My new job as an MP is nothing like my old jobs working in business for the last 27 years. Walking into the House of Commons, you are entering a completely different world. The building itself, its history and the quirky rules are all daily reminders of the importance of the role of an MP, particularly at this critical time in our country’s history.
Growing up in a normal working class family in Liverpool I did find the first few weeks a bit intimidating. I spent much of the time trying to avoid getting lost and figuring out what I was supposed to do and when. The chamber has a fair few conventions and unwritten rules – it’s like trying to play a game without anyone giving you the handbook.
One of the most surprising things is how friendly and helpful everybody is, even MPs from the opposition parties. This is important as there is a huge amount of cross-party collaboration required to get stuff done. I’m co-chairing two all party parliamentary groups, one with a Labour MP and one with a Labour peer, and I’m a member of several others.
These are informal groups which seek to highlight concerns in a particular area and make progress. The areas I’ve focussed on are women in work, international aid, entrepreneurs and skills and apprenticeships. I’m a huge fan of degree-level apprenticeships which is what enabled me to go to university over 20 years ago.
I went to the local comprehensive school in Huyton, Knowsley where we used to joke that the school motto was “always throw the first punch”. I left school at 16 years old as there was no opportunity to do A-levels despite passing ten O-levels.
I started an apprenticeship in a car factory in Liverpool and eventually General Motors sponsored me to study for a degree. It was great; I studied whilst working and stayed living at home so managed to completely avoid student debt (and any social life). With all the focus on student debt and career prospects this is a great route into the workplace and gave me my life chance which led to my working all over the world and eventually finding myself in the House of Commons.
I’ve just arrived at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester. It isn’t my first conference as I came to this very city two years ago as a candidate. Then it was terrible, with people pushing and spitting at us as we walked in. I was dreading it would be the same this year, not least as I’m wearing a new coat.
It could not be more different, I met two policemen from Liverpool, one who used to live on the same road as my best mate, and they said they were expecting 5,000 rabble rousers but less than 500 turned up. “There’s more of us” the policeman joked.
It was a much more pleasant way to start the conference. Tonight is my first engagement where I will be introducing the Prime Minister at a Women2Win event, the organisation Theresa May co-founded more than 10 years ago to help encourage more women from a variety of backgrounds to become Conservative MPs. That’s how I got started, so it will be great to stand up there tonight and show that people like me can become a Conservative MP.