At least once a week, Robert Largan, Conservative MP for High Peak in Derbyshire, holds a surgery. It might be outside a supermarket or a train station in his enormous 200-sq-mile patch, but each runs the same. First come, first served, ask him whatever you like.
As he stood in the darkness outside Hadfield station at 7am on Monday, there was one key difference: for the first time since his election in 2019, he had a security guard.
It was his one reluctant concession to safety, 10 days after the murder of fellow MP Sir David Amess. Largan had ignored advice to book all appointments two weeks in advance to allow police vetting, or to pivot to Zoom. “A big, important part of the job for me is that anyone can wander down and reach out to me,” he said.
A self-confessed “compulsive campaigner”, Largan also holds surgeries in the pub. “Lager with Largan”, he originally wanted to call them, but was talked into “Your local with Largan” instead. With a majority of just 590, the 34-year-old former accountant needs to see and be seen if he is to retain this bellwether seat.
But does accessibility equal vulnerability? Largan insisted he did not feel scared. “I’m just trying to be mindful and sensible about it,” he said. “If you spend any time worrying about it, I think you’d lose your mind.”
The day after Amess was killed, Largan made a point of tweeting that he was going ahead with his surgery in New Mills, a former cotton-spinning centre that now smells faintly of Parma Violets as the home of Swizells sweets.
It was a humbling morning. “People were bringing me cups of tea, saying: ‘I don’t have an issue to raise, I just wanted to say I’m so sorry,’” he said. A retired police officer offered his services as a free bodyguard and a local karate instructor invited him to learn self-defence.
Monday’s meet-and-greet was in Hadfield, famed as the filming location of The League of Gentlemen. Few local people had time or inclination to talk to their MP, scuttling past the sandwich board billing him as “High Peak’s independent-minded champion”.
One constituent had got out of bed early to catch him for a chat about traffic issues. She offered her condolences for Amess’ murder. “I hope they’re looking after you,” she said, concerned, before asking him to do her a favour: “Will you wear a mask for me in parliament?”
Most people are nice, Largan said. If people lie about him, he fights back. Much of Sunday was spent on Twitter demanding retractions for false claims that he had voted to allow water companies to pump sewage into rivers, when he was in fact one of the 22 Tory rebels to vote against the government.
Female colleagues and MPs of colour get it far worse, he said: “There is very little Diane Abbott and I agree on, but some of the abuse she gets is really awful.” Women suffer “very creepy stuff”, he added, such as the colleague who keeps getting sent clothes in her size to her house by an unknown admirer.
He has called the police five times because of serious threats to his safety since becoming an MP. He constantly (and inconsequentially) reports online abuse too, like the person who said he should be “put in a full nelson and thrown in a river” for his mythical sewage vote. Largan blames much of the abuse on what he calls “classic Corbynista types, who split their time between abusing me and Keir Starmer”.
Ultimately, Largan thinks he can cope with the abuse. “You’ve got to be accessible and approachable and if we had a situation where people can’t chat to us, it feels like we are losing something important.”