Special report: MP Tulip Siddiq reflects on first six months in Parliament
- Credit: Nigel Sutton
It has been six months since Labour’s Tulip Siddiq won the seat of Hampstead and Kilburn vacated by celebrated incumbent Glenda Jackson with an increased majority in the three-way marginal.
As if having to get to grips with Parliamentary and constituency work isn’t quite challenging enough, Ms Siddiq is expecting her first child, a girl, in April next year.
She says she is in touch with her famous predecessor occasionally, but stresses that she is her own woman, with a modern approach to serving her constituents – which involves keeping her Twitter followers updated regularly.
“Glenda is an amazing woman and a real role model, but my style of politics is very different to hers. For a start, I’m 50 years younger, and you can’t be a politician any more and not engage with social media. Even Dennis Skinner is on Twitter now. I don’t think you can stick to the old-fashioned way of doing politics. This is really my home and I don’t know if it was ever Glenda’s home, and I want to be a really accessible MP.”
The West Hampstead resident was commended for her maiden speech in Parliament, when she spoke passionately about her constituency.
She said: “The history in terms of arts, culture and politics is incredible. There is a real sense of social justice here.”
Like all London MPs, housing is the issue she hears about time and again in her surgeries.
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“I see so many constituents who have overcrowding or damp in their houses. We don’t have proper policies around housing, and there is this eradicating of people who can’t afford to live here, while we have these overseas buyers who can buy properties without a mortgage. It doesn’t create a sense of community and it is pushing out real Camdeners who have grown up here.”
She is also keen to correct misconceptions about the wealth gap between Hampstead and Kilburn.
“There are different challenges within the different communities, but I think people are wrong when they think Hampstead is all wealthy and Kilburn is not. There are pockets of deprivation and of wealth everywhere.
“A lot of the casework I get is from Hampstead because we do still have mixed communities, but that will go soon because of the government’s housing policies.”
Ms Siddiq says she has never felt more conscious of the responsibility that comes with office than when she voted against military action in Syria last week.
“It’s not just the people who voted for you who you represent, it’s all 80,000 people in the constituency. I received 1400 emails just on the Syria vote, and most were against, although some were in favour.
“I wasn’t disputing that we need to get rid of Isis, but I didn’t feel that this was the right way to achieve that. I looked at the evidence from the Select Committee and they didn’t think Cameron had a case, which was quite worrying.
“There was no exit plan. You can’t go into a country, take action and have no thought about what should happen in the future.”
She says it was quite right that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn allowed his MPs a free vote.
“It would be ridiculous to come back to your constituents and say ‘I voted for war because I was whipped to do so’. This transcends party politics in my opinion and you should vote with your conscience.”
As to the Corbyn question, Ms Siddiq was one of the MPs who nominated the left-winger to widen the debate without actually backing him for leadership, something she has never publicly expressed regret over.
She said: “If a quarter of a million people thought Jeremy Corbyn was the right person to be their leader, then who am I to argue with that?
“He got the biggest mandate of any leader that we’ve ever had. I don’t agree with everything he says, but then I didn’t agree with everything that Ed Miliband said either.”
She said last week’s result in the Oldham by-election suggests that things might not be going quite as badly for the Corbyn leadership as most media coverage would suggest.
“It’s remarkable that Labour increased its share of the vote there. So that might have slightly changed things for Jeremy.”
While she is naturally excited about her forthcoming child, Ms Siddiq is hoping she won’t be off work for long.
“I asked HR in Parliament what the policy was around maternity, and they didn’t have a clear answer, because apparently there isn’t one. So I don’t think I can take much time away, but I’d like to take a little bit of time. I’m hoping to keep my surgeries going.
“There is a problem with Parliament and democracy because there is no such thing as proxy voting or e-voting. There should be a system where you can vote without being there in person, because it’s very family unfriendly.”
She adds that although things are improving for women in Parliament, there is still some way to go.
“It took a Conservative speaker to create a nursery in 2010. We have seven restaurants and three bars, you can get your hair cut and coloured and play pool, but there was no nursery until then. Now, you can put your baby in there from three months and the hours are in line with the voting patterns.”
It bodes well that Ms Siddiq says she can manage without much sleep, and is now feeling well after suffering from nausea for the first three months of pregnancy. She is keen to praise the care she has received so far at the Royal Free hospital.
“The doctors have been amazing, very reassuring. I had some complications early on and they were so good. I’ve been told you can’t really predict how it will go, so I’m not planning too much for the birth, but I expect I’ll probably want the drugs!”
She resists the label of superwoman, instead acknowledging that others help her to do her job to the best of her ability.
“I have a great team around me in my office. I have a very helpful mum, sister and husband. I don’t know how people manage without a support network around them, so I’m very lucky in that respect.”