What Jo Churchill really thinks of PM David Cameron
For Jo Churchill, working in Parliament is endlessly fascinating. But what’s life like now for the Bury St Edmunds MP ? and what does she hope to get done? James Marston visits Westminster.
VOver a coffee in the impressive tree-lined atrium of Portcullis House – the office complex for more than 200 MPs – Jo Churchill is in buoyant mood.
It’s a Monday and the start of the parliamentary week.
She said: “I’m in my first year and I’m still learning my trade but it is fascinating.”
Elected in last year’s General Election as MP for Bury St Edmunds and Stowmarket, the 51-year-old businesswoman is full of energy and enthusiasm.
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She said: “You have to learn the processes and protocols of this place. I feel I am beginning to make a contribution and working out in which areas I can be impactful.”
Recently returned from a trip to Lesbos, Jo saw the refugee crisis first hand.
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She has also sat on a number of Bill committees – including the Welfare Reform and Work Bill, the Enterprise Bill, and the Medical Innovation Bill – which scrutinise legislation clause by clause as it goes through the parliamentary process. She also sits on the Women and Equalities Select Committee.
She said: “I don’t feel powerful but I do feel I have a big responsibility and I feel my power is as a voice for those I represent. If there is a free vote on something like assisted dying, I vote on my own conscience. It is my duty to read about the subject and reflect. I have to be informed, so I spend a lot of time in the members’ library.”
Jo, who has the services of a researcher and office administrator, added: “This week my mailbag has included questions about circus animals, food waste, Europe, broadband, and women’s pensions. There is huge variety.”
The mother of four, who lives just south of Bury St Edmunds, said getting the balance right between work and family life hasn’t been easy.
She said: “When I first came here I threw myself into work and I got it wrong. It was a real challenge to begin with. It’s a job and it’s a privilege to be here, but I’m a normal person and I had to redress the balance.”
Now with grown-up children, Jo said: “I’m proud to be one of 191 women in Parliament and I am proud to be a Conservative, as we have more women on our benches than the opposition.
“But we still have fewer women that have ever sat in Parliament than men currently sitting in this parliament. The job in equality isn’t done and there are challenges.”
With a one-bedroom flat in nearby Pimlico, Jo returns to the constituency usually on a Thursday evening, ready for surgeries, meetings and visits on Friday and Saturday.
She said: “I tend to accept an invite to speak in the evening at least once a week and often eat in the members’ dining room, where, of course, you get to chat with other MPs and talk about politics and issues.
“You couldn’t do this job unless you were in London. Tonight the vote will be at 10.30pm; I couldn’t get back to Bury St Edmunds. If there was a hotel for MPs – it’s been suggested in the past – that would suit me fine; we are here 33 weeks of the year.”
In Westminster Hall, the oldest building on the Parliamentary estate and the scene of great historical events and speeches, Jo bids us farewell in order to get ready for her next duty of the day: the debate in the House of Commons. I ask her about the future – would she like to reach for high office or has she put a time limit on her period of office?
She said: “You don’t get here unless you have ambition in the first place but at the moment I am interested in doing the best job I can. I haven’t put a limit on the period of time I might be an MP, as long as I’m able to do a good job. I have fought cancer twice, James. I take no day for granted.”
JO CHURCHILL ON EUROPE
Jo said: “I am voting to remain in the European Union, along with all of Suffolk’s MPs. I believe trade would be compromised if we don’t stay in and our ability to be an influence in the world. I don’t
believe the EU is without its faults but I believe David Cameron did a great job negotiating a deal for Britain in Europe. He really was working at full pelt, and we have gained assurances that will enhance our service industries, particularly in the financial sector, which is our biggest export and employs a lot of people in my constituency.
“Trade is crucial to Britain. We need to be at the table, and Europe allows Britain to be in those discussions on issues that affect us and where we can have influence.”
JO CHURCHILL ON WOMEN’S EQUALITY
She said: “If somebody is good at their job, irrespective of their gender, they should be able to do it.”
JO CHURCHILL – PRIORITIES
The MP for Bury St Edmunds and Stowmarket said she has three main areas of interest, within her work at Westminster, she would like to pursue: life sciences, health, and apprenticeships for young people.
In the constituency, she said, she is using her position to campaign for better rail and road connectivity for Suffolk, better broadband and mobile coverage, and wants to encourage enterprise stimulation and inward investment.
She said: “I work closely with the other Suffolk MPs – the Suffolk seven I call it – and this has enormous benefit for the county. I also co-operate with other MPs from other parties. Take the party politics out of it and ask the questions: is it a good idea? Do we need it? And would it be of benefit? If the answer is yes, then why not work on cross-party lines?”
JO CHURCHILL – STAND-OUT MOMENTS
Jo said a number of events and debates stand out in her time at Westminster.
She added: “The assisted dying debate was very powerful and I had a big postbag about the issue. In the end I voted against it.
“The Syrian air strikes debate was very interesting and a moment of drama in the House. I voted in favour of air strikes.
“The EU statement also stands out as a pivotal moment. We have to work very hard to ensure what is best for Britain.”
JO CHURCHILL ON BORIS JOHNSON
“I find him intriguing. His brother is also an MP here and most of his family are Europhiles. I have never read his opposition to the EU thus far and I think his views on Europe are a fudge.”
JO CHURCHILL ON JEREMY CORBYN
“He is a highly principled individual and I don’t think you should knock that in politics. He has been an MP for a long time. He believes in what he says, even if I fundamentally disagree with most of his views.”