Sunday - Off to Birmingham for Party Conference – it’s going to be a busy few days. I spend Sunday afternoon listening to speeches from the Defence Secretary, International Development Secretary and the Foreign Secretary. I speak in a panel discussion led by Girl Guiding UK on safety and security of young women, updating them on the investigation MPs have done into sexual harassment in public places. I drop into an event for Essex delegates and another for East of England attendees before hosting a networking session for those interested in Science and Technology, where I give an overview of all the work the select committee has done this year. We brainstorm some ideas to focus on next year. I see my friend Ruth Davidson who is signing copies of her new book. She promises to come and visit us in Chelmsford next year.
Monday and Tuesday - So super busy I can’t even begin to describe everything. Conference is chance to catch up with many different organisations including charities, think tanks, businesses and representatives from other countries and my diary is booked back to back.
Design Council Panel: l to r, Andrea Leadsom MP, Frances O Grady, Sarah Weir, Caroline Fairbairn, Vicky Ford MP
I meet with experts on heath, mental health, housing and homelessness and the environment including Cancer Research UK, British Heart Foundation, Scope, Tearfund, Diabetes UK, Mind, St Mungo’s and Guide Dogs for the Blind.
I talk with bosses from the TUC, CBI, the Design Council, Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, Tech UK and the Institute of Directors. We discuss opportunities, jobs, skills and risks. I’m invited to speak on panel events on tech and the digital revolution, the roll of science and research, cleaning up ocean plastics and of course what next for Brexit. I get quizzed by Sky News, the BBC and ITV.
Conference is always buzzing with ideas. Sometimes big plans, sometimes little ideas that can make a big difference.
One example was an early breakfast meeting I hosted with the British Heart Foundation and Google. It was also attended by representatives of the pharmacy sector. The heart experts explained that having a defibrillator nearby saves lives. There are 100,000 of these machines in the UK but the 999 call operators don't know the location of 70,000. The tech experts explained they are doing a mapping exercise to locate the defibrillators and automatically enable the 999 call operators to identify the nearest one to the patient. The pharmacy experts then volunteered that if there were gaps in the network they would ask pharmacies to host another machine. All the different groups left the breakfast chatting away about how to make this all work.
Everyone’s conference is difference as there is so much going on. It’s good to catch up over a cuppa with the group who have come from Chelmsford. Four of them are conference first timers. The students tell me how pleased they are about announcements to help unlock more housing. After an incredibly busy couple of days I collapse into my AirBnB wishing the water in the shower was hot. It is gone midnight when I get to bed.
Wednesday - Up at 3.30 am. I’ve agreed to go back to find out what politicians from other countries are thinking about the state of play of Brexit negotiations. No direct flights so I go to Brussels and then Strasbourg. By the time Theresa May starts her conference speech I am in the European Parliament building watching her on telly whilst the MEPs vote new laws on reducing car emissions (great speech and love the ABBA). I meet politicians from Ireland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Poland. The negotiations are tricky but I believe it is so important to try to keep talking, as “no deal” would also bring many challenges. I explain why it is so important to find a deal that works for all of the UK. It’s a long day but I’m encouraged by the number of politicians who want to help find an agreement.
Thursday - Back to UK, Ryanair via Stansted this time.
Back in time to join a special event, our excellent Senior Coroner for Essex, Caroline Beasley-Murray is taking on the role of the President of the Coroners Society for England and Wales for the next year. Being a Coroner is an extraordinarily difficult job, they look at the most difficult of deaths and are faced with very challenging decisions. Friends, colleagues and many local leaders join with our Coroner to wish her well for the year ahead. It’s a very proud moment for Essex.
I hop on the train to London and join the Lord Mayor’s office for their annual dinner to discuss policy for financial services. The Government minister gives a speech. It’s a serious time as it is clear there will be big changes ahead. It’s also very important for Chelmsford as so many local people are employed in the sector. I am very honored to be the only back bench MP invited.
Friday - After Birmingham, Brussels, Strasbourg and London I am looking forward to a gentle day. Catch up with the team in Chelmsford and before going to a lovely coffee morning support group for people with epilepsy. It is such a difficult condition to live with. For so many people fits can happen so unexpectedly. We talk about how to help with some of the challenges and I leave with a long to do list.
I then drive up the M11 to Cambridge to the BBC studios. We are doing a pre-record for their Sunday politics show and I’m interviewed on waste management and recycling, local council spending and housing. Did you know that last year more homes were built in the UK than any other year for the past 30 year, bar one? Wow.