One year on: MP is campaigner for causes
Neil Parish embraces hectic schedule.
He was a parish councillor at the age of 23 and a county councillor by the time he was 31. Now, at the age of 55, farmer Neil Parish has just completed his first hectic year as the Conservative MP for Honiton and Tiverton.
The former South West MEP says: “It has been a very interesting year and a big learning curve - getting to understand new systems and bobbing up and down to catch the Speaker’s eye.”
Looking back on his first speeches in Parliament, he said: “There is nothing more terrifying than the House of Commons. There is no table in front of you, so you feel exposed.”
Although the Tiverton and Honiton constituency is considered a ‘safe seat’ for the Conservatives, Mr Parish did not rest on his laurels when he was selected to replace Angela Browning as the Tories’ candidate before she stood down last year. He was an avid campaigner across the constituency in the run-up to the general election and, when the electorate went to the polls, he won a 50.3 per cent share of the vote. He attracted 27,614 votes - a majority of 9,320.
It was a far cry from his first attempt to become an MP.
He stood for the Conservative Party in a constituency in Wales - and lost by over 24,000 votes.
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“It was a staunch Labour seat,” he said, pointing out it was a good experience, nonetheless, and tested him.
After just over a year as an MP, he says: “I am getting my feet under the table and standing up for my constituents. It is a very busy life. It is very intense when you are in the Commons.”
Mr Parish spends most Fridays in the constituency, holding surgeries in Honiton, Axminster and Seaton - and appreciates the stark contrasts between aspects of his work.
“In the House of Commons, my work is about things like the national deficit but, in the constituency, I am dealing with issues such as housing, child support, planning and the benefits system - all sorts.”
His constituency is 40 miles long and is made up of “quite different” areas, he says.
“We have got rural parts, seaside towns and Honiton, which is a nice, traditional town. The difference between being an MEP and an MP is that I now have much more direct contact with constituents. It is more hands-on and you are much closer to people. Lots of people come to see me about lots of issues.”
Mr Parish is confident he is getting somewhere in the fight to reduce South West Water bills.
“We have got the highest bills in the country, with only three per cent of the population but 30 per cent of the beaches,” he said.
“I am also supporting the two-county bid for better broadband access in Devon and Somerset and am hopeful of getting somewhere with that.”
Mr Parish is pleased that the Office of Fair Trading has now taken up his complaints about the cost of heating oil during the coldest winter for 30 years.
“The cost went up seven per cent, but customers were charged 70 per cent more. People were held to ransom,” he said. “It was a combination of the refineries, retailers and there not being enough competition in the market.
“They were cashing in on people’s misery during the cold weather.”
Mr Parish is still pursuing health chiefs over the future of The Bungalow in Honiton and spoke up for mothers when overnight stays in the maternity unit at Honiton Community Hospital were stopped. He turned up at a public meeting in Honiton on a Saturday and left bigwigs from NHS Devon in no doubt about his concerns. He is currently worried about the spread of larch disease and wants wild animals banned from circus acts.
Mr Parish is so active in various campaigns that the Midweek Herald can barely keep up with his hectic schedule.
In the past month alone, he has cut a ribbon for the launch of the RSPCA’s Fairer Fillings campaign, teamed up with TV presenter and former West Country newspaper reporter Angela Rippon to promote Carers Week (June 13 to 19), signed an Early Day Motion to support the wood panel industry, made a speech in support of the Fish Fight campaign during the fisheries debate and supported the launch of the Dairy Roadmap.
He is chairman of the Associate Parliamentary Group on Animal Welfare, a member of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee and a member of the Wood Panel Industry All-Party Parliamentary Group.
“I really enjoy representing people in the constituency,” he said. “I find them very pleasant to deal with.
“It is a very friendly area.”