Saturday, June 22, 2024

Conservative candidate in Newbury constituency

Our Democracy Reporter, Niki Hinman, has invited all the candidates in the Newbury and Reading West & Mid Berkshire to answer her questions. We will be publishing the candidates responses as they are received.

Laura Farris (Conservative) holds the Newbury parliamentary seat. She is 45, and is a Justice Minister. Ministers remain in post through the election period.

She was elected in 2019.

She spoke to our Local Democracy Reporter Niki Hinman.

1:   What made you run for office?

I’d always been interested in politics and working as a barrister before certainly gave me experience of the law and advocacy. But it was when I started working on major public inquiries – most recently the Independent Inquiry on Child Sexual Abuse, where I was looking at what had gone on in places like Rotherham and Rochdale – that I felt that I wanted to enter public life and confront some of the big issues we face especially where there had
been profound failures in the past.

I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to represent my hometown in Parliament. West Berkshire is the place where I grew up and the place where I am raising my own family. From learning to swim at the Northcroft Leisure Centre to taking school trips to the Ridgeway – as I said in my maiden speech in Parliament: “That place is in my bones”.

Representing Newbury wasn’t something that I expected to do, but when Richard Benyon decided to stand down in 2019 I knew I wanted to put my name forward.

2:  Do you have family/partner and what do they think of you running for Parliament?

I have both. They have been through elections before and know what to expect. But in general terms, politics is tough on families and you would be hard pressed to find an MP in Parliament who would say otherwise (irrespective of party). You work long hours, have to spend big chunks of time separated from them and take a fair amount of flak that has an impact on them too. I am lucky that mine have been so supportive. I do think that representation matters so it’s important that there are MPs who have young families and are trying to juggle it all. It’s exactly what many families in West Berkshire are also doing and means that they have a representative in Parliament speaking up on these issues who knows exactly what their life is like.

3:  When did your interest in politics take hold?

I was always interested as a child and certainly by the time I was a student studying politics at university. A lot of my early interest was sparked by what was happening in this area: for example, I remember learning about the Cold War because of the Greenham Peace Camp.
And I learned a lot about what being a constituency MP involved by watching my dad work in the community and at his surgeries.

4: Why do you think people will vote for you/your party?

Over the last four and a half years, I am proud of what I have achieved with and for this community. From reducing waiting times for children seeking a ‘special needs’ diagnosis, to recruiting over 100 more police officers, securing a new diagnostics centre at the West Berkshire Community Hospital, getting a new bus route running up the A34 from Newbury, new capital funding for sports facilities and securing the biggest expansion of free childcare in history. I hope I have used my voice effectively as a Minister on crime and justice matters.
Over the course of this Parliament, I believe I have made a meaningful contribution to the law on domestic abuse, child abuse and sexual violence in ways that I hope will significantly reduce the prevalence of these crimes and vastly improve public protection.

Of course, we have been through some very tough times: a once-in-a-century pandemic, a war on the edge of Europe, an energy crisis. But we have turned a corner, with inflation down from 11% to (almost) its 2% target since Rishi Sunak became Prime Minister. Our economy has grown faster than any other European country in the first quarter of this year, with wages rising, unemployment in West Berkshire is at its lowest levels for half a century and local businesses thriving. NHS waiting lists are falling and we have a clear strategy to stop the boats. There is much more to do, but we are the only party that has a plan to do it and under Rishi Sunak, the plan is working.

5:  Beating the campaign trail means you are speaking to people on the doorstep.  What are they saying to you?

I’m out on the doorstep all the year round, not just at election time. There are some themes that have come up consistently like the cost of living and some that are more recent like the war in Gaza. But I always appreciate hearing my constituents’ views – both on the doorstep and at my surgeries. I know there is more to do on the issues they care about.

We need a bridge over the Thatcham railway line and that’s why I recently submitted a formal proposal to the Department of Transport to get one.

We need to clean up our rivers and that’s why I will continue to hold Thames Water to account on its legally binding obligation to reduce emissions by 80% by the year 2030.

And we need to go further for children with special educational needs. We’ve made progress but I still think families wait for too long for diagnoses and that is why I will continue to press for reduced waiting times and more specialist provision in schools.

6:   What does a vote for you mean?

It has been the honour of my life to represent my hometown (and its surrounding area) in Parliament since 2019. Not once have I walked into that building without an overwhelming sense of the privilege and responsibility that comes from speaking up for West Berkshire in the House of Commons.

I do not take a single vote for granted, but I think that many residents feel they know me now and I hope they have seen that I will get up in the Commons and fight for their interests and for this community.