With apologies to the nineteenth century agrarian pamphleteer and parliamentarian, William Cobbett I spent a week touring 32 villages of the South West Wiltshire constituency on what I call my ‘Rural Rides’. I’m in the towns all the time but it’s important to be present in the smaller communities as well picking up local issues and casework.
From Tollard Royal in the south to Bulkington in the north, I set up in village halls mostly - I have so many of these great buildings in my constituency I thought I’d write a book about them when I have time dedicated perhaps to Cobbett – but also churches and pubs. I’m so grateful to my hosts, the parish councils and residents who turned out to speak with me. I collected a lot of work and am still ploughing through it.
The biggest issue was roads – heavy traffic topping the bill. Everyone knows I can’t magic it away but I can make the issue more prominent with those who may be able to help. That’s how MPs work, and even sometimes change things, using whatever tools we have – meetings in high places, phone calls, tub-thumping, letters and, whisper it, the media.
The environment came up a lot – Cobbett would be pleased. Interestingly, verges and traffic islands have become a bit of a tussle with some bemoaning the unkept look currently favoured by the council under the cost-saving cover of rewilding and some urging even more emphasis on wildflowers and sanctuary for insects at the edges of roads. There’s nothing more lovely than a show of native wildflowers - and there seem more than I recall from my childhood - but all too soon it goes over and becomes a mess. How’s that for sitting on the fence?
I’m certainly not fence sitting on the prospect of an incinerator at Westbury, a horror that of course came up a lot in villages close to the town. On Tuesday I spoke with planning Secretary Robert Jenrick urging a moratorium on these old style carbon-belching monsters pending a rethink on so-called energy from waste, not least as there is national incinerator overcapacity. What madness to permit more of these things in the very year that the UK proudly hosts COP26. If we facilitate dirty old incinerators how can we persuade developing economies to do what’s necessary to contain global warming or, indeed, persuade householders that they must pay megabucks to stop burning oil and gas?
Among national issues, to my surprise, assisted dying came up a lot, that is to say pro assisted dying. Politicians have a reputation for being slippery but I do try to be up front when I respectfully disagree with voters, especially on matters of conscience like this. I would not support amending the law on assisted dying to make it easier. I fear where it might ultimately lead – societal pressure on vulnerable people to be complicit in their own demise. Personally, that makes me uncomfortable and, whilst I do appreciate there are heart rending cases that are inadequately helped by palliation, I prefer to put my trust in improving end of life care.