Within three months of being elected to Parliament in 2015, a 28-year-old Holly Lynch found herself appointed to the Whips’ Office. Two years on, the Halifax MP speaks about getting ‘very good’ at snap election campaigns. Kate Langston reports.
Holly Lynch’s summer has been dominated by meetings with fishermen, reading up on Britain’s waterways and familiarising herself with the needs of coastal communities.
The reason? Following Jeremy Corbyn’s post-election mini-reshuffle, she was offered a role as the party’s Shadow Defra Minister.
When she learnt that her portfolio would include responsibility for flood policy, she decided that taking on the position “made perfect sense”.
But speaking to The Yorkshire Post, she admits that juggling front-bench responsibilities with her caseload as an MP “can be a big challenge”.
“Taking on any front-bench role is difficult, because it’s almost like doing a full-time job in addition to the full-time job you already do as a constituency MP,” she explains.
“When I was asked if I would be interested in becoming the Shadow Floods Minister, obviously for us in West Yorkshire flooding has been such a massive issue, so that made perfect sense.
“But it’s quite a broad Defra role – I deal with all water essentially. So that’s water quality, our rivers, stream canals, as well as coastal communities and our seas and fishing.
“Fishing is going to be something that’s very complicated as we go through the Brexit negotiations, so I have spent quite a bit of time over the last few weeks making sure I’ve been out and about, meeting with the fishing industry, meeting fishermen and women working in that sector, so that I can represent their views.”
The new role is not Ms Lynch’s first shadow front-bench position.
Three months after she was elected to Parliament in 2015, she was offered a job as an opposition whip.
She held the office for just over a year – a year that turned out to be one of the most eventful in recent political history.
After experiencing the death of one colleague, the brutal murder of another and a leadership coup, she made the decision to stand down and focus on her constituency work.
“It was a really big year and difficult in many ways,” she says, when asked what kind of toll this took on her.
“On the very first day I became a whip, I remember [Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough MP] Harry Harpham coming to see me to tell me he had just been diagnosed with cancer, and he didn’t really know too much at that stage what the prognosis would be. I think Harry died three months after we had that conversation.
“As Harry’s whip, what’s difficult in a personal way is that you know Harry and it came as a shock how quickly he deteriorated.
“But also you’ve then got to work very closely with Harry’s staff and Harry’s family to try and support them.”
Four months later, the murder of the Batley & Spen MP Jo Cox shook the country and the political establishment to its core. As Mrs Cox’s whip, Lynch became the supervising MP for the constituency.
“We followed that almost immediately with the European referendum and followed that almost immediately again with the vote of no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn,” she
“So all in all it was the steepest possible learning curve coming into politics.”
Ms Lynch’s journey into professional politics began with a job as a research and communications assistant for the Labour MEP Linda McAvan.
The Yorkshire MEP was among those who inspired her to stand for election in 2015 when the incumbent Labour MP Linda Riordan stood down.
Ms Lynch was selected as the official candidate just seven weeks before election day, and clung on to the seat by 428 votes.
She found herself in a similar situation again this year, after Theresa May’s decision to call a snap election gave her seven weeks to defy the polls and hold on to one of the most marginal seats in the country.
Buoyed by a last-minute surge in the Labour vote, she eventually increased her majority to 5,376.
But her return to Parliament was at one stage so unlikely, her colleagues have since dubbed her Lazarus Lynch “on having been, politically at least, brought back from the dead”.
“Even going into the count I was still not sure what was going to happen,” she insists. “But I’ve now had two seven-week general elections in very rapid succession. We’re very good at very quick general election campaigns in Halifax!”
In the run-up to the election, the MP was pouring much of her time into her Protect the Protectors campaign, bringing forward a private members’ bill which called for tougher penalties for individuals who assault emergency services staff.
The bill failed when Parliament dissolved, but the cause has since been picked up by fellow Labour MP Chris Bryant, who came top of the list in the private members’ bill ballot at the beginning of the new Parliament.
As the daughter of a nurse and a policeman, Lynch says she is well aware of the dangers and abuse many emergency service staff face while trying to deliver “a very valuable public service”.
“There’s an awful lot of cross-party support [for this reform]. I really hope the Government will work with us,” she says.
Time in Whips' Office so valuable
HOLLY LYNCH learnt some valuable lessons during her time as a whip – not least how to secure the best Parliamentary offices. It also provided her with a crucial insight into the inner workings of Westminster.
“MPs can go their whole careers without fully understanding how Westminster works because its incredibly complicated. People come and ask you all those difficult questions when you’re a whip about the legislative process and procedures,” she says. “Being in the Whips’ Office [is] a lot of work and a lot of that is behind the scenes.
“But once you’ve done that, that does give you a fighting chance of progressing those campaigns that matter to you and your constituents.”