Halifax vicar Hilary Barber shadowed Holly in her constituency office and wrote about his experiences with his local MP:
Day by day and Sunday by Sunday the worshipping community at Halifax Minster, together with numerous visitors, come to worship God and try to make sense of their lives. These are lives lived out in a vulnerable world, where the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer. God’s unconditional love is for everyone, and for the Church, it includes standing up for the poor and the oppressed, and speaking the truth to power. Time spent shadowing others and listening intently provides a narrative in which the church can offer back to God the concerns of the world, as well as to offer advocacy on behalf of communities. Holly Lynch is aged 31. She is the Labour Member of Parliament for Halifax and the Shadow Flooding and Coastal Communities Minister. She was first elected in 2015 with a majority of 428. With her sights, firmly set on the Conservatives taking Halifax, The Prime Minster, Theresa May, chose the town in which to launch her new Tory manifesto in the snap election of June, 2017.
However, Holly, in her first year of office, won over many of her constituency, with a number of Tories voting Labour for the first time, resulting in re-election with an increased majority of 5,376 (11%.) Holly had arrived back in her constituency at 1am while I was happily fast asleep. This was her first time back after two weeks, having seen through the first stage of her new Parliamentary Bill Protecting the Protectors, a bill designed to protect the emergency services as they go about their daily work, following an increase on personal attacks on the Police, Fire Service and Ambulance Crews.
I arrived in her Office for 10am to find her team already hard at work. Two clients were booked in to meet with case workers, and both were seeking help in navigating Universal Credit and Visa Applications with the Home Office. Both had a sense of helplessness and needed support with the appeals. It became apparent that the case workers need to be experts in immigration, benefit claims etc. as well as be skilled social workers as they attempt to provide real help to vulnerable constituents.
While I sat in on these interviews, Holly was the other end of the valley at Gorpley Reservoir, planting trees with Craig Whitaker, her Conservative neighbour MP, in her Front bench role, as part of a scheme to reduce flooding in the Calder Valley. She arrived just in time for her first case review; a client with a court summons relating to unpaid council tax on a number of properties that he owned, and a dispute with the local authority. By 1pm it was time to grab some lunch. Holly explained that she usually works a 12 hour day, travelling down to London on a Sunday afternoon, and returning to Halifax on a Thursday evening or Friday morning. Her office receives about 250 emails a day, divided between constituency work, front bench work, and the Labour party. Things had built up locally as she hadn’t been in the constituency office for two weeks, so her colleagues had piles of cases to discuss, letters to sign, and people to see. For Holly, it is her constituency work that is the most important, as she tries hard to improve people’s lives.
After lunch a group of well organised women from one particular street came to tell their story of a local property which they suspected was being used as a brothel and drugs shop, and from which a vulnerable woman roamed the street, clearly suffering from mental health issues. The women were frustrated that none of the statutory authorities seemed able to deal with the situation, and asked if Holly could bring some weight to move the situation on?
Now we were in the car, heading for a sheltered housing complex, where staff and residents had written to express their unhappiness concerning antisocial behaviour and drug dealing in their street and outside their homes. Here a group of older people expressed their anger and unhappiness about the lack of protection from the police, and the frustration of ringing 101 (the non-emergency number) and getting no support. Holly had been well briefed and arranged for a local police sergeant to join us, and to listen to their stories and their experiences. Back in the office, staff continued to deal with a range of issues: an elderly couple had been paying £30 per month on energy bills, and suddenly they were told it would be £130! They were unable to make sense of the bill they had been sent – and after investigation it was discovered that it was clearly a mistake on behalf of the energy company but the effect on the elderly couple had been distressing and frightening. Local schools had been struggling to cope with the Government’s funding formula, and as a result Holly had presented a petition with over 1,000 signatures to the Education Secretary, as she and others pilled pressure on the Government for an improved settlement. There was also an issue with a fisherman who had died at sea and the local RNLI there were raising concerns about the ability of the Coastguard, whose budget had been slashed over numerous years – and in her front bench role, Holly was being petitioned for support.
As I left Holly’s office at 5pm, she had two more client groups booked in, and her Constituency party AGM that evening. I’m grateful that Holly allowed me the chance to enter her world for a day, and for me to be able to reflect on what I have seen and heard. It was inspirational to see her and her team at work, dedicating their lives to making the world a better place in which to live, and providing empathy and advocacy to the people of Halifax. Members of Parliament have no statutory powers but by being available to her constituents, Holly and her team, make every effort to find solutions to difficult problems, and to support and improve the quality of life for many people. I now have much to pray about, and to reflect back to God the different people, situations, and places, that I have encountered today. It will take time to process.