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A Day in the Life of Bim Afolami MP

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Mum’s guide to Harpenden recently interviewed MP for Harpenden and Hitchin, Bim Afolami. We first met Bim at the Harpenden Carnival with his wife, Hetti, and their 3 sons. As a local father he was keen to know more about family provisions in the area and as a young MP he wants to explain his role to us, his constituents, and how we can get in touch with him when issues arise. What a great place to start then with an interview with Mum’s guide to Harpenden – an information site for families!

We started with the most important question to ask when meeting anyone for the first time - what biscuits should be in your tin…? The answer was custard creams of course!

And with that ice-breaker out of the way, as a website focussed on families, we wanted to find out about his family life.

Bim: Tomorrow I am taking the boys to Harpenden Rugby Club for Rugby monsters, then lunch with friends, followed by the Brambleton Model Railway Open Day.

Ask his children, and they will tell you that their favourite time with Dad is when he plays football or rugby with them, gives them cuddles and takes them to the pub for apple juice and chips. (Leaving Hetti wondering why no one is hungry when they get home!)  As a lover of history and books, Bim tells us that a day without the kids would ideally be spent touring somewhere historical with Hetti, or moseying around a bookshop.

So that’s Bim the husband and father. What about Bim the politician?

Bim: This is something you are never really meant to admit, I always wanted to go into politics. There’s just a familial interest we have in it. My father is Nigerian, my mother is half-English, half-Nigerian. Politics really matters in countries like Nigeria; they have military coups, poverty, all that sort of stuff, so politics really has an impact on people’s lives. They came to this country in the early 80s.  We always talked about politics, not party politics interestingly, it was always about international issues, current affairs. We had everything in our house, 4 newspapers, every single magazine, London Review of Books, Time Magazine and so I built and developed that interest in politics over a long period of time.

Before heading to the Houses of Parliament Bim spent nearly a decade in the city:

Bim: I was very, very lucky with the places I worked – Freshfields Law Firm, then a US firm because I wanted to do a wider range of work, and then after years of working in Mergers and Acquisitions I didn’t want to be a lawyer any more. I wanted to be closer to the business and banking was the next closest thing and I went into that at HSBC.

During this time Bim was active in party politics having worked for George Osbourne when he left Oxford University and then standing for a seat in South London in 2015 . When Peter Lilley stepped down as MP for Harpenden & Hitchin, the local association chose Bim as the next party candidate and everything fell into place for the 2017 election.

And now, as Parliamentary Private Secretary for International Trade, which is focusing on trade post-Brexit, Bim is using knowledge gained from talking to local arable and pastoral farmers to understand how trade deals will effect his constituents.

Bim: In some ways you can do things much more effectively for your constituents because you have access to departments and in other ways you understand the government machine better. Being a PPS, your job is effectively adviser and bag carrier to a senior minister.  You are not a minister.  I have no power to sign money or, to tell civil servants to do anything.  Your job is simply to be the eyes and ears of the Minister in Parliament.

We were pleased to know that, unlike holding a Ministerial portfolio, being a PPS means he can still represent his constituency by asking questions in Parliament and can still hold other departments to account. So, what are Bim’s top priorities for Harpenden?

Bim: At the moment, a big one is stopping Luton Airport expansion, stopping the potential incinerator and focusing on education and young people. I probably spend more time locally, in terms of visits and people I see, with young people in schools.

This past summer Bim set up a programme called Opportunity Fellows, taking 12 GCSE-aged children from Harpenden and Hitchin and giving them 2 days leadership, advocacy and character development training, one-week’s work experience in Parliament and a week in industry in different businesses.

Bim: The whole aim of this was, first of all, to give people opportunities that they otherwise wouldn’t get and secondly it was to start developing a group that can mentor each other. I play a role as a mentor for them more broadly, and as time goes on that group of people can be a valuable network for people who all live locally as they go through the next few years, helping each other out, navigating the difficult choices around university, job, apprenticeships. It was really successful. What I want to do next year is do it again with a wider spread of businesses.

Talking of young people brought us round to two important issues affecting our young people locally: the availability of drugs in the area, and waiting lists for Special Educational Needs diagnoses.

Just that week Boris Johnson had announced funding for more police officers nationwide:  

Bim: We’re going to have, over the next 3 years, hundreds more police officers in Hertfordshire because of 20,000 police officers [being funded] nationally. That will mean more police that are able to just be visible to frankly scare drug dealers off from being around. 

And, rather fortuitously, that evening the Health Secretary was coming to Harpenden to speak to the local Conservative Party.  So whilst Bim’s immediate response to the question of what is being done to cut down long waiting lists for SEND diagnoses was “I don’t know and I’ll check this out”, he has since been in touch to say that he has already spoken with the Health Secretary about it and is currently arranging a meeting with the Education Minister to see how he can improve the system.

Bim seems keen to push boundaries and try change, which is rather refreshing for a politician. A personal example this was him being the first father in Parliament to take paternity leave:

Bim: I took paternity leave for Freddie; I didn’t realise this, but it was the first time anybody had done that in Parliament.  Andrea Leadsom, who was the Leader of the House at the time, introduced the chance of paternity leave but nobody quite knew how it was going to work because nobody had done it before, so it was all a bit higgledy-piggledy. But we got it done and it was really weird because the thing about Parliament is the absolute core job description is voting. Voting is the thing that you are there to do. And it was really quite weird having a colleague vote for you. Since I’ve done it two other men have done it. It was very exciting to be the first.

Of course, people tend to only think of their politician when it comes to big issues. So, we asked Bim how he can help constituents with smaller local issues:

Bim: This is something I should do more of. I think that there is an education piece around explaining to people what the MP can do and what the County Council does and what the District Council does and what the Town Council does. Quite a lot of those different things interact with each other but I think sometimes as an MP you’re not a councillor, so I have no ability to sort out parking in Harpenden.  I think the role that I can play more is more coherently take the stuff that I hear about and put that to the people that I know who need to know.

So how can you get in touch with Bim?

By email: [email protected]  
Bim: We get hundreds of emails every day, but there’s quite a big focus on making sure we respond to stuff and are aware of stuff. Email is probably the best way!

By letter:  House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA
(Don’t tell him we told you, but apparently not many people write to him anymore so he reads them all personally!)

In person at one of his surgeries, details of which are on his website: www.bimafolami.co.uk

You can also follow Bim on social media:
FB: facebook.com/Bim4HandH/
Twitter: twitter.com/BimAfolami

 

 

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