We recently had the pleasure of welcoming the Rt Hon Oliver Dowden CBE MP to Edge Grove for a meeting with our Pupil Council representatives. Pupil Council representatives from across the school met with Mr Dowden to ask him a wide variety of questions. Many thanks to Mrs Warren and the Council for all of the thought that went into this great opportunity to host our local MP. You can read the transcript from his visit below:
Why did you agree to come and talk to us today?
The short answer is because you invited me! I am your MP for this area, and I represent you, and your families in parliament. You are all members of the Edge Grove Pupil Council, and you speak for your forms; my job is just like yours! Whereas you sit here around this big table, I sit in Parliament on the green benches, and I speak for Radlett and Hertsmere, Borehamwood, Elstree, Shenley and Potters Bar. I am the representative for all those areas. They are my constituents.
Could you tell us a little bit about why you love your job?
You are assuming I love my job! Some days I like it and some days I don’t! I like meeting and helping people. A lot of people come to me with their problems; maybe they need help with their passport, or need help with finding somewhere to live. It could be to do with the health service or schools – I try and help, and be helpful. I am serving the people I represent.
What qualifications do you need to become an MP?
Simple answer – none at all! The role of an MP is to represent people. The first thing to do is decide which ‘party’ you would like to join. These are like teams. We have a Blue Team = Conservative, a Red team = Labour, a Yellow team = the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party. Each ‘team’ needs to choose a ‘captain’. Before I became an MP, I knocked on lots of doors and made leaflets. My job was to explain what I would do as an MP. Have any of you been with your parents to vote? You need to go to the polling booth in the local village hall, and put a cross next to who you want to be your MP. Late at night all the boxes are taken to Borehamwood. All the votes are tipped out and put in piles. Then they have to be coined up! That’s how you become an MP. 1. Be good at listening. 2. Be able to speak and make good arguments. 3. Be hardworking.
Where did you go to school, and what are your favourite memories?
Parmiter’s School – just down the road from here. My favourite memories? I loved acting! I was lucky and played lots of different parts in the school plays. My favourite play and role? ‘Happy as a Sandbag’. I played a General in it which I loved!
Outside the workplace, what is your passion?
Walking my dog! I have a big, hairy dog called Betsy, an English setter. I love to be out walking with my family. I was up VERY early this morning and she (the dog) got very muddy and very wet.
What are your coping strategies when you are having a bad day, and don’t feel up for the job?
This is an excellent question! (I will try and not look at Bethan as she works in my office). If people don’t do what I have asked them to do I try not to get angry or annoyed. I just try to explain, and see what went wrong. Also, exercise is always a good thing. I leave at 6.30am and don’t get home at 10pm. When I don’t get exercise, I always walk between meetings so I can get lots of fresh air.
What would you be today if you were not working as an MP?
I would probably be a lawyer. When I finished school I went to Cambridge University and studied law. I then moved to a big law firm in London called Linklaters. It was after this that I went into politics. You can make more a lot more money being a lawyer than an MP!
Do you think that it is better for the planet if we were all vegetarian?
This is an interesting one! My two children – who are probably older than you – are vegetarians. I am the only meat eater in my house. They say it is a lot better for the environment. However, as they are vegetarians, I eat a lot of vegetables. Eating less meat is definitely a good idea.
What relationship do you have with the Prime Minister?
The Prime Minister is a good friend of mine. Before I was an MP, I worked for David Cameron and he said to me: ‘there is someone I would like you to meet. I think he would be good as an MP’. so, our families got to know each other. Locally, four people got through to the final round of the voting – one of them was Rishi Sunak. Interestingly, if he had not been voted in, Rishi Sunak would be your MP! Afterwards, I said to Rishi, “If you want to be Prime Minister, I will support you”. I assisted him as Chairman of his campaign, and we ran his campaign for him. The second time around he won, and became Prime Minister!
What do you do to support citizens who are struggling with inflation and the current cost of living crisis?
This is a very good question. Many people are very worried about the cost of living, and the reasons for this are very complicated. Due to the war in Ukraine, the price of oil and gas has been pushed up. And, as we use a lot of oil and gas, everything gets more and more expensive. What we need is for costs to fall, and then prices won’t rise so much. In the meantime, we (the Government) are helping out with the costs of heating people’s homes.
What would you say are the major challenges and difficulties that you face as an MP?
