Emma Hardy interview: 'Following in Alan Johnson's footsteps is an intimidating prospect'

Hull West MP Emma Hardy alongside Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth
Hull West MP Emma Hardy alongside Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth
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As a former Home Secretary and Health Secretary – not to mention a national treasure – Alan Johnson is a tough act to follow. But the new Labour MP for Hull West and Hessle, Emma Hardy, tells Westminster Correspondent Kate Langston that she is determined to make her mark on the role.

“It’s kind of intimidating to follow Alan, but its such an honour as well. And to have his support meant a lot,” Ms Hardy says.

“He gave me some general advice and a good overview of the issues in Hull, and he’s given me advice since on settling into parliament and what its like here.

“But everyone brings something different and everyone is their own person and has their own talents and gifts.

“I’m not going to be Alan Johnson, I’ll be Emma Hardy. Hopefully people will like that person too.”

Speaking to the Yorkshire Post amid the hustle and bustle of Portcullis House, the mother of two shows no signs of having just fought an intense seven week campaign.

Alert, confident and full of energy, she is clearly chomping at the bit to get stuck in.

From the moment of her selection as the candidate for the Hull West seat, the local town councillor was almost certain to be heading for Parliament.

But despite a Labour majority of more than 9,000 in 2015, she, like many others in the party, was determined to take nothing for granted.

As a former teacher with 11 years at the coal face, it will perhaps come as no surprise that education and cuts to schools funding are among the issues Ms Hardy hopes to champion over the coming weeks and months.

She claims it was her outrage at Michael Gove’s reforms to education during his time as Secretary of State that rekindled her passion for politics – and led to her first meeting with Johnson.

“I was political when I was 17-18 because that was in 1997... then I went to university and I suppose I got interested in enjoying Liverpool and having a good time with friends. I lost that political side,” she admits.

“It was after 2010 that sort of woke me up – it was Michael Gove and the changes he started making to education, and how angry they made me.

“I got asked to go on a visit to lobby Alan Johnson, and he was so lovely and he gave me a tour and he was very charming.

“I rejoined the Labour party and I thought ‘this time, I’m going to go and attend the meetings and do something’. So I attended my local meeting in Hessle Town Hall and that was that.”

There is arguably little that can prepare a first-time candidate for the intensity of an election campaign, let alone a condensed seven-week battle prompted by a snap election and the surprise resignation of the incumbent MP.

But encouraged to stand by those around her, Hardy threw her hat into the ring after deciding: “You cant ask someone to do something you’re not prepared to do yourself.”.

“I thought: unless I’m willing to put myself forward and be that person then I can’t moan if we get somebody who is maybe less representative,” she says.

“Parliament should be more representative of ordinary people. There should be more people who have frontline jobs, like Alan. He was a postman, that’s how it should be.”

She describes friends and family as being “really supportive” of her decision, while her two young daughters – Olivia (9) and Isabelle (7) – initially found the situation “confusing”

However, the pair soon took to electioneering with zeal, with Isabelle proving to be a particularly effective campaigner.

“Olivia got really excited about it and made lots of posters to stick on her window saying ‘vote mummy’. And my youngest one is an amazing leafleter – she’s so cute, she says ‘do you want a leaflet’ and everyone says ‘yes!’,” says Hardy.

“I think I’ve also got the only children that ever played picket lines,” she adds.

“I did a picket line at one of the school strikes and I had the placards saying invest in education. So Olivia and Isabelle, when they were doing role play, role played [picketting].

“I did a video on one of the marches and I’ve got a video of Livvi and Isabelle walking around the lounge doing that when they were about 4 and 2.

“I got involved in politics in 2011 and Isabelle was born in 2010 so they’re kind of used to it, its their normal.”

Anyone entering Westminster for the first time will have a number of preconceptions about how it will look, how it functions and how it will feel.

But as is so often the case, the reality rarely matches up with the fantasy, and for Hardy the biggest surprise was the palpable hostility of the iconic Commons chamber.

“I don’t think you pick it up even when you watch it on Parliament TV - its really aggressive and almost tribal in there,” she explains. “I think its partly because you’re eye-balling the opposition – you’re sat opposite them, looking at them - and that’s quite an aggressive standpoint anyway.

“And when you’re there, you can hear the things people are shouting and saying to each other. It’s really an intense environment.

“It’s quite exciting though as well.”

Setting out her aims for the next few months, she points to local council funding as a key concern. “Hull City Council is really underfunded and I want to do more work on that,” she says.

“And of course education funding. They’re talking about fair funding, but they’re not talking about real-terms cuts for education – they’re dismissing that

“Also improving the infrastructure. [Ministers are] talking about having £1bn for work in Northern Ireland, but they can’t find any money to electrify the railway to Hull. That, I think, is appalling.”