Leeds West MP: Rachel Reeves interview

Political Editor Mark Hookham kicks off a series of profiles of Yorkshire's new MPs by interviewing Labour's rising star Rachel Reeves – the first female MP to represent a Leeds constituency for 40 years.

Laminated maps have been strategically placed along the Committee Corridor and Westminster's famous "men in tights" prowl the Palace to ensure none of the rookies get lost.

* Click here for a round up of the YEP's General Election coverage.

If the most commonly asked question among university freshers is "what A-levels did you do?", for new MPs it's "what was your share of the vote?"

* Click here to read YEP political editor Mark Hookham's Westminster blog.

The 2010 political intake might be 232-strong (the largest number of new faces since 1997) but Parliament remains disproportionately male.

While 51 per cent of the UK population is female, only 22 per cent of

MPs in the new Parliament are women.

Economist Rachel Reeves did, however, buck the male-dominated trend and make a little bit of history at last month's General Election.

By holding Leeds West for Labour, she became only the second woman to represent to a Leeds constituency and the first for 40 years.

The city's only other female MP was Alice Bacon, who represented first Leeds North East and then Leeds South East between 1945 and 1970.

Speaking over a coffee in one of Westminster's cafes, Rachel, 31, describes her new day job as a "huge privilege" and a "big responsibility".

"There are now 140 women here in Parliament, of which 82 are Labour. But there are more people who went to public schools in Parliament than there are women.

"Given that women represent 50 per cent of the country, it's disappointing there are not more women in Parliament.

"I hope that being elected I can be a role model for young women, thinking about their careers and future.

"I hope it will not be another 40 years before there is another woman representing a Leeds constituency in Parliament."

Rachel is following in illustrious footsteps – after her death in 1993, Alice Bacon was described by The Independent newspaper as "one of the most significant figures in the British Labour movement for over 25 years."

She used her powerful position within the party hierarchy to promote fellow Leeds MP Hugh Gaitskell's pragmatic and moderate brand of socialism, while beating back the more doctrinaire left wing of the party.

Her speech to the Commons after Gaitskell's death moved many to tears: she described the grief in the poor back streets of Leeds, the dimming down of lights in the little houses, the slow drawing down of blinds.

Alice Bacon would no doubt have approved of her young successor.

Rachel Reeves was confirmed as a rising Labour star after being picked by party bosses earlier this year to write a new edition of the book Why Vote Labour? (a book previously written by former Chancellor Roy Jenkins).

Her CV and extensive economic background makes her a key asset for the party.

She studied at Oxford University and the London School of Economics before becoming an economist at the Bank of England in 2000, where her first job was to study Japan's decade-long economic downturn.

She spent a secondment to the British Embassy in Washington DC, where she worked as Economic Secretary advising on economic policy, before leaving the Bank four years ago to become an analyst at HBOS in Leeds.

"The biggest challenge we face right now is getting the economy back on

track and making sure there is strong sustainable growth that delivers the jobs of the future not just in London and the South East but in all regions of the UK including Leeds and Yorkshire.

"I hope my background as an economist will give me some insight into what is needed," she says.

Rachel joined the Labour Party aged 16 after being switched on to politics by her experiences at inner city schools in London under the Thatcher and Major governments.

"There were not enough textbooks to go around, all after-school activities, like music and sport, were being cut because there was not enough money, special needs teaching was got rid of.

"Our sixth form was two prefab huts in the playground and our library had been converted into classrooms. That's when I decided things weren't fair and things could be done in a different way," she says.

Rachel is now a school governor at West Leeds High School and Kirkstall Valley Primary School and a trustee of the charity Bramley and Rodley Community Action, which provides support to vulnerable adults and young people.

She says that she has four priorities: ensuring there are good quality jobs in Leeds, protecting both the planned 30m investment in the Leeds West Academy and the rebuilding of Farnley Park High School, helping tackle the Leeds housing crisis and overhauling public transport.

The lack of affordable housing and overcrowding in Leeds West was raised again and again on the doorsteps during the election.

"You have got issues of a couple of three children in a two-bedroom house or sometimes of a parent and child in a one-bedroom flat.

"There has got to be more we can do to enable every child to get a good start in life, somewhere to do their homework, a garden to play in.

"It's also just real basics like heating upstairs – not every council house in Leeds has central heating or heating in upstairs bedrooms."

She lives in Kirkstall and says she was quickly made to feel at home in Leeds.

"I think the best test is that at the end of my first week in Parliament, what I really wanted to do was get on the train back home to Leeds because that is my home."