“Westminster is weird…and all I heard for months was ‘do Brexit’, ‘don’t Brexit’…”

Canterbury and Whitstable Labour MP Rosie Duffield

Rosie Duffield became something of a celebrity in the aftermath of her shock election victory last year. People would stop her in the street for a congratulatory chat while others requested selfie pictures.

“That’s actually died down, thank God,” says a relieved Rosie, “it really did get too much. I didn’t expect that and it actually really freaked me out.”

Rosie is talking to me in the Willows Secret Kitchen in Stour Street as we look back on the year since she was launched on to the Canterbury political stage – first as the Labour candidate for the 2017 election, then becoming the party’s first ever MP in the constituency.

Now that the initial euphoria of her supporters has died down, Rosie has settled into life as a hard-working MP for Canterbury and Whitstable.

She spends most of the working week in London and tries to make sure she has Sundays off.

The Houses of Parliament

But when they do come to her, what is it her constituents most want to talk about.

“Housing,” she replies. “We’ll take their details and try to sort their housing issues out for them if we can.

“It really is the number one issue for people coming to us with a problem. People say ‘I need somewhere to live’.

“Obviously, it’s Canterbury City Council which looks after that. But what we can do is harass them.

“And we have to do it every day. For one of my caseworkers, it really is her full-time job, from nine to five every day.

“It happens because so many people are desperate. In the office we all get properly involved with these people and we all get really upset. You want everyone to have somewhere decent to live, somewhere that’s warm and safe.”

For the first months of her time as MP, the political landscape was dominated by uncertainties over the UK’s departure from the European Union following the referendum of June 2016.

Charlotte Cornell, Rosie’s chief of staff, is with us in Willows and reveals that contact with the MP’s office was 60% about Brexit until December.

Charlotte Cornell, Rosie Duffield’s chief of staff

“That’s died down,” says Rosie, “but for months we just heard ‘don’t Brexit’ or ‘do Brexit’. It still comes up every now and again, though.”

And it is surely due to rise again in a big way with EU debates taking place in both Houses of Parliament. Rosie will be required to attend numerous Commons votes on the matter.

So how has this ordinary mother-of-two adapted herself to her new life since the June 8 election last year?

“Westminster is really weird. It’s really old fashioned. There are all these rules that it’s impossible to get your head round.

“They don’t make a lot sense. There’s all sorts of rules for when you’re in the chamber on when to stand up, when to sit down, what each Bill and each motion means.

“A lot of people are still learning that. There are people who have been there 20 or 30 years who are still trying to get their heads round it.

“Physically, the building is ridiculous. It’s huge and and you get lost all the time. We end up in some weird places. You  might suddenly look up and there’s a sign that reads ‘Prime Minister’ and you think ‘oh, gosh’.

“I actually found myself standing next to Theresa May once by accident but I’ve never actually spoken to her. What am I going to talk to her about – her shoes?

“It’s just a mad place. You don’t get much connection with the real world unless you just try to make sure you do.”

As we wrap up our conversation in Willows, Rosie suddenly realises she hasn’t paid for the drink and cake she had.

She rushes up to the counter whereupon the sole member of staff on duty makes a request: “Can I have a selfie?”

The MP obliges. Despite now being firmly established as the city’s MP, for some she still retains some of that star quality that did so much to ensure she was elected in the first place…

Click here for the first half of the interview.


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