- I don’t get to see as much of my family as I would want to. This is because I am a cabinet minister too. My 11 year old son is always telling me off!
- Sadly, people can be very rude to you as an MP – especially as an MP on Twitter and Facebook. I ignore it, although some of my colleagues do struggle with that. Even worse, you can be threatened with violence.
What are you doing to protect the Green Belt?
Look out the window – the green belt is the reason the fields are not covered in offices and buildings! When I was your age, I used to walk through those fields, and I used to walk to my Uncle and Aunt’s who live in Radlett. Another problem is that it is a very expensive area around here – so it is important that we build more houses.
What have you done to help Hertsmere?
There are many things that I am pleased I have managed to succeed in. Have you heard of the Oyster card? This is what you use, or credit card, to tap in and out at the train station. I led a campaign to have this technology installed at the ticket barriers. I have also supported local schools with finding funding. I have also helped individual people with their issues. I know this as I have been approached by people in the street who have personally thanked me for finding them a home to live in.
Do you agree with the Mayor of London’s proposal to extend the Ultra Low Emission zone?
No I don’t! I think it is a bad idea! Particularly around here where the boundary is only 3 or 4 miles. It will cost drivers £15.00. This will damage businesses who are on the edge of London. It will also make it harder to get to certain hospitals. I think that the main reason for it is to raise more money in taxes.
In geography, we are exploring the pros and cons of HS2. Why is the government funding £108 billion towards HS2 rather than tackling other crises?
The answer to this is that it’s not either/or. The reason for the idea behind HS2 is that, currently, travelling from London to Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow means travelling in trains which are very overcrowded. We need to build another railway to help cope with this problem. We have not built a railway line for 100 years. Your children or grandchildren will use it! Sometimes it is important to spend, when the benefit will last for a very long time to come.
Suella Braverman’s new Illegal Migration Bill has been criticised by Human Rights campaigners. What are your thoughts?
This has been a very difficult decision. At the moment we have a serious problem. Compared to 5 or 6 years ago, hardly anyone came into the UK crossing by boat across the channel. Last year 45,000 travelled by boat. This year it has been 60,000 already. It is such a dangerous thing to do. People smugglers exploit people who want to come to England and charge them huge amounts of money and people end up dying. This does not mean we should not allow people to come to this country. Think of people coming from countries like Afghanistan, Ukraine, or Hong Kong – we have allowed all those people to come to this country in a safe way. What we are saying is, if you come on a boat, you cannot stay. It is possible to claim asylum in France or Germany or where you have come from, or Rwanda. This has been a very difficult decision. Parliament will debate this. We will of course have different views, so we have to vote, and vote and vote.
Do you think that the Government is acting swiftly enough to tackle the current issue of workforce strikes, and are you concerned?
I am very concerned about the strikes and I wish that people would not go on strike. What we have tried to do is negotiate with those on strike. Right now a Health Minister is sitting around a table with nurses and ambulance drivers. I hope we will be successful with that. And I hope we will be successful with teachers. We have done it with fire fighters.
Recently, we hosted a Careers Fair, and, as someone who is very interested in current affairs and politics, I was wondering if you please had any advice for my peers and me regarding the best career decision that you’ve made, and the path you took to reach the successes of where you are today?
The best decision I made was to quit being a lawyer! I got on the train and thought I would rather be anywhere than in that office! If you have an interesting and worthwhile job, it is really worth doing the work now and doing your studies. A good school and a good university gives you lots of choices. I was lucky to have the opportunity to do something else with my life.
What is your favourite colour?
How did you feel when Queen Elizabeth passed away?
I was very sad. The Queen’s Mother was 101 when she died – we thought we would have a few more years with Queen Elizabeth.
Why do you get paid less being an MP rather than a lawyer?
I am paid through taxes – and that pays for my salary, just like nurses; it is right that if your salary is being paid via taxes, the salary should be lower.
Do you have any ideas for how we can celebrate the King’s Coronation at Edge Grove?
One of my jobs is to help prepare for the Coronation. I met with the King yesterday. The King is very keen for lots of celebrations. Why don’t you hold a special day? This will be the first coronation for over 70 years!
What is your favourite car?
I drive a Golf, but I would like a nice, big Land Rover.
What subjects did you like at school?
History, maths and economics.
What are your favourite sports?
I am not very good at playing sports, but I like watching cricket. My son is an Arsenal fan.