Ruth Cadbury is the MP for Brentford and Isleworth constituency, which also covers all of Chiswick. She has been the area’s MP for just over six years, having been elected on 7 May 2015.
In an interview with Matt Smith for The Chiswick Calendar, Ruth reflected on the changes the community has faced over the last six years as well as ongoing challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic and the cladding scandal which are facing her constituents today.
Ruth Cadbury MP’s interview with The Chiswick Calendar
How would you you say your constituency has changed in the last six years?
“I think conditions for many people in the constituency have changed in two big ways. One I think is obvious to everybody, COVID has had an incredible impact. So many people I serve are dependent on aviation, hospitality and arts & culture jobs and many people have been affected in a devastating way.
“COVID has disproportionately affected people are low-paid with zero-hours contracts who live in and around Hounslow, and or work at Heathrow. The baggage handlers, the catering workers and particularly those who work in the supply chain who don’t work for the big employers.
“These are people who are already the working poor, who have high rent and are reliant on Universal Credit top ups already. Now they will have had to rely on Universal Credit entirely, because most, if not all, would not have been eligible for furlough.
“We’ve also got high-earners who have ended up on Universal Credit, unless there is another earner in their household then they’re not even eligible for Universal Credit. The impact on people who have been professional, high-earners means that peoples homes are at risk and there’s the risk of family break up which is just devastating as well.
“The second big group of people who’s life has changed over the last two to three years, are those living in relatively new blocks of flats built with flammable cladding. Whether they’re tenants and living in a risk of fire, or whether they’re leaseholders living with threat of fire and risk of bankruptcy and resulting severe financial hardship.”
What is your opinion of the planned closure of Chiswick’s Barclay’s bank?
“Barclays is about to close in Brentford as well, and it’s the last bank in Brentford. So we’re going to lose Barclays and Santander in Chiswick, as well as the last bank in Brentford, I think it’s a real worry. Although more and more of us are going cashless, there are still older people who often use cash and businesses who rely on cash, or their customers rely on cash.
“There’s a lot of businesses who will be put out and the security and safety risk of staff members having to walk further or go on public transport carrying cash because the nearest bank they’ve been using is closed is a real worry.”
In what ways would you say you’ve been an effective representative?
“Sometimes I wonder, particularly being in opposition, how much I can do. But when I get acknowledgement by email or on social media, people say they feel I am making a difference even if it is just to a specific issue in their lives that I can help with in my capacity as an MP, such as raising issues with ministers or speaking to government departments.
“The other week I helped raise an issue in the commons about brain tumour research for a constituent and that’s when I’m not just helping one family I’m helping families across the UK, so that’s when I feel like I’m making a difference.”
Is there anything that has taken you by surprise being an MP? Has the job lived up to your expectations?
“I knew it would be hard work because I was a councillor for many years. I worked and was friends with MPs for 20 years prior so I knew it would be hard work. It’s hugely rewarding, although being in opposition is hugely frustrating.
“I didn’t realise how awed I would be by the Palace of Westminster, it is a really special place to be in and its grandeur, its history, does add to the feeling that I’m hugely privileged and honoured to be there representing my constituents. I can’t wait to be able to show people around again, children and community organisations or constituents who have managed to get a ticket for Prime Minister’s Questions.
“It will cost billions to get it repaired and fit for purpose, because it’s not. It’s dangerous and falling apart. But I think it’s worth it because of what it stands for. It’s not about making it a comfortable workplace for people like me, it’s about it being made safe and suitable for the generations to come.”
How has the pandemic affected your ability to represent you constituents?
“My team have not physically been in the same room together since the first lockdown last year. So we’re responding to the casework and doing surgeries online, having meetings online and all of that sort of thing.
“Until recently I’ve been speaking remotely, but now I’m vaccinated and, being a London MP, I feel safe on the transport so I generally go to the chamber to speak. I have flexibility that colleagues who live a long way from London don’t have, so they have to make a decision to stay up in their constituencies and speak remotely.”
Do MPs physically present in the House of Commons get prioritised?
