Commons Diary: Heidi Allen
After being trolled, sawn in half and taking a ride on an emotional budget rollercoaster, Heidi Allen tops up her batteries before gearing up for a new battle
When people ask me what it’s like to be an MP, I often say “every week is different and you can never be quite sure how the week will pan out.” Well, last week absolutely proves my point!
Sitting on the train on Monday morning, reading the brief for that afternoon’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) hearing into border preparations for Brexit, I thought about the week ahead. It was going to be a big one, with Day 3 of the committee stage of the Great Repeal Bill and the Budget.
Monday afternoon’s hearing set a depressing tone, as I found myself exasperated at the apparent lack of oompf shown by the senior civil servants who gave evidence. As a business person who came into Parliament in 2015, sitting on the PAC has confirmed to me what many business people believe to be true – I am staggered by the all too easy spending of hard earned tax payers’ money and relaxed excuses for spending failures. The private sector really does have a different profit and loss discipline.
Tuesday’s debate brought welcome concessions from the government on incorporating the Charter of Fundamental rights into the Great Repeal Bill. It’s reassuring that meaningful debate, combined with a listening front bench can generate compromise. Led by the very capable Dominic Grieve, I am confident we will be able to knock the Bill into a shape that will satisfy all sides of the Brexit debate. Day 3, so far so good, with no need to press amendments to votes. I hope we can continue in this fashion.
Wednesday was Budget day. All I could think about was whether the campaign to reduce the waiting time for Universal Credit claimants’ first payment would be successful. I hadn’t managed to bag a seat in the chamber, so was sitting in the far corner on the floor. Talk about a rollercoaster of anticipation! When the chancellor announced £1.5bn worth of improvements to UC and a one week reduction in that critical initial wait, I don’t mind admitting I was very emotional. Tucked away in my little hidden spot I was overwhelmed by relief. We had done it!
Fighting for change can often be very lonely. Social media demands change now – it doesn’t care about negotiations, it doesn’t care about meetings with the Prime Minister, conversations with ministers, debates, select committee enquiries, or sustained efforts.
I know in my heart that many of us have been campaigning on this for months, but Twitter trolls don’t care. They never acknowledge progress, they never apologise for the scathing and abusive comments they post. They just troll. Is it because I’m a woman? Is it because I’m a Conservative? I’m sure the relief I felt was in part because this particular trolling campaign would cease – until the next time.
I managed to get home on Wednesday night for a celebratory meal with my husband at our dangerously local pub, The Poacher in Elsworth. I always try to keep Thursdays free for admin and email catch up. Out and about on Friday, my batteries were topped up as they always are by visits to two of my schools, meetings with constituents and local businesses. On Saturday night, I was unexpectedly sawn in half (yes you read that right!) on stage in front of hundreds of Cambourne residents, as I helped switch the Christmas lights on. I refer you to the first sentence of my diary!
The big event for me this week was Tuesday, as my 10 Minute Rule Bill had its first reading. When parents split up, the child maintenance service can help parents work out a fair payment schedule for the child. But if the errant parent wants to avoid paying, they can do so all too easily, through hiding behind self-employed status. By hiding their income in dividends and assets, not only are they denying their child the financial support they deserve, they are also defrauding HMRC and often forcing the parent with care onto benefits. This is a double hit to the tax payer. The purpose of this Bill is to close that loophole.
This is my new fight, I’m ready.
Heidi Allen is Conservative MP for South Cambridgeshire