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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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To make a positive difference

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Meg made the following speech at a Rethink seminar in Sheffield. The seminar was about encouraging people who are involved with mental health care to engage in politics, see: http://www.rethink.org/



Thank you for inviting me to talk to you today.


I’m pleased to be here first thing on a Monday morning, rather than on a busy train to London which is usually where I’d be.


Why I got involved in politics?

I was involved in politics from a very early age joining the Labour Party at 15. My family was very involved in Sheffield my father and uncle were both Lord Mayor of the city. I became interested, and then a participant, because I and most political people get involved to make a positive difference.


I was first elected as Member of Parliament for Sheffield Heeley constituency in 2001. Before that I worked in social services, and was Assistant Director of Social Services in York. It’s that working background which helped in the early days as an MP. I could get involved in Parliament on issues where I had experience, and could help develop legislation for instance I was heavily involved in the Adoption and Children Act 2002 and helped get it changed to allow unmarried couples to adopt. I also sat on the Bill committee for the Mental Health Act in 2004.


As an MP I’ve covered a number of policy areas, such as education and equality. I was a Parliamentary Private Secretary in the Department for Education and Skills when it published the Every Child Matters green paper. This formed the bedrock of policy and legislation for children in the areas of education and care.


My role as MP and Minister

As a constituency MP you never know what issue will affect your constituents. In January 2003 Christina Anderson came to see me. Her 17 year old son Daniel Hindle, who was born with a heart problem, tragically died of septicaemia following having his lip pierced. Christina established the campaign group ‘Dan Aid’ which raises awareness to young people and adults of the possible health risks of body piercing. I was successful in amending the Local Government Act allowing local authorities to regulate body piercing outlets within their jurisdiction. This campaign continues today and the next step is to hand over a petition to Downing Street urging the government to put pressure on all local authorities to implement and enforce this legislation.


It’s important to engage with my constituents, to talk about their concerns both locally and nationally. We may not agree on certain issues, but dialogue is very important so we can at least understand where both sides of an argument are coming from.


After the 2005 general election I was asked to be the Minister for Women and Equality, which I was pleased to do. I worked on equality policies across a number of areas, for instance on equal pay for women, and giving women the same opportunities at work as their male counterparts. I saw through the implementation of Civil Partnerships, giving same sex couples the right to form a legal partnership and gain similar rights to married couples for the first time.


A shocking aspect of my job was tackling human trafficking. It was shocking because I learnt about the brutality of this inhumane crime through talking to survivors and people who work with them. The Government developed a strategy to tackle trafficking and established the UK Human Trafficking Centre here in Sheffield.  


Since July 2007 I have been a minister at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. My role is to represent the UK’s interests when I talk to our international counterparts. I have visited all regions in my ministerial portfolio, meeting people from different cultures and backgrounds. At the moment I’m heavily involved with Burma following their internal political troubles last autumn and the devastating situation following the recent cyclone. 


Why it is important for people to vote?

A politician in a democracy can help make a positive difference to people’s lives. We don’t however always get things right, but then you don’t always get things right either! But you will never be able to help put things right unless you become active and get involved. 


Britain is looked upon by many around the world as an example of a peaceful and successful democracy. Throughout history our predecessors have fought to save our rights and a freedom that we treasure today and it is important we don’t take them for granted because we might lose them if we do so.


Ordinary voters elect councils and governments; they chose the political persuasion that determines how the governance of communities and countries is conducted. Some say their vote counts for nothing it won’t make the difference. I would strongly contest that view. Every voter, every vote is important. It determines what strength the governing administration has and therefore determines how affective they will be.


I appreciate that some become disillusioned with politics. The media play an important role in this. It is a vital tool in getting the ‘message’ out but it has become brutal and sometimes hinders by only reporting the negative rather than the positive side of policies and news in general.


I regularly visit the schools in my constituency, talking with young people about their concerns. I encourage young people to establish and support local school councils, and I think the UK Youth Parliament has been a success. Hopefully this next generation will be more aware of politics and issues to become active.


In my ministerial role I have visited a number of countries where democracy is much newer and not as developed. Last week I was in Cambodia and Malaysia. Cambodia’s democracy is less than 30 years old while Malaysia’s is 50 years old. This may sound a long time but in democratic terms it isn’t. In both countries I met members of opposition parties who were calling for more democracy and greater accountability of the governments. In our country with our longer history it can be easy to take our democracy for granted.


Working effectively

An important question today is how do we engage with constituents and how do they engage with us? The old ways are changing less people about during the day to chat to; local newspapers are losing sales, a lot of channels on the radio or TV.


The internet has had enormous impact and will play an even bigger role in years to come. More and more people use the internet to get their news and entertainment and this provides MPs and political groups with the opportunity to reach out to the electorate more easily, more cheaply and more quickly.


For example one of the first things I did as an MP was to establish a website. It is regularly updated and shows what I do both as a local MP and also as a minister. I also use it to interact with constituents though surveys. I recently revamped the site and re-launched it at Sheffield Springs Academy.


The engagement between an MP and the voter is a two way process. It is important for MPs to tell constituents what they have been doing. I publish an annual report each year for different areas of my constituency. It gives reassurance to people that I am serving them in their communities, talking to organisations familiar to them and engaging with a variety of people throughout their local area.


In addition, I have built up a number of databases of people who are interested in key policy areas such as international development, environmental issues, and animal welfare issues. I then write to people throughout the year updating them on these subjects. Similarly if people have raised concerns over a particular parliamentary bill or policy I keep them updated with the progress being made constituents then write back with their concerns or observations and I then pass them onto the minister responsible.


There are a number of ways an MP can communicate and today is another.


Thank you for listening - I am happy to take questions. 

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