We sat down with Grant Shapps, the MP for Welwyn Hatfield, for the first part of an exclusive interview.

He reflected on his time as Welwyn Hatfield's representative in parliament and the issues facing his constituency, and looked ahead to the next general election - and beyond.

Asked what his proudest achievements are as a local MP, Mr Shapps pointed to the "eight year battle" to block a planning application for an incinerator that "would have overhung the whole area".

He continued: "That was one of my proudest moments, not least because people were quite sceptical.

"People said 'there's nothing we can do about it', and I said, 'no, I think it is worth it'.

"It involved raising a quarter of a million pounds to fight it from different organisations and voluntary donations ... things like that really make a big difference."

But he said that many of his proudest moments are those that come from casework with constituents - he had already conducted six surgery sessions on the day we spoke.

He said: "You end up solving all manner of day-to-day problems, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of them.

"Some of them, only they will ever know. Often, I knock on doors years later and people say 'we're so grateful you helped us get moved', or got them what they needed for their disabled child ... it's those things that make you really proud."

He thinks that having to combine his local duties with ministerial responsibilities is a "brilliant" thing about the British system - going from talking about national security issues one day, to broken bus shelters the next - "you can do the big stuff and be completely grounded".

If he wins re-election at the next general election, which must be held no later than January 2025, Mr Shapps said his local priorities would be the town centres, healthcare, and the Local Plan.

He's pleased with most of the redevelopment work in Hatfield: "It's going to bring a lot more footfall into the town centre which is what it most needs, and that sense of community you get from a vibrant shopping centre ... having more residential in the town centre is a better balance."

But he remains concerned by Welwyn Garden City's town centre, and said it's "got a lot of problems" with empty units. He believes that the chancellor's decision to offer tax reliefs for small shops and businesses in the Autumn Statement will help them out in the changing retail environment.

He's worried that "there's an overdevelopment going on" in WGC with the Broadwater Road project.

"It will, of course, have a benefit in terms of footfall, but I think the quality of the housing is a big concern to me.

"That housing can either be done well or badly, and if it's done badly, it will not work, if it's done to a high quality, it will.

"There's a balance to try and make sure that we don't end up with high rises that people either don't want to live in or turn into poor quality housing."

On healthcare, he points to recent, successful campaigns to expand the services available at the New QEII - such as diagnostics - and would "like to see that trend continue".

And on the Local Plan, recently agreed by Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council, he criticised the current Labour-Lib Dem administration for pushing through a plan that he believes means that "Hatfield and Welwyn Garden City are going to end up joining together" and will "inevitably ... lead to our villages joining up to the towns".

He added that the Conservatives had, for "years and years and years ... been trying to create a Local Plan that would actually work for the local area and doesn't include ripping up the green belt".

But what does he think his chances are of being around after the next election to campaign on these issues, with current polls suggesting that Labour's candidate, Andrew Lewin, could win the seat instead?

Mr Shapps said: "I've always fought for every single vote.

"There's no reason why I would ever be complacent, I've always fought it like a marginal constituency as a result of the experience of fighting it and not winning it [in 2001].

"I'll be saying to people 'judge me on my record'.

"Tomorrow morning, I'm knocking on doors [and] I guarantee it won't be very long until I knock on a door and someone says 'you helped me with this, thank you so much for that'.

"I'll be standing on that record - it doesn't matter what your politics are, whether you're left or right, red or blue, I work hard for the area and I intend to carry on doing that."

When it is put to him that this might suggest a belief that his own personal record is stronger than the government's over the last 13 years, he said that he has always focused his campaigning on "what I'll do for you as your MP and how proactive I'll be".

Defending the government's record, he pointed to the "low" unemployment rate - currently 4.2 per cent, compared to six per cent in the EU - and its help for the low paid. The minimum wage has increased from £5.93 to £11.44 since 2010 - which is also a real terms increase - and the threshold at which people begin paying income tax has risen from £6,470 to £12,570 per year.

Mr Shapps warned that "every single Labour government in the history of this country has come in and left unemployment higher", and expressed concern that Labour leader Keir Starmer "has twice supported a leader [Jeremy Corbyn] who didn't believe in our nuclear deterrent".

In part two, we will delve further into national security issues and Mr Shapps's role as defence secretary.