Daisy Cooper MP
Daisy Cooper is the Liberal Democrat MP for St Albans, and has been an MP continuously since 12 December 2019. She currently undertakes the role of Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Health and Social Care) and is Deputy Leader of the party, we caught up with Daisy inbetween her very busy schedule.
Q1. What or who inspired you to enter politics?
I was a campaigner from a young age, but I didn’t get involved in party politics until my late 20s. I was watching one of the Sunday morning political shows, and found myself shouting at the TV. A Minister was being interviewed about the then Labour government’s “war on home grown terrorism” and its proposals included secret courts, and 42 days detention without charge. The proposals were eventually defeated, but I was genuinely shocked that a government of any colour could try to undermine civil liberties in this way. Two thoughts occurred to me. First, with these kinds of policies where do we end up as a country? And second, I could do a better job than her! So I joined the Liberal Democrats that afternoon and haven’t looked back.
Q2. What would you say to a young person thinking about a career in politics?
Young people often ask me for advice because – they say – that they’re “choosing” between politics and another vocation. My answer is always that politics exists in every walk of life. Whether you’re a musician, a designer, an engineer, a taxi driver, or an entrepreneur, your job and your sector will be affected by political decisions on regulation, funding, and political priorities. So my advice is, follow your heart, get some life experience, and start campaigning for something that you believe in – either inside or outside of your chosen career. I always say that “politics never goes away” so you can enter politics at any stage of your life.
Q3. Women only make up 1/3 of our MP’s what do you think is stopping it being 50% of even higher?
There’s lots of research on this! The UK’s first-past-the-post electoral system is combative not collaborative, as it forces politicians to focus on what differentiates them rather than what they have in common; this tends to put women off politics more than men.
Parliament has long and anti-social working hours with votes taking place up until midnight some nights; and travelling to London for several days each week can be especially tough for women with young children, given that women still do the lion’s share of caring.
Unless you live in a ‘safe seat’ – a place where your party has consistently won by large margins at every general election – people wanting to become MPs often have to chase winnable seats in another part of the country and that involves uprooting your life and family. And there is, sadly, often unconscious bias against more diverse candidates, when they compete in selections by local parties.
Things are improving though – albeit slowly. Just recently Parliament launched an inquiry into where babies can be taken on the parliamentary estate and what childcare facilities MPs would like to see. I’m proud that 70% of Liberal Democrat MPs are women, myself included, and that other parties are improving their gender balance and other diversity too: Parliament really needs to represent the country it seeks to represent.
Q4. We see you in the House of Commons raising issues for St Albans and its constituents, if you were the party leader what would you improve at the next election?
As well as being the MP for St Albans, I’m also Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats so I already work closely with Lib Dem Leader Sir Ed Davey. As Deputy, I’ve been focussing my efforts on supporting fantastic parliamentary candidates who can inspire people to action, so that more people around the country can experience what it’s like to have a hard-working Lib Dem MP who stands up for internationalist, environmentalist, pro-business, pro-public services, liberal values.
Q5. What business lessons have we learned from Covid and how should we prepare for future pandemics?
The pandemic really put a spotlight on how little the Government really understood our economy. Very quickly, it became painfully obvious that freelancers had been completely overlooked: many work in the eco-system of the creative sector and were shut out of the support schemes because they didn’t fit the clear-cut model of ‘employed or self-employed’. Recently self-employed people also had to wait for more than a year for any meaningful grant support. The Bounce Back Loan scheme was a disaster for many too, with their banks simply not having the capacity to process their applications fast enough, leaving some to fold because they just couldn’t wait any longer. Many of the support grants were built around business rates – a system that was fundamentally broken before the pandemic, and still is today. There needs to be a wholesale review of how we tax businesses, so the government stop penalising small businesses including those on our high streets, who are effectively subsidising the online giants with no customer-facing physical presence. We need to ensure that all types of workers can be supported in future, and business rates reform remains a key priority for me.
Q6. What Liberal Democrat policies would most help local businesses in your constituency particularly with regard to owning a house in this area – just a pipe dream for many. How can we fix this?
Businesses and entrepreneurs who innovate and invest, and behave responsibly to their employees and the environment should be supported. The pandemic has given us the opportunity to rethink how to transform the economy. Liberal Democrats proposed a £150bn green coronavirusrecovery plan to invest in our green economy, create a green jobs guarantee, and train people in the environmental industries like renewable energy, home insulation and rewilding projects.
