They say January is one of the longest and depressing months of the year, with the cold winter weather and money running tight after the Christmas period. But it’s also a month of regeneration, with New Year’s Resolutions and people trying new things, like Veganuary or Dry Jan.
For myself it’s been a bit of both. Heading back to Westminster after contemplating the election result over the festive period and having a break from the fast-paced world of politics, I was revitalised and re-energised to make a difference for Batley and Spen at the start of a new decade.
This year I’m going to continue standing up for my constituents, demanding change and improvements to our lives. A fit for purpose rail and bus network, more cultural opportunities and investment in our local hospital. I’m going to keep fighting our corner, like I have since 2016.
I was energised even further when, in a Shadow Cabinet reshuffle I was promoted to Shadow Secretary of State for the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. This role, along with representing my hometown, is really a dream job for me, fighting to improve access for everyone to the arts and making sport more accessible.
But then disaster struck on the 43 bus as I made my way to Westminster. Heading down the stairs from the top deck I got tangled up in a woman’s handbag which ended in an ankle broken in two places, surgery to have a metal plate put in and the next eight weeks in a pot.
This wasn’t how I planned my first weeks in the role, but as they say in theatre, the show must go on, and this isn’t going to hold me back at all.
The past couple of weeks, wheelchair bound, have given me a fresh sense of perspective on the challenges disabled people face every day of their lives in just getting around, and how even in 2020 many public services are not well enough equipped for wheelchair users.
At Batley station the ticket machines are frequently out of order which causes disruption for everyone, one of the platforms is still completely inaccessible for wheelchair users, and there are no staff on duty in case of emergency.
A couple of weeks ago we saw Transport Secretary Grant Shapps swanning up to Leeds to decry the state of the Northern rail franchise, and pledge to take action either to strip it of its licence or make big changes to it.
Northern will come back into public ownership on March 1, but it won’t make any difference unless there is major investment in the infrastructure of the northern railways.
I and many of my Labour colleagues have been banging the drum on this for the past 18 months for our constituents who have had to put up with delayed services, Pacer trains not fit for purpose and failing infrastructure for far too long.
Privatisation has failed, the Government bringing Northern back into public ownership is proof of this. We need a radical reboot of our rail infrastructure and I will continue to shout the loudest now Northern is being brought back into public ownership so rail users get the quality of service they deserve.
An accessible, modernised station in Batley served by regular, reliable trains with more carriages could revitalise our town, and it’s time for the Government to put its hand in its pocket and give the northern railways the vital investment they need.