Mary Macleod On Afghanistan And The Looming By-Election In Feltham and Heston
Mary Macleod, Tory MP for the west London seat of Brentford and Isleworth, is one to watch. A former City high-flyer, she's only been in Parliament for 18 months but has already been on a select committee and is now on the bottom rung of the greasy pole of government.
She's just come back from Afghanistan and is preparing to fight a highly competitive by-election in the seat next door to hers following the death of Alan Keen last week. Huffpost caught up with her the day after she got back from Afghanistan..
Tell us about Afghanistan...
We went at the weekend to Camp Bastion, really for only 24 hours. It was with a group of cross-party MPs, mostly from the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme, which sees MPs spending 22 days a year looking at the armed forces and talking to troops on the ground. We wanted to look at progress on stability and security in the region and talk to the troops and find out how they're feeling.
And it's been a pretty awful few days in Afghanistan, with three British soldiers killed in the past week...
It's always difficult for them when someone's killed for them to pick up again, but they have good support networks. But it's human life and it's what you see when you're out there, the size and scale of what they do, which is quite difficult to comprehend when you're back in the UK. But what struck me was the level of collaboration among the coalition that's out there, the people and countries working together in the area.
And they have made quite a lot of progress and I think in the UK we don't get a great picture of what's happening in Afghanistan. Are the Taliban just sitting quietly and are they going to cause havoc once we've gone, will they undo and damage all the things we have done? But we're making real progress in schooling. There used to be 1 million kids in education, now there's 8.3 million students, and whereas there were no females in education, there's now 1.2 million.
What was the general chat among MPs on the plane back?
I think MPs felt that we are on the right track there, but we need to communicate it better. We need to talk about these really good things. The interesting thing is the role of Pakistan and how we actually use our influence with Pakistan to create stability in the region.
As a Tory, do you get a lot of questions from personnel about the Strategic Defence And Security Review?
Yes. That and pensions. People always ask me about that. One of the guys in Afghanistan told me about how really simple things are frustrating. So if you're posted abroad, you potentially may not have a UK address for 3 years. When you come back to the UK and you want to get a mobile phone contract or a mortgage, you can't. Those are things that we can find a simple solution to, this seems crazy that these men and women are out there fighting, and get penalised when they come back to Britain.
And there is the issue about how welfare reform might affect reservists, isn't there.
Well that hasn't come up for me, but I think what we have to do is listen to their concerns because there might be some simple solution. I think in that way it's across the floor of the house that we want to support the armed forces and if they're being penalised it's probably because nobody's looked in enough details at these issues that probably can be solved.
You came into Parliament from the City. Do you find the public sector frustrating?
Well, it's intriguing because when I was in the City I used to think that things there were too old-fashioned, took too long to do, were too complex and bureaucratic and that you could get things done in Parliament. Now I've been in here for a while... (she laughs)... although I do understand now why it takes a long time for Bills to go through. There are reasons why it has to go through those various stages.
Obviously it's a bit soon since the death of Alan Keen, but there is a by-election coming up in the seat next-door to yours. Is it winnable for the Tories?
I would say it is. I must say it's really sad about Alan Keen, who was a real gentleman and great to work with. But the Conservatives have reduced his majority there, and at the last election it was about a 4,500 majority, so I think it's doable. I started out with about a 4,000 Labour majority in my seat and I won it, so I don't see why we can't. People say it's more difficult in government but there is a Labour council that I think has done cuts in the wrong places. So they'll have to defend their position. I think there's all to play for in this. Alan Keen probably had a personal following.
The Feltham And Heston by-election is expected to be held in the new year.