Vicar leaves Pulpit to Shadow 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 truth to power. Time spent shadowing others and intently listening gives a narrative in which the church can offer back to God the concerns of the world, and to offer advocacy on behalf of communities.

Holly Lynch is 31 and is the Labour Member of Parliament for Halifax and the Shadow Flooding and Coastal Communities Minister. Elected in 2015 with a majority of 428, the Conservative Prime Minster, Teresa May, chose Halifax to launch her new Tory manifesto in the snap election of 2016. With the Prime Minister’s sites firmly fixed on taking Halifax, Holly Lynch in her first year of Office, won over many of her constituency, with a number of Tories voting Labour for the first time, and increasing her majority to 5,376 with an increase of 11%.

Holly had arrived back in her constituency at 1.00 am whilst 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, where her team were already hard at it. 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 needed help with Appeals, with a sense of helplessness. The Case Workers need to be experts in Immigration, Benefit Claims, and skilled Social Workers, as they attempt to bring 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.

Holly 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 usually back again 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 office 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 peoples 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, sometimes brandishing a knife, and on occasions exposing herself to children. The women were frustrated that none of the statutory authorities seemed able to deal with the situation, and could she bring some weight to moving 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 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 clearly a mistake on behalf of the energy company, but the effect on an elderly couple had been distressing and frightening; local schools had been struggling to cope with the governments funding formula, and Holly had presented a petition with over a 1,000 signatures to the Education Secretary, as she and others pilled pressure on the government for an improved settlement; a few weeks ago a fisherman had died at sea, with the local RNLI there raising concerns about the ability of the Coastguard, whose budget had been slashed over numerous years, and in her front bench role, she 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 different people, situations, and places, that I have encountered today. It will take time to process. 

Hilary.

Next time, Im shadowing Andy Lockey at CRH, more to follow