“I have the best job in the world but I don’t take anything for granted. I know I could be voted out in the next election and I would have to roll with it.”
These were the words of North Swindon MP Justin Tomlinson during a day showing the Adver around the House of Commons.
During term-time Justin spends Mondays to Thursdays sharing a flat with another MP close to parliament. He was part of an intake of 220 new MPs brought in after the 2010 general election – the biggest set of arrivals since the Second World War.
He said it felt a lot like a university’s Freshers week – everyone was quite unsure about what was happening but eager to make friends and wanting to quickly get their feet under the table.
His office is a few blocks down from the main chamber. Apparently the further away you get, the bigger the size of the room becomes. Distance is important though as throughout any given day an alarm rings ad hoc, alerting MPs to the fact that a vote is about to take place and they have only eight minutes to make it to the main chamber.
The party whip stands at the door to tactfully remind people how they should be voting on the bills. There are two lobbying rooms where people vote – a separate one for yes and no. Doors slam shut on the eighth minute and Justin said it is not unusual to see late MPs running into the closed doors.
While they are in the voting parlour, it is a good moment to grab ministers to discuss more funding or further support for projects, opportunities that Justin claims he maximises.
When he is not voting, Justin has a long list of emails from constituents who want his help for anything from getting their drains unblocked to more serious matters such as child protection and everything in between.
“I like to look over each email myself,” said Justin. “It helps me to know what’s going on and often there are issues that, because I was a councillor for nearly 10 years before I got elected, I can resolve really quickly.”
Justin is a member on the Public Accounts Committee, which is chaired by Margaret Hodge, and he has a 100 per cent attendance record.
“When you watch the committee you have no idea who is Labour or Conservative – we all get on really well,” said Justin.
On Fridays, when parliament is out, Justin returns to Swindon to meet the people he represents. He is often invited to a number of events from sushi bar openings to football matches at primary schools.
“I try to leave Sundays free so I can see my wife Jo,” said Justin, who married Jo at the House of Commons.
“I still get excited every time I walk around (Westminster),” Justin added.
“I don’t take it for granted at all. I love my job.”