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On Thursday Week 27 SCAN travelled to Westminster to speak to Lancaster and Fleetwood’s newly elected MP Cat Smith about how her first couple of weeks as member of Parliament had unfolded.
Following her election to Parliament in May, beating her Conservative predecessor Eric Ollershaw, Smith was sworn in alongside her fellow MPs on Tuesday Week 5. Smith told SCAN that she thought life in the chamber would be “scary and confrontational” but took quickly to the role, making her voice heard quickly.
Smith became the first newly elected MP to speak in Prime minister’s Questions, raising her profile after David Cameron called for her to be Labour Party Leader. After Smith asked the Prime Minister, “can the Prime Minister inform the House when he expects the UK to regain its AAA credit rating?” Cameron quipped that her question on fiscal responsibility was “a sign of progress” and that “there’s a leadership election on, you should throw your hat in the ring”.
Despite the sarcastic calls for her leadership from the Prime Minister, Smith told SCAN that she had no interest in the role. She added further in the interview, slightly more seriously, that neither did she have an urge to be a member of the Shadow Cabinet. When asked she replied, “no, I think the reason I was elected is because I stand for people in Lancaster and Fleetwood and as a new MP that’s going to take up all my energy.”
On the day of the interview, Smith stated that she had yet to declare which leadership candidate she would support. “At the time of this interview I am still having to have a few more conversations before I commit”. On Tuesday Week 28 Smith announced on her official facebook page that she would be supporting left-wing candidate Jeremy Corbyn. On her account she said: “I’m nominating Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour Party leadership election. He’s an inspiring campaigner who always stands up for what he believes in – opposing war, privatisation and the abuse of human rights whether here or abroad.”
Smith co-authored a letter to the Guardian with nine other new MPs, which stated: “We need a new leader who looks forward and will challenge an agenda of cuts, take on big business and will set out an alternative to austerity – not one which will draw back to the New Labour creed of the past.
“Labour needs a leader who is in tune with the collective aspiration of ordinary people and communities across Britain, meeting the need for secure employment paying decent wages, homes that people can call their own, strong public services back in public hands, and the guarantee of a real apprenticeship or university course with a job at the end of it.” She restated this message to SCAN, saying that she would support a leadership candidate who was steadfast in supporting an anti-austerity message.
The Lancaster and Fleetwood MP is a proponent of free education and said that she will all she can to support students, a considerable voting block needed for her election. “I think that is going to be a really tough five years with the Tory majority government. Before the election they were refusing to rule out any rise in things like tuition fees, which is going to have a direct impact on students. I will obviously be working with anyone who will work with me on this in order to oppose any rise in student fees.
“Personally I have always been a firm believer in free education, which is probably quite an unfashionable position, but I think it morally the right position. I think the people who benefit from a well-educated workforce are big employers and they don’t contribute anything; instead we have personal debt on individuals and it puts people off going to University.”
Smith believes she has already made a strong effort to represent local people, voicing important issues at the earliest opportunity – she was first of the new intake to speak at Business Questions, on Thursday Week 26, and in PMQs. “I was the first of the new intake of MPs to ask a question in the house, last Thursday in business questions, and got in and and managed to ask for a debate on fracking in Lancashire.”
Fracking is one of numerous local, and national issues, which Smith said she will be keen to voice as a member of parliament. “There are very few issues which I saw coming up on the doorsteps in Ray that were still coming up in Lancaster, were coming up in Knut End and were coming up in Fleetwood and fracking was that one thing that seems to unite the constituency, so for my first question in business questions last week I wanted to make sure I had made a point of wanting to ask for a debate on fracking because it is what people have sent me here to do and talk about.
“I will continue trying to get that debate and get that time in the house to have a frank debate about the safety record of fracking, about the environmental impacts of fracking and our energy security”, Smith continued.
She also told us, that becoming an MP was a drastic change for herself, in her responsibilities and in her personal life. “For me it’s been a huge shift in terms of my personal life and the way in which I structure my week, traveling down to London Monday to Thursday and being back home in Lancaster Friday and over the weekend is quite a bit of routine which has changed quite a bit for myself and the impact that has on my family., on my partner in particular. Obviously it affects the whole family, me going up and down the country every week.”
Smith not only studied at Lancaster but was also a member of the LUSU full-time officer team, and said that her experience at the University and Union was paramount to her political engagement. “When I started as a student at Lancaster University I wouldn’t say I was political. I didn’t really have any strong political leanings or allegiances and by the time I left I did a full-time year as a sabbatical officer in the Students’ Union and I was a full-time Women’s Officer. And it was partly through that education around the Students’ Union, about feminism and equalities that led me to do things like join the Labour Party and I find myself here now, really proud to represent Lancaster in Parliament. “