New MP Catherine West reflects on her first month in Westminster
PUBLISHED: 11:21 10 June 2015 | UPDATED: 16:34 11 June 2015
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It is just over a month since Catherine West stormed to victory in Hornsey and Wood Green.
A hard-fought campaign with the full weight of the London Labour Party behind her saw the former Islington Council leader unseat Liberal Democrat Lynne Featherstone, and return a majority of more than 11,000 when results came in in the early hours of May 8, following a long and tense night of counting at Alexandra Palace.
The new job is Ms West’s second role in the iconic Houses of Parliament, as she previously worked in Westminster as a caseworker for Tottenham MP David Lammy.
But coming back as a member of the house is very different. She says: “I did work here for three and a half years, but now there is the weight of expectation, the high sense of responsibility.”
She has wasted no time in getting stuck into the job.
“The big thing is all the casework,” she says. “A lot of people in the constituency want to talk to their MP.
“There have been issues around housing, basic infrastructure problems, school places, the NHS, housing association issues, a little bit of child protection stuff, family law matters – if you add it all up it is quite a lot of problem solving to begin with.”
Although there were a few logistical delays, Ms West says her Parliamentary office is now mostly up and running.
“Getting an office, a phone and an email address takes longer than you would ever imagine, but I suppose they have 650 new people to sort out,” she says. “I’m still looking for a caseworker, and I’m encouraging people with community languages to apply. There are 180 languages spoken in Wood Green and it would be good to have that reflected in my staff.”
The new MP is due to give her maiden speech this week, which she says will centre around the issue of low pay.
“I wanted to build on work that I’d done in Islington on the living wage,” she says. “I didn’t invent this idea – it’s a movement by Londoners.”
She has also taken up a role as the secretary of the All Party Paliamentary Group for London, through which she will be championing three main issues – housing; encouraging health and social care providers to work more closely together; and jobs and skills, with a view to increasing employment opportunities for young people.
But Ms West says one of the main things occupying the minds of Labour members old and new is the party’s leadership race, with candidates for chief and deputy seeking nominations from MPs.
“For the Labour Party nationally there are big questions to answer, what is our mission? What are we here for?” she says.
“I’ve spent quite a lot of time listening to debates, talking to members about where we go from here.
“It was a very disappointing election for Labour nationally. We don’t want to rush into choosing a leader without thinking what the brief is that we give that leader.”