“No, they changed the system. So in normal times, pre-COVID, you have to be in the chamber to speak and you have to catch the Speaker’s eye which meant unless you’re the front bench spokesperson you have to keep bobbing up and down, it’s very good for the thigh muscles! Unless you’re on the order paper for Ministerial Questions, then you have to keep bobbing.
“Now that all had to stop because there was no way to have an equal system whilst having absolute minimum numbers down in the chamber… So now in order to ensure equality you can only speak if you’re on the call list. If you’re not on it then that means there’s no point coming whether that’s virtual or physically.”
Would you say you’ve had more chances to speak since COVID or less?
“Actually less. Because you can speak remotely it means that lots of people enter the ballot and try to get called. Even if you’re not in the chamber, but you are drawn, you know you will be able to ask your question or make your speech and it goes in Hansard.
“The key issue is, in one sense, having spoken on the record in Hansard is an important proof of what you’ve done and what you’ve said. People track that and I can use it when I’m trying to research what other MPs have said, particularly what ministers have said.
“In the old days, on Thursdays, it was quite easy to get in to speak because most MPs want to get back to their constituencies on Thursdays, but that’s no longer the case.”
Sticking with COVID, how do you feel about the fact that 110 direct flights from India have landed in the UK on the last three and half weeks, since it’s been placed on the red list for travel?
“I think it is very worrying. Our area, Heathrow is just to the west of us and we have the Piccadilly Line coming from Heathrow too. Though, it’s not so much that 110 flights have come in, rather it’s once they arrive at Heathrow there’s no proper separation.
“One suggestion has been to reopen one of the mothballed terminals to make sure flights coming from countries on the red list were going to a different terminal. I’m really concerned about what I’m hearing and seeing on social media and what staff from Heathrow are telling us.
“Overcrowded, badly ventilated arrival halls, little separation between red, amber and green arrivals. Border Force should be maxing out their staff to get people through the gates quickly and I heard they had something like six gates open? It’s ludicrous.
“Then there’s the quarantine issue in the hotels which are poorly managed and not fit for purpose. I’m not averse to fairly strict border controls so we can live more freely within out country in the same way people have in New Zealand and Australia. You can’t have it both ways.
“Even though we’re one of the countries with one of the highest levels of vaccination, we’re still learning a lot about Long COVID amongst adults as well as children. People can be asymptomatic and then have quite severe post-infection symptoms which affect their ability to work and ability to study. What’s going on now at Heathrow is just yet another example of the disorganisation and lack of ability to make clear decisions and stick to them by this Government.
On that point, considering the way the Government have handled the pandemic, why hasn’t Labour been able to capitalise on this? Why do you think Labour have done so badly in the local elections?
“The real problem is we’re not in power. If you look at areas where Labour did really well, practically the equal best result we’ve had in Wales, is because we’ve had a good government in power which has been clear and consistent with its messaging.
“They have been making clear decisions and were explaining why they are there. I’ve not picked up a lot of negative briefing of the government in Wales. We have a Labour government in Wales and we did well in the elections.
“It’s a bit like after the end of the war or whilst the war was still finishing, it’s very difficult for an opposition party to do well whilst the crisis is happening. In my view I think Keir Starmer has done a stunning job challenging the Prime Minister at Prime Minister’s Questions but that’s not filtering out into the mainstream narrative for whatever reason.
“We also did well in council elections, doing well in Manchester, Preston and Salford and Kirklees where we are in power, delivering and communicating. I admit it’s not easy being Labour wanting to be back in power, but… we’ll get there.”
Do you think Keir Starmer’s position on Brexit prior to 2019, and your own position supporting the People’s Vote movement, in any way damaged Labour’s credibility in places like Hartlepool or other leave-voting areas? Do you regret your support for the People’s Vote movement?
“I don’t regret my support for going for a second referendum. I think if Jeremy Corbyn hadn’t gone for an election rather going back to the people on the nature of Brexit, we might be in a different position now. I think that’s all history. The reason we have done badly in red wall areas is more complex than merely Brexit.
