Without sounding dramatic, on December 12th – well, the early hours of December 13th to be specific – my life changed overnight. I’d gone from being a new mam on maternity leave to being elected as the MP for Pontypridd, the area in which I was born, raised and still live in. It’s now been a little more than 100 days since that evening, and it really has been a rollercoaster ride.
On Monday 16th December, I began what I can only describe as Parliamentary Bootcamp. I was excited by all that was to come, but as welcoming as colleagues and the Parliamentary staff were, I was also missing home and my nine-month-old son in particular. I was particularly crushed that my first vote – and one that I’ll always remember – was to vote against the Withdrawal Agreement. We all know how that one ended…
Christmas was a blur, and January came quicker than we all would have liked, but I returned to Parliament invigorated for how I could best serve the people that I’d been chosen to represent only a few weeks prior. As is often the case, the world had different plans for me.
In January, the Health Board announced that they were exploring the future of the local Accident and Emergency Department in the local hospital in my constituency. If the coronavirus pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that you don’t mess with the NHS. People in my area were angry at the thought of losing vital A&E services, and I suddenly found myself at the centre of it all.
It wasn’t all bad, though. January brought some highlights including being officially sworn in – a good excuse for my family to join me in London for the day! The whole ‘living in a hotel room’ experience was also putting real pressure on my ability to breastfeed my son Sullivan, and I knew it needed to change. I spoke with Mr Speaker about my experiences and was so proud when, after our discussion, he gave women the green light to breastfeed in the Commons.
Only a few weeks after being elected, one of the most senior figures in British politics had taken on board my comments and had set a new precedent for women and mams in parliament. This was one of the first ‘a-ha’ moments I had in parliament, and served as a reminder of the genuine honour that it is to serve as an MP.
By the time February rocked around, I was finally managing to find my flow. But I was soon hit with another crisis. This time, it was something that none of us could have ever imagined or prepared for. Storm Dennis caused the worst flooding damage and destruction that has ever been seen in my constituency.
The River Taff in Pontypridd burst its banks and the water levels rose to more than a metre higher than previous records. It was truly heart-breaking to witness, and I’ll never forget seeing the horrendous footage of water flooding through our high street, destroying local shops and whatever else stood in its way.
I’ve always been a ‘do-er’ and am not one to shy away from a challenge. I set up a crowdfunder with the hope of raising £5,000 to support the people who had lost the most. What followed over the coming weeks was truly extraordinary. The fundraising page that aimed to raise money for a place that many people outside of South Wales have never even heard of ended up topping more than £35,000.
In a time of genuine adversity for my local community, it was overwhelming in the best sense to have support from so wide and far. Even Prince Charles paid us a visit – a big day for us all in Ponty. It’s certainly not often that my patch in the Valley’s receives royal attention.
Yet the clear-up was, and remains to this day, huge. Lives and businesses have been changed forever – and while I’m proud of the fantastic community spirit that was shown, the flooding was truly an eye-opening experience for me on so many levels.
I channelled my energy into pushing the UK government for help. I asked the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, for fair funding for Wales. He tried to fob me off, twice! Then I asked the Secretary of State for Environmental and Rural Affairs the same. Again, I received a vague response.‘Frustrating’ is not the word – I was tampin’ and borderline furious with their ignorance.
I persisted, and also dived into new challenges in parliament. International Women’s Day brought me an opportunity to speak publicly about something extremely personal to me: my experiences with fertility treatment and my difficulties with conceiving.
After I was elected, it was always my intention to do politics differently. A huge part of that is personalising the politics, and it was really important for me to be as honest and as ‘human’ as possible during my time on the green benches. My speech focused on the difficult journey that my incredible husband and I went on, to bring our beautiful boy into the world. I hope that it allowed others who are struggling to feel less alone.
However, another crisis was looming. This time it was going global. Coronavirus has impacted us all, and it’s a really unsettling time for people everywhere. Life has certainly taken a strange turn once again. I am now working from my living room and my day often consists of calls with my local council. We spend time discussing morgues, the death rate, and how badly hit my area will be.
All the while, it’s my job to maintain a service to people in Pontypridd – to reassure them and to do everything I can to help those in need. People have lost their jobs, lost their incomes and have sadly lost loved ones. Many of the businesses in my area were also only just beginning to recover from the flooding damage. It’s not easy when coronavirus has changed every precedent – political and beyond – that we knew of.
As I write, the UK Prime Minister has just left hospital after spending a few days in intensive care, which brought the harsh reality of this disease close to home. Yet I know it will not last. When I was kept up late at night worrying about the flooding and wondering if my community could recover, I kept reminding myself that things can and will get better.
To say it’s been a busy 100 days or so would be an understatement. At times, it’s felt like I’ve jumped from crisis to crisis. I’m half expecting to wake up in May to the news that a plague of locusts has arrived in Pontypridd. Yet with a new leader of the Labour Party comes a whole new ‘feel’ to politics – one that I am extremely excited for.
I can also certainly say that I am really missing being in the Commons, which is something that in those first few lonely weeks I worried would never happen. As I mentioned in my maiden speech only a few months ago, I didn’t stand for election to sit back, say nothing and be a shrinking violet. I can only hope that Westminster and the chamber is ready for my return – whenever that may be.