Sleaford

Reflections 2018: Caroline Johnson – Looking to the past gives us hope for the future

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Amidst the twists and turns of the last few weeks in Westminster, the approach of the new year provides a welcome opportunity to reflect on the last twelve months.

This year has marked two incredibly important centenaries – the end of the First World War, and the beginning of women’s suffrage.

In a year where the hyperbole surrounding Brexit has reached new giddy heights, remembering these milestones reminds us that this country has overcome far greater challenges.

I have been fortunate enough to be involved in some of the commemorations for the centenary year of women winning the vote, the most poignant of which has to have been attending the official unveiling of the statue of the suffragist leader, Dame Millicent Fawcett. She becomes the first woman to have a statue in Parliament Square. Without the tireless determination of Dame Millicent and her associates, women would not have the vote – and I would not have been able to become an MP.

As we remember the sacrifice of the suffragettes, it is crucial we imbue a passion for politics in a new generation of young girls today. That is why I was delighted to run a girls debating competition at Sleaford and Kesteven High School this summer, to encourage the participation of girls in politics, public speaking and debate.

I was very impressed by the incredibly high standard across the board, and was delighted to welcome the winners to Parliament, to enjoy a tour of the building, watch PMQs from the gallery and then meet the Prime Minister herself.

In November we remembered the centenary of the Armistice. The sacrifices made by our servicemen and women, past and present, must never be forgotten. I have been happy to lend my support to efforts in Lincolnshire recognising the sacrifices of our very own Bomber Command.

Despite suffering the highest losses of any unit during the Second World War, they have struggled for recognition. After pushing for more funding for the International Bomber Command Centre, I was delighted to see them awarded over £600,000 from LIBOR funds in the Finance Bill for their ‘Recognition, Remembrance and Reconciliation’ project.

This project serves as a fitting tribute to a unit whose heroism placed a crucial, yet underappreciated, role in the war effort.

Lincolnshire continues to be the proud home of the Royal Air Force, and I have had the privilege this year of visiting many of our local RAF bases through my participation in the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme this year, including RAF Cranwell, Digby and Scampton, other bases throughout the UK and those further afield such as RAF Mount Pleasant in the Falklands Islands and RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus.

There is a large military presence in my constituency and the neighbouring area, and I wanted to take part in the scheme to make sure I had the knowledge and skills to be able to represent military personnel and their families effectively. Through this experience I’ve gained a clearer understanding of how the armed forces operate and am far better placed to discuss policy which impacts on the armed forces, including in Lincolnshire. Having seen the professionalism and capabilities on show in bases across our county and indeed the world, I will continue to lobby hard for the RAF to have the resources to continue to be the best in the world.

The new year is sure to bring new trials and tribulations – but whatever challenges lie ahead, we need only look to our past to remind us of what this country is capable of. As the Prime Minister engages with our EU partners to get the assurances on the backstop members of parliament have asked for, I wish her the best in this endeavour and hope we arrive with a better deal in the New Year.