Housing. Brexit. The Economy. Three topics discussed and debated in The Speaker’s exclusive interview with Chloe Smith, MP for Norwich North and recently appointed Minister for the Constitution.
For any reader who may not know Chloe, she was appointed in 2009, as youngest MP at the time. Since then, she has held a variety of roles in government including being Economic Secretary to the Treasury and Minister for Constitutional and Political Reform
Questions started off kindly, discussing life as an MP, and how young people can get involved in politics, but soon progressed into tougher, more complex topics such as austerity, public services and social housing. Here’s what we found out –
What is the best part of your job?
Chloe explained that it is the ability to help others that she enjoys the most, but she also loves the fact that no two days are the same, and every day provides different challenges and tasks.
What does an average day of an MP look like?
Time is pretty evenly split between working in the constituency with local people and being in Parliament at Westminster. Her time in her constituency involves meeting constituents, visiting local businesses as well as a whole lot more, whereas her time is Westminster includes taking part in debates in the House of Commons and sitting in front of select committees.
What got you interested in politics?
A surprise to many, Chloe did not ‘study’ politics, but actually studied English Literature! This didn’t stop her getting involved, however, as she started her career in politics with a very hands-on approach; when she was young she lived in rural Norfolk and was fed up with the bad public transport. She told us that “instead of letting someone else do it”, she decided she wanted to do something about it herself. She decided to contact her local MP, Gillian Shephard who helped her set up a youth committee in Norfolk, before the days of youth parliament and this group helped to make a real difference. Chloe emphasised how important the practical side of politics is, saying – “keep it practical”.
How do you think the Conservative party has progressed since you became an MP in 2009?
Progress towards more equality in Parliament. Chloe explained how when she first joined Parliament, she discovered there was a big age gap between her and many others. Now she explained there are more and more young MPs, something she put down to instrumental work by David Cameron, who was also very influential in getting more women into Parliament.
Why are you Conservative?
Chloe actually created her own question during the interview when she said, ‘I’m sure you probably want to know why I am a Conservative?’ She continued by explaining, ‘ I believe in people, and people being able to make their own good decisions – they do not need someone to tell them what to do”. The Conservative Party “believe in individuals.”
With the basic introduction covered, we began to focus on our first topic area; the Economy.
With a lengthy period of austerity beginning to wear thin, do you think we’ll begin to see an increase in public service spending again?
The Government has a responsibility to ‘balance the books.’ Chloe stated that it is “simply unfair” to leave debt for future generations who didn’t cause it. She also told us that the Government have managed to balance the current budget (our tax revenue is now equal to the amount we are spending) but admitted that there is more still more to go regarding the debt, saying there are “more zeros than you would care to count”.
How can we encourage young people to get involved in public services jobs?
Chloe did not seem concerned by this issue, due to the recent reversal in wages in NHS. She told us that some workers have had an increase of almost 30% although most have been given a 6% pay rise over 3 years (2% a year). However, she did not mention teachers who have suffered a 15% real wage cut since 2010 when the Conservative came to power.
Unemployment locally is fairly low, how do you aim to maintain the low numbers?
To ensure jobs can be created, the Government must maintain a strong economy. Chloe informed us that the unemployment rate is the lowest in 40 years and there is a job for everyone who wants one. However, she did tell is that she aims to increase youth employment and she has been proactive in doing so through the launching of a new scheme called ‘Norwich for Jobs’.
We then moved onto to a very topical (and often controversial) subject: Brexit.
You wanted to remain in the EU, but your constituency voted leave. How do you ensure you still successfully engage with your constituency members on issues regarding Brexit?
Chloe believed that her individual view on Brexit was as good as everyone else. She went on to say she thinks it’s “sad and disappointing” that certain individuals believe others are “stupid” to vote the way that they did. She thinks that we must follow the Government and the decisions that they make and that in democracy differing views are essential and success will be achieved by working together and ensuring local sectors stay strong.
There has been a lot of talk about how Brexit will particularly affect young people, do you think this has further raised the issue of lowering the voting age for elections and referendums – a topic you have been outspoken on before?
Despite 75% of people aged 18-24 voted to remain in the EuropeanUnion, Chloe did not believe that lowering the vote would have swung the result. The Brexit result was not “down to age”. She went on to say that perhaps the topic will be debated in parliament, but there won’t be any change, as the issue wasn’t mentioned in the 2017 Conservative manifesto and this was the manifesto that people voted for.
Onto our final discussion point of the interview: Housing
Current Labour MPs have promised social housing, what are the Conservatives offering on this issue?
Chloe strongly stated that the Conservatives have built more social housing than any other Labour government and are planning on continuing to build “a huge amount of housing”, which she thinks is vitally important.
With the recent housing crisis/boom in prices, what are your top tips for young people trying to get on the housing ladder?
She stated that we need to build more houses to be able to lower the prices, a basic principle of supply and demand. She believes that there should be a mixture of private and government funded housing and the private sector has to be given incentive to build homes.
Chloe concluding our interview by saying that ‘political parties are made up of people, and they are not something to be afraid of’. She hopes that she can connect with her constituents via surgeries which are ‘convenient’, as well as being active on social media.
Thank-you to Chloe for offering to help us out, and agreeing to meet for an interview.
Article compiled by George Bowman & Emily Oxbury