Natalie Bloomer explains a personal experience which convinced her that journalism and campaigning can mix – and that Sally Keeble is best placed to become Northampton North’s next MP.
There are many people who believe that journalists shouldn’t campaign for political parties or candidates. I understand their reasons for this, which is why I thought carefully before volunteering to help my local Labour Party candidate, Sally Keeble, campaign to become the next MP for Northampton North.
Here is why I made that decision.
Earlier this year, a woman I knew a little approached me for advice. She had recently left an abusive relationship and had ended up living in a hotel with her children, including a very young breastfeeding baby. It was winter and, at that point, she had been moving around hotels in the town for several weeks.
When she first left her husband, the local council swiftly housed her in temporary accommodation but failed to spot that her visa allowed no recourse to public funds – so no access to benefits or public housing. When it realised its mistake, the council gave her just weeks to leave the property.
She was on maternity leave from the NHS at the time and had limited savings, she tried to find a private rental property but nobody was willing to rent to somebody in her position.
I, somewhat naively, was sure we would be able to fix the situation. I attended meetings with her and made calls to local services thinking that, with a little pressure, somebody would have to do something to house the family. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
We had a meeting with social services where I witnessed my friend – we had quickly become good friends – being spoken to with complete unkindness. A multi-agency meeting was held where everybody expressed concern and sympathy for her but ultimately told us that there was nothing they could do to help. We called women’s refuges and were told over and again that they couldn’t take a family of this size with no recourse to public funds. The closest one with space available was in the Shetland Islands. One refuge manager said that they get many calls from women in this type of situation and have to turn most of them away.
Days and then weeks passed with the family still living out of carrier bags. Every few days, we would look online for rental properties but the closest we ever got to finding somewhere was a man renting a caravan for about £300 per week. It was much more expensive than she could afford so we had to turn it down. Her savings were dwindling and things were becoming desperate.
Then, one day, she called me crying. She is an incredibly strong woman and I hadn’t heard her this upset before. She had finally run out of money for a hotel and the children had had to go back to stay with their father. She had spent the night before walking the streets alone.
I felt incredibly out of my depth. I didn’t know what else to do to help.
Then I remembered that our Labour Party candidate and former MP, Sally Keeble, regularly visits the local food bank to give advice to people on issues such as housing. I didn’t know her well but decided to contact her anyway. She agreed to see us later that day. We met in a local coffee shop. I had never seen my friend without her baby and she looked completely lost.
Sally quietly listened to her long and complicated story. A few times she told us not to worry about the housing situation and that my friend’s immigration status was the priority. As the conversation went on I just kept thinking ‘but they’re homeless, how do we solve that?’. Then, just as we were about to leave, Sally told my friend that she had room for her at her house and that she was welcome to stay. I was stunned. We all cried a little and I could see the relief in my friend’s face. Sally gave her the address and told her she would see her later that evening.
As we walked away, my friend told me that her prayers had been answered.
Sally and her husband welcomed her into their home and, when she was later reunited with her children, they were also welcomed with open arms. They ended up staying there for seven months.
There is so much I could write about that time but this part of the story is not mine to tell, it’s theirs. I can say though that I have never known such generosity and kindness as that shown by Sally and her family.
My friend has now sorted out her immigration status, is studying at college and has finally been allocated temporary accommodation. And her small baby, who was still breastfeeding when all this started, has since celebrated her first birthday at Sally’s house and is now running around and babbling away to anyone who will listen.
After everything Sally has done for us, it felt right to back her campaign in the upcoming election. Some people might say that I shouldn’t report on local issues after supporting a political candidate in the area in this way. I think they are wrong.
Newspapers endorse parties in the run up to an election and many print journalists have a clear political agenda in their writing. I know my reporting is accurate and fair and that won’t change. If Sally Keeble becomes the MP for Northampton North and ever has difficult questions to answer, I will not hesitate in asking them. She’d expect nothing less.