We’d also replace the broken business rates system which plagues so many St Albans based businesses, especially in hospitality. We’d replace it with a Commercial Landowner Levy, based solely on the land value of commercial sites, rather than their entire capital value. This would stimulate investment.
Home ownership is so expensive for two reasons: one because there simply aren’t enough of them being built across the UK, and two, the current planning system is developer-led not community-led. We’d also put our local authorities at the heart of new home building, give communities a greater say over the types and locations of new development, and allowing councils to buy “land-banked” land from big developers at its current value.
Q7. Do you support the levelling up agenda and how could we ensure better business growth in relatively deprived areas?
We’ve been hearing about levelling up for more than two years now, but it’s still not at all clear what it really means. After months of much anticipation the Tories finally produced a “roadmap” that looked very much like a hastily put together wish list. We need to drive business growth by investing in a skilled workforce, upgrading our infrastructure – especially broadband and transport – and start building bridges with our European neighbours to reverse the catastrophic damage that Brexit has had on manufacturing, agriculture, and tourism. Many of the country’s least well-off areas depend heavily on these sectors.
Q8. In your role as health and social care spokesperson for the Liberal Democrat party. What can we do about the state of the NHS?
Frankly, we need to tackle the workforce crisis head on. There are almost 100,000 NHS vacancies, and thousands more in care. We need policies to support and retain the workers we already have; we need a long-term workforce plan; and an urgent recruitment drive, including from overseas. With six million people on the NHS elective surgery waiting list, and millions more waiting for treatment, we urgently need the staff to care for patients who are sick and scared. There also needs to better integration between the NHS and social care, so people don’t get stuck in a battle between the two, and there also needs to be investment to overhaul IT, to update medical equipment and to pay our NHS and care workforce fairly.
Q9. As we watch the conflict in Ukraine unfold, why do you think Putin thought he could invade a democratic European country and get away with it? Do the sanctions put in place by many countries go far enough and do you think enough is being done to help refugees fleeing persecution?
Quite simply, the world has turned a blind eye to Putin and his ambitions for too long. Access to gas, oil, and investment from super-rich oligarchs was just too appealing for too many governments who set aside concerns about national security and failed to ask questions about where that money was coming from.
Right now, the Government need to step up and offer more military equipment for Ukrainians on the ground; we need to make a generous offer to take in Ukrainians fleeing Putin’s invasion and we need to implement much tougher sanctions, now, including by cracking down on dirty money here in the UK.
My colleagues have been putting pressure on Ministers to open up the UK, scrap the confusing, long-winded, and cruel visa process, and help humanitarian agencies on the ground. Many European countries have done this already, and it’s disgraceful that, so far, the UK is dragging its heels like this. Likewise, we need to go harder and faster on sanctioning Putin and his cronies, and actually start seizing these assets rather than just freezing them.
Q11. You are very well respected as an incredibly hard-working MP, refreshingly transparent about all of the work you tirelessly do. Where do you get your energy from?
That’s a big compliment – thank you! I will always work as hard as I can for my constituents. People do always ask me the question about where I get my energy from and I never quite know what to say as – the truth is – I’ve always been this energetic! I’m motivated by my values and the idea of the kind of country in which I want to live, but also by fighting the every-day injustices that affect so many people. My brother has competed for Great Britain as a triathlete and we often talk about the parallels between sport and politics. In both, you need to get enough sleep, eat well, train/work hard to improve how you do your job, enjoy it, support others on the way, and then on the day of the competition/election, go all out to win!
Q12. Finally, what are the biggest challenges we will face as nation in the next few years that we should all be thinking about?
I think we can see the coming challenges because many of them are here already. We have shortages in our workforce, rising prices and inflation across the board, growing disruptions from war and conflict, the climate emergency, and an ageing population amongst other big issues. New technologies provides both opportunities and challenges too: for example, as automation kicks up a gear, we may boost our workforce with bots, but we also must retrain and upskills those whose jobs will be lost.
None of these challenges are insurmountable but they’re all happening at once. Many are being met with inaction especially in areas, like technology, where governments are notoriously too slow to act. A big concern for me is that many are “global challenges” that will best be solved by international collaboration but we seem to be entering an increasingly fractious global environment. Yet, as the climate scientists keep saying, there is still “just enough time” for us to sort things out – just!