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MP Lynne Featherstone talks Muswell Hill

Celebrity Interviews

By MyMuswell Team on 17 February 2012

Lynne Featherstone is the MP for Hornsey and Wood Green. We caught up with her to see where she stands on key local issues. Here’s what Lynne said.

Hi Lynne. You’re an MP with genuine ties to your constituency – can you tell us about them?

Well I grew up in Highgate, went to Highgate primary school and used to go to the Muswell Hill youth club. It was fantastic. I remember in my maiden speech in parliament I recalled how we used to go into Highgate wood and play kiss chase. If the boys were very lucky I let them catch me.

So how did your journey to the halls of power begin?

I’ve been stomping round the streets of Muswell Hill since 1995 which was when I decided to get into politics. I didn’t have a clue how to start but Muswell Hill was where the Lib Dems had their most members. I started by just putting letters through people’s doors asking if they had any problems they needed help with. I had no position at that stage - I was just someone with a Liberal Democrat letterhead. Eventually people would tell me their problems, simple local problems, like the classic broken paving stone, I’d call the council, get it fixed, then ask if they had any more problems.

As a local MP what interaction do you have with the local residents here?

I still spend 3 days in the constituency and 4 days a week in government. I go to local events over the weekends, walk the streets, meet people - that sort of stuff. On Friday’s I have 6 or 7 local engagements like meeting the schools and obviously my MP’s surgery. We get between 200 and 400 contacts a day in my constituency office so there’s a lot to do.

It must be a busy constituency.

It’s one of the 10 busiest in the country. I like to think this is because of the relationship I’ve built up with the population. Hopefully I stay accessible and approachable.

The new Waitrose is one issue worrying the local traders. How do you think it will  have an impact?

Similar chain stores have opened in several areas around the constituency. Hornsey High Street and Highgate village for example, and the independent traders get terribly worried about it. The reality is, on the whole, local shops can survive alongside these stores. The Muswell Hill community will support whoever offers the best service, so they need not worry.

Some of the same traders are keen to see a tube line installed to increase footfall. Do we need a tube?

To be honest it’s irrelevant because the sad truth is there is no tube coming to Muswell Hill. There was a campaign to run one along the Parkland Walk and that had as many opponents as it had proponents. The economic downturn has made it impossible. It’s just not on the agenda.

An issue our Twitter followers wanted us to raise was the poor bus connection between Muswell Hill and Hampstead – is this on the agenda?

One of my early campaigns was the 603 bus. There was no connection between Muswell Hill, Highgate, Swiss cottage and Hampstead. I campaigned for 8 years to get one. They granted it because so many of the local children needed transport to their local schools. So we have one, but it only runs during school hours. I’m constantly writing to Peter Hendy (head of TFL) to have the hours extended throughout the day and night and he keeps saying no.

What’s his reasoning?

He says there is no money and not enough demand. Theoretically, you could go to Highgate and then get another busy to Hampstead, so they’ve really been digging their heels in thus far. It’s particularly tough right now as TFL aren’t looking to spend any more cash on their routes.

Talking of funding - at the end of 2011 Muswell Hill was set to get a new town square. Suddenly it was snatched away from us. Why did Harringey council pull their support from our Phase 2 Outer London Fund bid?

I don’t know but I will be asking them. It’s often the view from the West of the borough - and its one which I share - that they are treated unfairly in terms of government attention and state facilities. Most people in Muswell Hill are altruistic and do believe in paying their taxes and ironically it can mean we are regarded as wealthy and not in need. The truth is there are very real pockets of need in Muswell Hill and if you do have to rely on the state then you get a very poor deal.

One of the other local battlegrounds – and one MyMuswell is about to run something on – is the proposed site of the Pinkham Way waste facility. Can you tell us about your involvement in the campaign?  

The process is in abeyance until summer 2012. I think the consultation has been cack-handed from start to finish. I don’t think anyone really wanted to listen to the residents but between Pinkham way alliance, Juliet Solomon, myself and two other MPs from Enfield and Barnet they were seen off.

What do you see as the key problems with the proposal?

The proposal is too big. It’s something that will cause immense problems for local residents, whether it’s the pollution, the noise or the amount of traffic. It’s counter-intuitive to bring waste from seven boroughs to one point. I think people would be much more in favour of things being more local and smaller.

The summer is fast approaching now. It will also bring the Olympics. Will the residents of Muswell Hill actually benefit?

Sadly, I don’t think we will. I was very excited when London got the Olympics and there was this view that it would come to your part of town. Now, though, I’m just not sure it has been as successful or as inclusive as we hoped. There hasn’t been a buzz in Muswell Hill at all. I’m still hopeful there will be a sporting boom in the local area though.

So how are you finding the coalition - is it a happy marriage?

It is like a rollercoaster. The most important issue I think for anyone in the UK is the economy and whenever times get rough I hold on fast, that if we didn’t form this really strong coalition, then we would have interest rates like Italy or Greece. If we had high-interest rates like that – well, as tough as times are now, the homes and jobs that would be lost from those circumstances don’t bear thinking about.

How will you measure the success of the Liberal Democrat’s in government? What’s the metric?

I think one metric we look at is the Liberal Democrat manifesto, of which we would have delivered 75% of our promises. In local terms, something very tangible right at this moment is the pupil premium – over £8m put into our schools. I started the campaign and the pupil premium is already, for year one, in the coffers.

Is there a danger that as Equalities Minister the cuts may end up entrenching inequality – with the change to the Disability Living Allowance for example?

No, I don’t. I think you want to give more to people who do need it and give less to people who don’t need it. And all the government is saying is that there has been no re-examination of people who get the benefit and stay on it for life.

Interestingly enough under the Labour government they brought in testing for this very same thing and the problems I noticed, as a local MP, were that the examiners were kind of jobsworths. They had no idea about disability and that’s insulting to people who need proper assessment. On hearing Iain Duncan Smith's policy, my requirements were that the assessments were rigorous and fair - that’s what I expect them to deliver.

Is the fact that there are no black or Asian MPs in your party right now a problem for you as equalities minister?

Yep. That’s a problem. It’s also a big problem with the lack of women. The other parties have been more successful at both of those things. It was really interesting at the last election, Labour had all women shortlists, the Conservatives by whatever mechanisms they used got lots of women in - we finally had lots of women in winnable seats and none of them were elected.  And the same is true of ethnic minorities – they just didn’t win their seats.

What’s the solution?

Our big issue now is getting people to win the seats and making sure that there is diversity in those that are won. We have set up the Leadership Academy which has 40 of the best Lib Dem candidates in the country from underrepresented groups - so that’s women, black and Asian, disabilities, transsexuals – and will ensure that every shortlist, for every winnable seat, has to have at least two of these people on it.

 Thanks for speaking to us Lynne.  

Thanks for taking the time out to come and see me.

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