On Tuesday 17 December, the new parliament met for the first time: its first duty was to re-elect Lindsay Hoyle as Speaker – a necessary step before other MPs can swear their oath of allegiance to The Queen and then take on their duties in the new House of Commons. The Conservative benches are bursting with new faces, all beaming with excitement. There are noticeable gaps on Labour’s side. Following Dennis Skinner’s defeat in Bolsover after 49 years as an MP, Harriet Harman now takes up his old seat in the front row immediately below the gangway.
An amusing sideshow to these proceedings was the Christmas party that afternoon: this is not only for MPs’ children, but for the children of staff working in parliament. I’ve helped organise this for the last few years: the occasion comes complete with a bouncy castle and face painting, while the formal portrait of Oliver Cromwell on a nearby wall casts a disapproving look. The role of Santa Claus is traditionally played by an MP; this year the Government Chief Whip Mark Spencer did the honours. He was perfectly cast as someone who has had plenty of experience in keeping a list, checking it twice, and knowing who’s been naughty or nice.
The parliamentary session was formally opened with The Queen’s Speech on 19 December. The following day, the Second Reading of the European Union Withdrawal Agreement passes by 358 to 234 votes; the result was slightly delayed because of the time it took to get all of the Conservative MPs through the ‘Ayes’ lobby. It is much easier to get Brexit done with a majority of 80 than in a hung parliament. Like Alexander, Boris Johnson has cut the Gordian knot, and we are now free of the forces which bound the previous parliament so tightly.
The 2017-19 parliament was certainly an unhappy one. The House of Commons had become like a punch-drunk boxer caught on the ropes, unable to bring the fight to an end, and waiting for either the referee to stop the bout, or the trainer to throw in the towel. When Boris Johnson was unable to get parliament to pass his EU withdrawal agreement before the end of October, it was appropriate that parliament dissolved on 5 November, the anniversary of the day in 1605 that Guy Fawkes had tried to blow the whole place up.
In the afternoon during a winter election campaign, you soon get used to the rapidly approaching sunset – which in south-east Kent comes at around 4pm. Yet the response on the doorstep was warm throughout. Conservative supporters were quick to tell me that I had their vote: always a good sign. When things are going badly even loyal supporters make you work hard for their cross in your box.
Election fundraisers can throw up some curious promises: at an event in Soho I was persuaded to auction myself to a generous bidder: the winner would attend PMQs before having lunch with me at the House of Commons. I shan’t reveal the amount I fetched but let’s just say the winner shall deserve some of my best table talk.
On Saturday 7 December, we have a street stall in the centre of Folkestone, which has to compete with the Christmas market in Sandgate Road for the attention of shoppers. This is always a lively form of campaigning, perhaps because people feel more anonymous in the middle of the town than they do when standing in the doorway of their home. Often good wishes and barbed advice come in equal measure; however, on this occasion the feedback was as positive as I can ever remember.
On Monday 9 December, I spent the morning supporting Theresa Villiers in her re-election campaign at Chipping Barnet, in north London. In my first parliament as an MP I was Theresa’s parliamentary private secretary for two years, when she was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. This is a real battleground seat; the majority had been only 353 in the 2017 election; in the event, she increased her majority to 1,212 – a much-deserved victory.
Wednesday was our final campaign push in Folkestone and Hythe. I had the final debate of the campaign with the other candidates for the Academy FM radio station in Folkestone. The Liberal once again deployed his Harry Potter analogy and compared the Conservative Party to Slytherin House at Hogwarts school. He thought we needed a government which was more Gryffindor, but in my view all he was offering was Hufflepuff.
As the polls close on a wet and windy election day, I’m at home in Elham with my wife, Sarah. We get to the count at the Three Hills Sports centre in Folkestone at about 1am. Judging by the piles of votes on the tables it looks like we are well ahead. Just after 2am the Returning Officer calls over the candidates and their agents, so they can be shown the result just before it is announced. In a tight contest, this is the moment when a recount can be requested. Thankfully, we are well ahead with 35,483 votes providing a record majority of 21,337.
That’s an endorsement which gives me confidence going into the new year – and thank goodness I can make good on that auction promise for lunch and PMQs.
Damian Collins is the MP for
Folkestone and Hythe