Ollie Smith gives an honest account of his day with Bristol West’s MP.
June’s election saw our Bristol West MP Thangam Debbonaire re-elected with a dramatically increased majority. Back in July I shadowed her for a day in Parliament to better my knowledge of government. To new and current students, I hope this gives you an insight into your local MP and the hugely important work she does.
To new and current students, I hope this gives you an insight into your local MP and the hugely important work she does.
I meet Thangam at 10am at the entrance to Portcullis House. She leads me on a whistle-stop tour of Parliament; her favourite place, the House of Commons library, is truly stunning. There she hands me the day’s parliamentary agenda and report of the previous day, full of transcripts of the chamber and voting records. From there I’m led to Central Lobby and run through the agenda for the day. Thangam leaves for an Opposition whips meeting (her role in the shadow cabinet) while I go and see Westminster Hall.
Following the Speaker’s Procession I enter the Commons chamber with a signed pass she’s given me. Whenever I enter the chamber I’m always in awe; this time it’s different, I’m not behind protective glass but actually in the chamber in the Opposition viewing gallery. Below, Chancellor Philip Hammond trades blows with his opposite John McDonnell. Thangam questions the government on the difficulty of those given refugee status to be allowed to work; not only does she get an encouraging response but, determined to follow up, we find the Secretary afterwards who agrees to meet and discuss it with her at a future time.
Thangam explains most MPs specialise in certain areas; in her case she’s the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees. Hence our next stop, a meeting of refugee charities who she meets to give her support and arrange further meetings while I’m briefly mistaken for her secretary. Much of our perceptions of politicians are through the media but to actually experience it first-hand showed me how MPs work overtime on an endless range of causes.
Much of our perceptions of politicians are through the media but to actually experience it first-hand showed me how MPs work overtime on an endless range of causes.
In the Commons, Thangam votes for a debate on education policy before another debate begins on drugs policy. As this goes on I’m frequently stared at by Shadow Home Secretary Dianne Abbot.
Somehow finding time to grab a sandwich we dash to Thangam’s office where she manages to interview someone on another cause, review her upcoming speech and show me how many hundreds of emails she gets. I also discover she’s taking Arabic lessons to contribute to foreign politics in the Middle-East.
Back in the chamber Thangam gives her speech, arguing for drug misuse to be treated as a health rather than a criminal issue and for greater recognition of alcohol in drugs policy. I also saw several inspiring maiden speeches by new MPs on both sides and was struck by the praise given by members of rival parties.
We spent about six hours in the Chamber overall. Thangam finishes in the Opposition whips’ place on the front bench by the Speaker before showing me to the Opposition whips’ office and the headquarters of the Parliamentary Labour Party. Dianne Abbot stares at me again as we pass in the corridor.
By then it’s past 7pm, I have to go home and she still has work, we say our goodbyes and she gives me directions to Victoria station before we part on a joke about the trains running on time.
Thangam was a pleasure to spend the day with and did everything she could to help me. She’s devoted to Bristol and does everything she can to make the most of her position; we’re lucky to have an MP who takes such a committed approach to representing her constituents.
What do you think of our MP? Let us know.