Lucy Allan MP: It is time to get back to work
Eight months ago Lucy Allan became one of the surprise winners of a shock Conservative General Election victory when she took the Telford seat from Labour's David Wright.
The last two weeks have seen the 51-year-old enter the Parliamentary fray after securing debates on two of the issues she describes as most important to her – ending the gender pay gap, and providing families with support to prevent children being taken into the care system.
It is an attempt by Ms Allan to return to the day-to-day routine of being a politician. An attempt also to put behind her a couple of months that has seen her embroiled in controversy and bitter and personal exchanges with her critics locally.
December saw the MP thrust into the national media spotlight over allegations she faked a death threat on a Facebook message from a constituent. Allegations then emerged that she had bullied a member of her staff, with voicemails left by her on a mobile phone produced as evidence.
The situation led to calls for her resignation and #sacklucyallan even trended briefly on Twitter.
Matters were further complicated when Ms Allan announced that she and her staff had also been the subject of a death threat – currently being investigated by police – and she also became embroiled in a furious online exchange that resulted in her branding some local councillors as "thugs and henchman, not keen on democracy".
Throughout this period, Ms Allan has kept her profile low in the constituency in which she serves.
But today she speaks to the Shropshire Star, revealing her thoughts on the controversy surrounding her and her determination to move forward with a focus for the future – both in Telford and on the national agenda.
On bullying: Ms Allan admitted she had been "stupid" in the way she talked to her former employee, Arianne Plumbly, and said she regretted her actions.
But she said she did not believe the voicemails amounted to bullying, and also expressed disappointment that the incident had been linked with another high-profile story connecting the death of a Conservative activist to bullying within the party.
She said: "I think it is totally wrong to get angry with employees, it does not help anyone, whether that is bullying I will leave for other people to decide. She was certainly shouted at and I regret that, I should've dealt with it at an earlier stage."
Ms Allan said she should have been able to provide Miss Plumbly, who had an issue with her attendance record, with more support to prevent the issue becoming a problem.
She said: "In hindsight if I had been here I would have said it is a difficult job, I don't think she is coping well and she needs more support. There were days where I was here and she didn't show up, she did not call in and I guess frustration and exasperation was what happened.
"It was stupid, I was letting off steam, it was really appalling."
Transcripts of voicemail messages left by Ms Allan on Miss Plumbly's phone were released and made national headlines. In them the MP left long messages, which became increasingly angry at the fact her employee had not been in work or called in sick.
But Ms Allan continues to deny she acted in a way that could be described as bullying and says she was upset to references made by the media to the death of Tory worker Elliott Johnson, who was allegedly a victim of bullying within the party.
She added: "I have to say I was very disappointed it was linked with the death of Elliott Johnson, which is a very serious issue for the party."
On death threats:
The Telford MP said the row over her 'doctoring' a message she posted on Facebook had verged on hysteria.
She said: "I think now with calm returning and with the heat coming out of it I think people are looking back saying 'what is this all about?'.
"It was all about one person's Facebook post and suddenly it was all about this person faking death threats, it got crazy. Some of the allegations were very serious and if they were accurate then there certainly would have been something the Parliamentary Standards Committee would want to look at.
"There were allegations I had doctored a constituent's email, another that I had published correspondence between and MP and a constituent. It was absolute nonsense. It was just anonymous quoting from a person sending me stuff, and there were a group of people sending stuff in a similar vein. I think it was verging on hysteria.
"It got hysterical and everyone got swept up in it and you just think 'wow, it is so strange'. The most surprising thing is people took it seriously. I still have people saying 'you tried to frame a constituent'.
"What I had literally done is posted stuff I had received. Yes I had not made it definitive that this came from one alias and the other came from another alias but I know they were acting in concert."
Ms Allan said she had learned that as an MP she can no longer respond to allegations made on social media or get in a debate with those making the claims through social media forums. She said: "It was silly, not professional. Not what an MP should do, it's maybe what Lucy would do but I am an MP now and you have to rise above it.
"I think it is a really interesting story about social media. It is one extreme to another, from people loving you during the campaign to this huge volume. It is not just people from Telford, it was from all over. People from all over the world saying 'you disgusting person, how could you have done this?'"
On social media: Ms Allan described some of the abuse she has received on social media as "horrible" and orchestrated. She also questioned whether a male MP would have faced the same kind of online attacks. She said: "I am loathe to say it is because I am a woman and people are having a go, but I look at my fellow MPs and think they would never say that to Mark Pritchard or the other guys."
Ms Allan said she believed the tone of social media criticism had been set by her surprise election victory.
She said: "It was absolutely hideous. My Facebook was faked, there were fake Facebook posts appearing to come from me but it would be absolutely crazy, vile posts and then they went and retweeted it and retweeted it. It was horrible stuff and it was orchestrated.
"I think what you have to bear in mind was Telford was not a seat we were supposed to win. We not only took away a well-liked MP, we took away an office of people and their jobs. It is a massive blow.
"They also lost council seats in the area. You are now in the position where the council is one short of a Conservative majority so the Labour Party was in quite a precarious position and my campaign had been about me. The word Conservative was never mentioned so if you want to negate that you go after the person."
Ms Allan said the situation has left her in a position where she would not recommend standing in a marginal seat. She said: "Not in a marginal seat. When you think about what happened here. This was about ousting someone else who has lived here all his life. It was going to cause a lot of upset and some of the things I did during the campaign, I was going to go to Labour heartlands, there were no no-go areas. I was going to be really in your face, and I think I was cumulatively creating more and more rage.
"I understand some of the rage. I had thought it would stop because I am going to be here for five years so it has to stop to get things done, but I do not think it will."
Ms Allan said she would now be focussing on securing a prosperous future for Telford, including continuing to push the issues highlighted in her six-point election plan.
She said: "Telford is very much on the up and I want to keep that momentum going but I think we need to have Telford a bit more on the map. We are in danger of being sucked into Birmingham or lost into Shropshire and I think we are the jewel in the crown. We have so much going for us with housing and jobs in the area.
"The future for Telford can be incredible. But to do that it will involve working in collaboration with MPs and Parliament and the local council. I think I will have a job building that relationship in an effective way and I think it is important that I do because I think they want the same thing I want, which is a thriving Telford."
On national issues: Ms Allan said she would be focussing on preventing the creeping influence of the state, along with issues such as gender pay inequality and support for families who face having their children taken into care.
She said: "An area I want to advance within Parliament is the whole sort of libertarian agenda.
"I think there is a growing move towards more libertarian pressures being put on Government."
The Telford MP cited the potential 'sugar tax' as something she sees as unnecessary, and said: "I do not smoke but I was not against the smoking ban. I think there is a sense of personal responsibility. I would not go into a restaurant and light up next to someone having dinner. If you take the decision away from people you are saying the state knows best and I do not follow that premise."
Ms Allan said she also wanted to see more support provided to prevent children being taken into care by helping people become better parents.
She said: "If we are going to take children from their birth family we have to do a better job by them than the family would and I am not convinced in all cases we are doing that."
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