Last week I was accosted by a public nuisance while having a drink with my wife and child. I must confess, I was not at my most diplomatic. In fact, I told him where to go in no uncertain terms. Not something I am overly proud of, but I am heartened by the number of people who contacted me saying they would have done the same. But the whole episode did get me thinking about when and how politicians are approached in public.
My wife and daughter came to see me at Westminster last week. We were looking forward to it. But I saw the permanent pro-EU protester and public nuisance Steve Bray yelling at MPs as they walked by. We walked further up the road to avoid him and had a drink in a local pub. Despite my best efforts, he noticed us. Regrettably, I demonstrated very little patience with his nonsense. But I did get plenty of offers of a second drink from fellow pubgoers!
Despite his unpleasantness, the vast majority of encounters with members of the public – particularly in Peterborough – are very positive. The man who came up to me to shake my hand in the Tap and Tandoor last Sunday, the young lad who asked for a selfie in the College Arms last Friday night, and the woman who raised a housing issue with me in the Co-op on Thorpe Road. I really enjoy these exchanges.
And I think it’s right to be open and accessible. I knock on doors week in week out asking people for their views. So I do think it is right people feel able to tell me what they think or ask me a question if they see me. I hold public surgeries in high-profile places to make it easier for people to speak with me. In Asda, local pubs, places of worship and cafes.
Most people are able to tell the difference between a selfie in the College Arms and a loud-mouthed yob yelling through a megaphone in Parliament Square. It’s a difference that is apparently lost on a small number of Labour Party activists active on my social media page, and demanding local journalists cover the incident with Steve Bray last week.
I really don’t mind when people come over to talk to me. The people of this city are kind, decent and sensible. I promised to be an accessible MP and Peterborough is my city too. This is my preferred style of politics, and I promise I won’t stop.