Staying in touch with the voters - MP for Peterborough Fiona Onasanya

Fiona Onasanya column
Fiona Onasanya column
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It’s not possible in the context of these articles to report about each and every individual that I meet.

However, every time I receive an email or my staff receives a phone call or I attend a community event which a local hall can barely contain, I’m glad: participation is a sign of engagement.

It shows people still desire and hope to fix problems and improve their lives.

Having said this, I’m still concerned. I believe that trends around the world suggest that this hope is under increasing strain. I can’t help but cast my eyes across the Atlantic and see how the American system can’t seem to respond appropriately to mass shooting incidents, due to the influence of campaign cash from the National Rifle Association. Here in the UK, I’m concerned about a growing gap between the aspirations of most people and what the system delivers.

Going constantly backwards and forwards between London and Peterborough is a study in contrasts: statistics merely confirm the evidence of one’s eyes, that London is the economic centre of the country. A Peterborian with ambition often feels they have to board the train to venture out of the city in order to further their career. I recently saw a map in a newspaper that indicated that there are people who commute to London from as far away as Middlesborough.

Political power is similarly concentrated: there is often talk about “the Westminster Bubble”. While most MPs of my acquaintance do their level best to get back to their constituencies as often as possible, it’s certainly true that Parliament is a world apart. Its ancient traditions, its watering holes, its surrounding media culture seem much further from Peterborough than just 75 miles. Being in government apparently only widens this gap: what else could explain some of the messaging that we have seen, for example, suggesting that the Health Service is coping with current pressures when it clearly is not? When there is a distance between what politicians say and what people experience, democratic deficits grow; this is as much a local phenomenon as well as a national one. Last year, I had the experience of meeting a group of young people during the General Election: they told me they had voted for the first time; I was grateful that I had won their support. Later in the year, I met a young couple on the campaign trail during a local by-election, and they told me they had lost faith in local politics’ ability to change their community for the better.

There is no set formula to create engagement: in my experience, it involves meeting with as many of you as I can and my colleagues in the local party doing the same. It means not only hearing but also listening and delivering. It also implies remaining conscious that democratic deficits are the most difficult to repair.