“I went door knocking in Hartlepool for a couple of days and many of my colleagues did as well. Brexit wasn’t really coming up on the door step, that’s done and we’ve got to move on. There’s issues around industrial decline, there’s people saying we should give Boris Johnson a chance and give the Government a chance because it’s difficult at the moment.
“Then there’s the Tory mayor of Teeside has managed to get shedloads of money and promises for Hartlepool from his friends in Government in a way that Sadiq Khan has had opposite issues and is being punished for being a Labour Mayor of London.
“So it’s a lot more complex in Hartlepool, I think it’s a lot more complex than just Brexit and we can’t put the clock back.”
Keir Starmer’s most recent personal disapproval rating was 65% in a most recent YouGov poll. It took Jeremy Corbyn three years to to that point. Do you think leadership of the party might be an issue?
“No I don’t think it is. I think Keir is a good leader and I think in his speeches he’s made and his challenges of Johnson at the dispatch box at PMQs has been really really strong. As I said, its difficult to get traction in the mainstream media and particularly on social media as well at the moment, particularly when we are not in government.
“It’s been difficult to cut through and we have got a mountain to climb. When people spoke to me in Hartlepool about how they were going to vote, those who mentioned the Labour leader were basically very glad we had got rid of Jeremy Corbyn and we’re either positive or didn’t know a lot about Keir Starmer.
“So that’s the challenge, it’s really difficult to get those messages across in the time we have had. It was only a month or two ago that Keir actually met any of us face to face. Even his own team were working remotely, he could only recently go out and talk to the public. We even restricted any kind of election campaigning in Hartlepool until after Easter so it is really quite difficult.”
Do you think the Conservatives’ legislation to require photo ID for voters will affect your seat and Labour’s chances more broadly to win elections in the future?
“I think it’s a very disingenuous political move. It will disenfranchise so many people as has been shown in the trial areas and yes I think it will affect votes here! There are an awful lot of people who don’t have photo ID or have or need a driving licence, particularly older people who don’t have or need a passport.
“In theory apparently you you can go and get ID and it will be free from the local authority. The process of administering any kind of card ID system costs money because will need staff to run it, then there’s the cost of the card itself and whether it’s got a chip or anything in that will add to the cost.
“If local authorities are going to have to pay that’s just another added burden on them at a time when they have lost so much grant income from Government already, and can’t make up the difference from hard-pressed council tax payers.
“I think it’s an appalling policy, It’s anti-democratic. The level of non-voting, either the people who will be turned away at the polling station because they’ve never had to use ID before so haven’t brought it with them or the people who won’t even bother trying to vote because they don’t have ID and just leave it.”
What are your biggest local policies of concern at the moment?
“I guess the one I have been spending a lot of time on is fire safety in residential blocks and the consequences of Brexit on people’s income and goes across the board from our numbers of the three million excluded from Government COVID support schemes to the tens of thousands who work at Heathrow and in hospitality who have lost income.
“The other one that is going to be bubbling under in a couple of weeks is the end, the final end, of the eviction ban for private tenants. Because of the shortage of council and Housing Association housing, we have tens of thousands of families living in private rented accommodations.
“If they’ve lost income and are in rent arrears, then I fear the evictions will shoot up and we will get so many more homeless people and homeless families. Homeless families are gonna be put up in hotels or hostels and might eventually get further low quality private rented housing they’d been living in anyway. And for those who are not eligible for council help, particularly working age adults who are not disabled, they’re going to be sofa surfing or even worse be on the street homeless.
“I’m not getting the case work yet, but it is a worry and the council are worried too.”
What are you most proud of in your six years of being an MP?
“I think being responsive. I will always have people who say that I never responded to their email but we really do try to respond to everyone who makes it clear where they live by putting their address in their email or gives their address on the phone.
“Hopefully I’ve responded when people have written to me about a personal issue, such as with the DWP or Housing, areas where I can unlock an issue. I hope I have been able to make a difference, certainly I’ve got the ‘thank yous’ from everybody who comes to me that way.
“Then the people who have written to me about a particular issue like the environment or the hundreds of emails I’ve received about the violence in Israel and Palestine, I hope I give a response and some might not agree with my response but I hope I’m able to serve and on the whole people are satisfied.”
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