re proposing. If they do have issues we find a way to resolve them. So it helps Nick in getting his views and ideas and policy through Parliament.

What areas do you think you could improve on?

You can always improve on what you’re doing and you can never speak to all of the MPs all of the time so you have got to be constantly trying to understand people's points of view. That involves putting more and more time into making that happen. I think we have had the Police Reform Bill which we managed to get through the House of Commons but we had issues in the House of Lords so there is definitely some more work that needs to be had with discussions with the peers to put across the benefits of the new bill and address any concerns that they might have.

How do you balance your time between your job as PPS and your constituents?

Basically not too bad. I tend to spend Monday to Thursday in Parliament and then Friday and Saturday in the constituency and I always try and have Sunday as a family home day but it doesn’t always work (e.g. Remembrance Sunday). During recess there is a lot more flexibility and then spend less time here so it hasn’t been too bad. My constituents have been very understanding in terms of what I can and can’t do so we’ve been working well on that basis.

I tend to be very active about going out to businesses, organisations, schools, voluntary organisations, to see and find out what they’re doing. I put those in the diary rather than saying to people I can’t do this. It has been surprising how relentless the work is. I don’t mean it to sound negative. The work never stops. There always seems to be more work than you physically have time for even if you work 24/7. Part of this is addressed by the social media channels which now exist. What I want to do as an MP is be responsive and do this as quickly as possible, which can always be improved on.

Part Three – MP for Brentford and Isleworth

Why did you want to become MP for Brentford and Isleworth?

If you really want to go into Parliament you have to apply for more than one constituency. I always tried to apply for seats where I felt I had a good connection. I lived in Chiswick for about seven years prior to getting selected. Chiswick was the first place I joined the Conservative Party so I had a really good close connection there. When I turned up for the interview I felt really at home. I feel really grateful I’ve got a London seat so I do get home every night which is great.

What have been your successes in the area and where do you think you need to improve as an MP for the area?

There are always thing you can do more of. On the third runway we managed to get a stop to it which was great but the next thing is to look at night flights. I’m doing a debate in Westminster tomorrow (24th May 2011) on night-flights to try and raise the issue on that. On the other aspects on any campaign you are trying to push towards a solution and I’m still working on getting the Piccadilly Line stopping at Turnham Green. We’re still working through various other stations in the constituency. A lot of the national issues become local issues too like making sure you are creating jobs for future locals.

How have the cuts affected Brentford and Isleworth?

Firstly there are cuts that apply to local governments and then there are wider national cuts. In Brentford and Isleworth we are typically lucky in that we’ve got fairly low unemployment rates. Those on Jobseekers Allowance is about half the national average. We’re really fortunate that we’ve got lots of businesses in our constituency like the Brentford Golden Mile, Fullers, GSK, and BSkyB for example around the area. And lots of businesses who want to locate here because it’s near Heathrow. We are very fortunate in that regard.

We do have an issue in terms of local government cuts. The London Borough of Hounslow have cut frontline services and they sent their consultation saying which frontline services do you want to cut. We are trying to fight back on that. There are plenty of examples, even if you look around London, of Boroughs who have not cut frontline services for those cuts. Examples are the shared services where other boroughs are working together with their neighbours to save money. There are many ways in which you become more efficient instead of cutting frontline services. We are tackling the local council on that. Greg Hands (MP for Chelsea and Fulham) tackled that issue at Prime Minister’s Question Time showing the differences between councils like Kensington and Chelsea, Westminster, and Hammersmith and Fulham, compared to somewhere like Hounslow who are doing cuts.

What areas in Brentford and Isleworth are you trying to bring in the ‘Big Society’?

A range of things like libraries and other national services at the moment where we can get other people involved. The Chiswick Day Care Centre for older people which the council were planning to close and we have a big campaign group who are looking at how we can keep it open longer.
There have been some social enterprises set up for people looking for work. I’m speaking to businesses about how we can do work more experience and apprenticeships at the same time. I’m organising a big day for all my voluntary groups to see how we can support and help them and getting them to work with each other and local businesses. A huge amount needs to be done on the ‘Big Society’ but I think it’s absolutely the right way to go in terms of making sure that everyone in the community, no matter whether it’s voluntary organisations, businesses and individuals, we all work together to shape things for the future.

With Brentford FC predominant in the community, how would you rate the work Brentford do in the community?

Brentford do a huge amount in the constituency.  There’s the Brentford Football Club Community Sports Trust (BFCCST). Brentford FC, I think is a lovely community football club. I’ve been there many times cheering on The Bees, and I think they are an example of where it can run perfectly. We are looking at seeing to the whole aspect of redeveloping the club and moving site and making something bigger and better and that’s still in progress and I’m keeping in touch with them on that. The BFCCST does incredible things with youngsters in the local area and it’s giving them the chance to build their confidence, encourage them into sport and help their lifestyles, try to grab and develop their skills in sport and help the able-bodied or disabled they really try to achieve a lot in the local community.

