Although it’s taken me a long time to label myself as a writer, writing has been at the core of all the jobs I have ever done – reporter, PR, marketeer. But what I most enjoy writing – and reading – are letters. Among my most precious possessions are airletters penned by my grandmother when, aged 8, I lived in America for a year. (Her not-so-subtle parting gift to me was a writing case, so that I might write to her too.) I cherish boxes of letters from old schoolfriends, received when I moved to Germany at the age of 14.
So I was terribly disappointed to discover last year that I’d missed by a few days the deadline to apply for a job writing letters for Steve Webb, our local MP, responding to his constituents’ enquiries and requests. For a long-term supporter of the Lib Dems, what a dream job that would have been: getting paid for writing about issues that really mattered to society and playing a small but significant part in changing our nation for the better.
My disappointment was short-lived. In the wake of the General Election, as the new coalition emerged, I decided I’d had a lucky escape. I would not have relished responding to the wrath of the disillusioned masses. I began to feel sorry for Steve Webb, even though he’d been elevated to Cabinet Minister. But I still couldn’t stop myself firing off a few letters to him expressing my dissatisfaction with some of the new government’s policies.
Then last week I had the chance to meet him. He visited the village school to plant a tree donated by Morrisons and I was invited to take photos for the school. My disenchantment quickly melted away. He came across as a sympathetic, dedicated representative of our community with a genuine interest in our children. Some of them will not be eligible to vote for another 14 years, so no cynical fishing for votes there. He may be a Cabinet Minister, but he gave himself no airs and graces. No formal silver spade for him – he got stuck in and muddy. And no cynical kissing of babies, either – instead he played “Rock, Paper, Scissors” with the Year 6 boys.
A little later, we spoke briefly and he asked me my name.
“Ah, yes, Debbie Young,” he smiled. “France Lane.”
My goodness! I thought. A Cabinet minister knows where I live! What stroppy message had I put in my letters to make my address stick in his mind? But really, that doesn’t matter now. Next time there’s an election, I know who’ll be getting my vote.
(This post was originally published in Hawkesbury Upton Parish Magazine, April 2011)