Pioneer Emma reflects on her first year as an MP

ALL SMILES ... EmmaLewell-Buck is reflecting on an enjoyable first year at Westminster.
ALL SMILES ... EmmaLewell-Buck is reflecting on an enjoyable first year at Westminster.

WHEN Emma Lewell-Buck was weighing up the biggest decision in her professional life she sought the advice of her beloved uncle Alan.

At the time he was terminally ill at St Clare’s Hospice in Jarrow.

Mrs Lewell-Buck was considering whether to throw her hat in the ring to become Labour candidate for South Shields at the forthcoming Parliamentary by-election.

Today, 12 months to the day after the 35-year-old was elected the town’s first female MP, she has no regrets that she took his advice.

She explained: “I remember asking uncle Alan if I should go for it and if he fancied my chances. He said ‘Emma, you’ve got to go for it’.”

The former social worker now has a flat in London and returns to her constituency every weekend to be with her husband Simon.

She says she has adapted to the demands of Westminster and spending time away from her close-knit family on Tyneside but there have been challenges along the way.

She said: “I expected the long hours but you have to bear in mind that my previous profession involved 60 or 70 hours a week.

“The long hours don’t really bother me because I had done that for so many years. The biggest challenge for me was getting used to Westminster because I had never even been to Parliament before.

“At first I think I was just a bit overwhelmed. I was taken from working in social work offices to suddenly being in one of the most iconic buildings in the world, where people can’t do enough for you, where you feel safe and which is really beautiful.

“The biggest hurdle was speaking in the chamber. I found that more daunting than I thought I would. I’d been a local councillor before and I was used to public speaking, but this was a whole different ball game.

“But when something is daunting I just throw myself at it even more and I knew I had the weight of people who voted for me behind me.

“I decided that I would try to speak every single week in the chamber because I want to be a really good constituency MP and a really good MP in Parliament. The two go hand-in-hand.”

Mrs Lewell-Buck has at times been given a rough ride in the chamber – with some southern-based male Tory MPs mocking her Geordie accent.

It’s behaviour that she accepts with good grace.

She said: “Some have complained about the laddish culture in the chamber, but again, coming from a social work background I’m used to people assaulting me, which happened on occasion, so a bunch of posh guys in shiny suits doesn’t really bother me.

!In fact, I feel sorry for them. They have had a go at my accent and I kind of think that, if that’s all they are going to have a go at me for, then clearly what I’m saying is good enough.

“I’m in that chamber not to speak to them anyway – I’m speaking to my constituents.” But her first year in office has been a rewarding one.

She explained: “In these first 12 months the things that I’m proudest of are the jobs fair I held in South Shields last year and the little victories that emerge at my surgery, those small wins that we achieve for people.

“It can look really small to some people but it’s of huge importance to that individual. It has amazed me that having those two little letters after your name can get things done for people. It feels really good.

“I’m also proud of the work I have done in Parliament on the Care Bill. I was on the committee and spoke a lot on the floor of the house. I have a lot of experience in social care and I was anxious to get that across and have an input.”

As she looks back on her first anniversary in Westminster there is one piece of advice from a colleague that she has stood by.

“I stay out of the bars!” she said, adding: “My Labour colleague Tessa Jowell gave me some very good advice. She said ‘don’t go to the bars’. She said if you want to have a good career it’s best not to be seen in the bars. I’m at work and when I was at work before I didn’t go in and out of a bar.”

As for the future, she has hopes of promotion, eventually. She added: “I am a politician and I do have ambitions. I would love to get promoted at some point but at the moment I am happy just doing what I’m doing.”

And with a general election looming within a year, she is preparing for the challenge – and hoping for a Labour win.

She said: “As a party, Labour is united. We don’t want people going to food banks, We don’t want to see people going hungry because of government policies and we want to change all that.”