Part Four – The Coalition Controversies

Moving onto national issues, how much of a strain did the tuition fees debate place on the coalition?

It’s difficult to say in detail because I wasn’t in the coalition discussion. The Prime Minister put to us the high level things that were in the coalition agreement. We agreed that those things were the right things to do. If I was a Liberal Democrat MP I’d have used tuition fees as a negotiation point instead of the referendum. The referendum was the big thing they achieved out of the coalition agreement, whereas for me, having been round at so many debates with my Lib Dem opponent during the General Election it was tuition fees that came up all the time, not electoral reform. The Lib Dems were wrong on that front. It was a difficult time for the Lib Dems but what they tended to do was raise the issue through points of debate and discussion but they realised you can’t get what you want all the time in a coalition. If the Lib Dems had been voted in as the party of Government they would have said no to tuition fees.

The elected Police Commissioners reform was rejected by the House of Lords, Why does this change need to take place?

It’s all about making policing more accountable. Crime, for most people, is one of the biggest issues they have locally, whether it’s the reality or the perception of it. We do need to do more in raising the profile of it. One example is in London where Boris Johnson has taken over accountability of policing and the people really see him as the one who is accountable for it.

You will find that with the mayoral elections coming up next year Boris will be asked about crime constantly as people see him as the man responsible for it. That’s very different to operational police. It’s Boris’ role and the Police Commissioner’s role to set the strategy and plan for policing and then it’s up to the police officers to deliver on it. We want those Commissioners to have responsibility for setting strategy.

Vince Cable has caused a few stirs in the media in recent weeks. Are there cracks in the coalition?

Strangely not much. It’s interesting that if it is issues on policy the coalition tends to get a bit stronger as Labour tries to drive a wedge between the two parties. The more they try and drive a wedge, the more we get together and support each other. When it’s about individuals like the Vince Cable case, MPs tend to really ignore it, unless it was something really awful, which then the Prime Minister would do something about. But if it’s just someone who has said something out of place - it’s human nature. People know there’s a job to be done so you get back to business the next day and get on with the job you have to do.

What did you make about Ken Clarke’s remarks about rape?

I have great respect for Ken, I like him a lot but what he said just wasn’t delivered in the right way. So does he believe rape is a serious offence? Absolutely. What he was trying to say was there are different types of rape, all serious but there may be different sentencing for different types of rape which I think is absolutely right. But I think what needs to go out is that rape is an absolutely serious offence, whatever type it is. We need to make sure we are getting more convicted of it. The conviction rate is so low at the moment. We do need to try and do more with it. This is not only about women. It is also about men and children so there are a lot of victims who need support.

Part Five – The Future

With there being no third runway being one key issue which is currently off the agenda during this parliament what are you looking to do for the constituents throughout this term in parliament?

My election campaign locally was based on five things, based on a survey. They were “No third runway”, crime, immigration, NHS and the trust with MPs. On Heathrow we will continue to fight the case in terms of night flights and noise insulation for schools near Heathrow. Boris has done a good job in London on crime, as by the end of his first term next May there will be another 1,000 police on the street. He has taken 10,000 knives off the street so we need to maintain. I try and keep a strong local link with the local police and with the Community Consultative Group so we understand the issues. I’m asking a question on education to say we should do more about underperforming schools. We’ve opened up the debate about free schools and academies and trying to focus this whole thing on literacy and numeracy. Why do we allow youngsters to leave school before they have the right to so? It’s ridiculous. We need to get tougher on these schools. Even though we are increasing the funding for NHS in real terms (allowing for inflation), people do agree we have to make the NHS more efficient even though they have more funding.

The NHS also needs reform. I’ve been really impressed with my local Great West London Consortium who are looking at it strategically at the moment. In terms of the overall NHS policy we are trying to see what bits we need to modify going forward. I visit my hospital regularly. I’ve set up a meeting to look at tuberculosis. TB is a big issue for me in the local area. The other issues are diabetes and childhood obesity. We had a debate in Parliament quite recently. The last bit was about trust and building that new sort of politics. I publish my expenses as well so it’s transparent. What we’re trying to do is have a wider debate and move away from the confrontational type of politics. I’m trying to be more visible, accessible and responsive as an MP. It’s about being efficient in replying to e-mails, letters and ‘phone calls. I have weekly surgeries. I’m just about to set up a “Meet the MP” in a supermarket. I think you will feel familiar, sensible responsible to their concerns which are the most important things.

Have you enjoyed being an MP?

Yes, it has been an incredible amount of hard work. I have a fabulous team that supports me. You do feel you are making a difference. I feel my surgeries are a great way for an individual to come to me with their problems and to help them resolve them. It feels really positive that you are helping people make their lives better and at the same time we’re doing a major role with the economy we’re facing at the moment. We’re trying to transform the country for the future so there is still a lot to be done.

Tom Moore


June 10, 2011