I have been very touched this week by the messages of goodwill I’ve had after revealing my decision to step down from being a minister.
I’m neither the first nor the last MP to enjoy my constituency work deeply. Indeed, my predecessor in my own seat was well-regarded for being often obstinate in Westminster and a great constituency MP at home.
I’m proud of what I’ve been able to contribute to my country, in three years as a whip and minister. I whipped the Welfare Reform bill through Parliament; at the Treasury I negotiated detailed decommissioning contracts with the oil and gas industry, to open up billions of pounds of economic investment; and at the Cabinet Office I have helped save £10bn of taxpayers’ money from wasteful government spend while taking five bills through Parliament in a year, including one that changed the laws on Royal succession to allow girls to take their place.
It’s not all been easy. I couldn’t help but laugh this week when Newsnight rang offering me a ‘sensible’ interview with Jeremy Paxman about my next move. I didn’t return the call.
I was only 27 when I was lucky enough to be elected. I’m glad now to see many talented Conservative colleagues joining the government while it is time for a change for me. I want to concentrate again on the original part of my job: being Norwich North’s MP. My constituents know the high standards and the hard work that I ask of myself as their MP and I enjoy fulfilling it for them.
I also want to do more to communicate with a new generation of younger voters about public participation. Tip O’Neill’s insight that ‘all politics is local’ is in my mind, because this aim builds on local work. I have launched a community campaign in my city to halve Norwich’s youth unemployment (see www.norwichforjobs.org.uk). We’ve already helped hundreds of young people into work in eight months, through signing up local firms to a pledge to make places available to the next generation of talent. We lack no ambition: we want to get 1,000 young people into work. But we do it one by one, and we start local.
This has given me the most reward of much of my working life. I was recently walking through a Norwich park at dusk and passed some teenagers hanging around. One called out after me and you don’t usually expect the best in that situation. But he surprised me with: ‘By the way, you’re doing a really great job for the city.’ Now that’s ambition: to demonstrate one by one that politics still works, and that young people can be at the heart of it. That’s exactly the work I want to do more of.
Chloe Smith is the Conservative MP for Norwich North and stepped down as a Cabinet Office minister this week.