Can Cumbria's former MPs get back into Parliament? Part 2
If anyone was stunned to hear Theresa May call a snap General Election, it was her newest Conservative MP, Trudy Harrison.
Just months after securing a historic by-election win to represent Copeland, she now has to go through it all again.
If she successfully defends her seat, it will be a double victory for the 40-year-old mum-of-four. But if she fails, she could become one of the shortest serving MPs in history.
Riding high on her win back in February, Mrs Harrison promised to work hard to speak up for west Cumbria, encourage investment and protect NHS services.
But some have since criticised her record, claiming she has done nothing since being elected and has been silent in Westminster.
The Liberal Democrats have accused her of failing to understand the issues, while she has also had a spat with neighbouring Labour MP Sue Hayman for encroaching on her constituency.
But Mrs Harrison, who had just over 60 days in Parliament to date, insists she has worked none stop since the election, and was just getting started.
“As a new MP, and given that we haven’t had a Conservative MP in Copeland for 82 years, I didn’t even have an office to work from. It’s been a bit like setting up a small business, but that is all now in place,” she said.
“Gareth (Snell) had an advantage because he was coming in to an existing office. Plus there are also more ways to achieve progress than just speaking in Parliament.”
Mrs Harrison said that has included lobbying MPs during the breaks in Parliamentary votes and debates, saying she learnt quickly that this was a great opportunity to get the ear of ministers and secretaries of state.
She said she has also been very busy behind the scenes, meeting with nuclear and industry leaders, West Cumberland Hospital bosses, and representatives on both sides of the Whitehaven Academy furore.
And she added that those discussions have already influenced her thinking, for example realising that her original support for a nuclear centre of excellence in west Cumbria could be expanded to include other industries.
Mrs Harrison was also unable to take part in debates until after her maiden speech, which she revealed had been carefully planned to take place on April 19 - only for Mrs May to make the election announcement on April 18.
However she said those few months have helped her see how Parliament works in practice, and she said she would be able to hit the ground running if reelected.
She added: “The announcement that there will be a General Election was of course a shock. I haven’t finished what I started. It would be impossible to do that in 60 odd days.”
- The other candidates standing in Copeland are Herbie Crossman (Ukip), Rebecca Hanson (Lib Dem) and Gillian Troughton (Lab).
In the immediate aftermath, hundreds packed into a public meeting at the Crown & Mitre and looked to their elected leaders for help.
As MP for Carlisle, Conservative John Stevenson took centre stage. He was quick to call for an independent inquiry into the disaster, was pictured with senior MPs on flood-hit streets and spoke of his desire to help businesses.
In the 18 months that followed, the matter hasn’t gone away. Some campaigners have hit out at a lack of urgency, with the findings of various reports yet to lead to long-term solutions, and blamed a “leadership gulf”.
Mr Stevenson believes he has spoken up for the city, saying he acted as “a conduit” to ministers and helped secure funding support. “The Prime Minister came up, a lot of the Cabinet came up. Central Government gave us a lot of support,” he said.
But with the city still at risk, has enough been done?
“I still think there are issues with regard to the long term security of our city. That’s something I’m very conscious I’ve got to continue to press the Environment Agency on. There is money there, but it’s what we do with it,” he said.
The NHS has also been a big issue, with the city’s Cumberland Infirmary facing significant bed pressures, and fears that controversial plans to reduce capacity and close community hospital beds will add to its problems. Last month about 800 protesters took to the streets of Carlisle for a mass NHS rally.
But Mr Stevenson said things are improving for the infirmary, with special measures now lifted and what he believes is “stronger leadership”.
And he believes the best way forward for the NHS nationally is to depoliticise it. “My personal view is that we should have a Royal Commission - to look at how you fund it and how you run it - and take the politics out of it.”
Asked about his view of the Government’s Success Regime, which drew up the controversial plans for Cumbria, he said: “People do not like change, but sometimes change is necessary. Clearly our health economy couldn’t remain as it was.”
Overall Mr Stevenson believes that Carlisle is on the up. He claimed that businesses are starting to invest, unemployment is low, housebuilding activity shows confidence, and he believes that such growth is what the city needs.
And he is confident that infrastructure improvements will now follow. "I think we've got the Government far more aware of the need for improvements on the A69.
- The other candidates standing in Carlisle are Ruth Alcroft (Lab), Fiona Mills (Ukip) and Peter Thornton (Lib Dem).
But he insists he isn’t complacent about his seat, or his voters.
“I’ve always put this place first. I said I would when I became leader, and that hasn’t changed,” he said.
As soon as the snap election was called, he was quick to put himself and his party forward as the option for those who oppose a so-called “hard-Brexit” - a move he hopes will attract remain voters and those still on the fence.
With the majority both nationally and across Cumbria voting to leave the European Union, there is a potential it could backfire.
But as the only “remain” area of Cumbria, with 34,531 people voting to stay in the EU compared to 30,800, his promise may well appeal to local people.
Yet Mr Farron said it is not a case of simply targeting remainers, claiming people who voted leave are not necessarily happy with the hardline currently being taken on whether or not Britain will stay in the single market.
He also believes that eventual deal will be crucial to his local farming community, which relies heavily on subsidies from Europe.
“We know the Government has said they will keep the money for farmers for two years, but they have not made any promises beyond that,” he said.
Asked whether he thinks Brexit could be stopped, he said: “only if the British people want that to happen. It’s up to the people.”
But has his strong stance on Brexit and national issues meant he has taken his eye off other local issues that affect the daily lives of voters.
Mr Farron is adamant it hasn’t, citing his long-running campaign to protect and enhance services at the Westmorland General Hospital as an example.
He said this includes opposing plans to close Kendal’s inpatient mental health unit and making the case to improve local cancer services.
He claimed he had also met with Education Minister Nick Gibb to argue the case against cuts to school funding, and he added that he and his team spend a lot of time on local casework for his constituents.
- The other candidates standing in Westmorland & Lonsdale are James Airey (Con), Eli Aldridge (Lab) and Mr Fishfinger (Ind).