Occupation: Marketing Consultant
Political leanings – “Progressive, left of centre. Any vote to keep the Tories out.”
Big Idea – To create more social mobility by depoliticising education. If he had £1 billion to spend, he would invest it in HMRC to stop tax evasion and reinvest the money into the country.
How would you describe yourself in three words?
Tall, thoughtful and funny.
Why are you interested in politics?
Well, it’s really the water that I swam in as a child. My father was a refugee from Nazism, and while we never formally belonged to any political party, my father was very much left of centre; he was a lifelong Labour voter, as was my mother. I have two older sisters, one now sadly deceased, both of whom were hugely interested in politics. Sunday lunches were family events where we spoke about politics a lot. We were encouraged to read the broadsheets as children. I remember, even at the age of 13, in the 1974 General election, I was taking the Labour Party position in a class debate. I’ve always been interested in it, and I read widely on the subject. Never does a day go by when I don’t read all the op eds in the Guardian and The Times, and extensively watching Sky News, which I find slightly more modern than the BBC. I’ve always been interested in politics, without ever committing myself to doing anything about it. This is the first time I’ve taken a step towards doing something about it, albeit in this entirely ersatz set up.
How would you describe your political leanings? Do you identify with a particular party?
Generally, I would describe myself as progressive, left of centre. I have voted for both Labour and Lib Dem in my life, largely dependent on the constituency I happened to be living in at the time. I also couldn’t bring myself to vote for Corbyn. (Nor, I’m sure, could a lot of people). I have no doubt it was one of the main reasons why the Tories had such a crushing victory at the last election.
Who is your political hero?
Clement Attlee, without a doubt. This is a man who is, sadly, somewhat forgotten today, but other than Thatcher was definitely the most influential post war Prime Minister this country has had. He came in at a time of appalling privation – our economy had been destroyed by the Second World War, financially and infrastructurally, and yet he made a promise to the British people, which was no more recession, no more slump, no more unemployment. He ushered in the welfare state as we know it, built on the foundations of the Beveridge Report, and of course, his government founded the NHS; he gave independence to India, and along with Ernest Bevin founded NATO. That’s quite a scorecard. He was just a thoroughly decent, patriotic man of immense calibre, who circumstances slightly fucked. He was a quiet giant of a man, a fascinating character, the kind of person you don’t encounter in British politics anymore. A politician of real integrity and vision.
What about your political villain?
Well, it would be convenient for someone of my generation to say Margaret Thatcher, but I’m slightly conflicted because, as a historian by academic training if not by profession, I think it is a reasonable argument to say that she was politically necessary at the time. Without her, Britain may indeed have descended into being the sick man of Europe. The fact that she did it with such calculated indifference to the human cost was a different matter, so there is some villainy there. But I think, while this seems like rather a lame thing to say, I’m convinced that it’s Boris Johnson, because he’s completely trashed the reputation of the office of Prime Minister and has introduced British politics to the poison of overweening self-regard, careerism, transparent lying and everything else. There has never been a Prime Minister less suited to high office than him. He lacks basic human integrity.
Do you have any experience in a political role?
No. I have what I believe to be fairly principled reasons for that, which is that if you join a political party and you stand to be an MP on its manifesto, it means you have to defend all aspects of that manifesto. The problem is, there is no political party that has had a manifesto that I would feel able to defend every aspect of when challenged about it. I think that’s a problem that faces MPs who may only have a partial fealty to that platform, and they have to defend all of it. Inevitably, that leads to accusations of hypocrisy and lack of commitment.
What would your strengths be in the role of Prime Minister?
Strong ideas, articulacy, and a preparedness to listen to other people, to try and achieve the best results, based on the evidence, from a range of opinions.
What about your weaknesses?
A tendency to dismiss views that I’m not in sympathy with, or that I think are just stupid and wrong. A slight mental laziness which means I don’t really want to have to argue with people where I think the stuff that they’re saying is self-evidently stupid. It’s an intellectual impatience.
If you were PM what is the first law you would pass?
The first law I would enact would be a tax evasion law, which would take at least £1 billion out of the treasury, give it to HMRC, with the sole brief of hiring another 5000 senior level tax inspectors to close down every tax avoidance and tax evasion loophole known to man. The resulting income to the treasury would be numbered in the tens of billions of pounds, so it’s an obvious thing to do. It also has fairness lying at its heart.
What would be the other key issues you’d want to tackle quickly?
I think immigration needs to be tackled quite quickly. It’s very much a political hot button with the public. In would introduce immigration with a human face. I don’t think anyone seriously expects we can have a completely open-door policy, we’re a small island. If we’re going to have to remove the incentives for people smugglers, and the smuggled, to come to this country, by saying “If you come here illegally, you don’t get to stay” the only way that works is to give people every opportunity, when they’re genuinely in fear for their lives, to apply for asylum. I would introduce a network of diplomatic offices all over Eastern Europe and Europe’s borders with Africa and Asia, to process these people as quickly as possible. You have laws, you would enforce them, and I think the British public would respond to the fact that it was allowing in people who were legitimate. At the same time I would stop these absurd backwashes of Brexit where we make it, generally speaking, unwelcoming to people living in Europe, who are genuinely skilled, who can’t come and work here because they don’t pass some notional test of how much money they could earn.
According to Theresa May, the naughtiest thing she ever did was run through a field of wheat. What is the naughtiest thing you have ever done?
That’s really difficult. Like everybody else, I’ve lived a life of gaiety and fun, I’ve done things in the past that I probably shouldn’t have done. I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.
What specific aspects of the show are you looking forward to, and what are you nervous about?
I know this sounds a bit Pollyanna-ish, but I’m really looking forward to working with 11 other people I’ve never met before, taken from different areas of society, and trying to come up with some really interesting policy ideas and sell them. It’s a little bit like working in the advertising profession, which I did for many years, and we would go on these training courses, where you would get about 15 or 20 strangers and we would be put into syndicates to work on knotty issues. And I like working in syndicates. Hot-housing problems. I think there’s a real energy that comes from it. I really love it, it’s something I rather miss because I don’t get to do it anymore. I’m interested in seeing how well I stack up against other people, because there’s a competitive gene within me. The thing I’m most fearful of is being part of a team that works really hard and comes up with a brilliant policy, really thought-through, grounded in evidence, great campaign, and the other side come up with some piece of populist nonsense, and the audience decides to vote for them because they like that policy. That’s the thing I’m fearful about.
You used to work in advertising. Have you worked for any political parties?
I was the New Business Director for Saatchi & Saatchi when we won the Labour account. The Tories had been with the company during the Thatcher and post-Thatcher years, then they went elsewhere, and I think partly as a ‘fuck you’ to the Tories, the Labour Party went with Saatchi in 2007. So we worked with them. I personally didn’t, but the agency worked with Gordon Brown and his team. I worked on the winning of that account, but not on the account itself.
How do you feel about working with Sayeeda Warsi and Alastair Campbell?
I like Alastair Campbell a great deal. I’ve never met him, but I saw him on the other side of the room at Saatchi & Saatchi’s 50th birthday party. I think that he is a formidable operator, and the fact that he and Blair and Brown between them managed to rejuvenate the Labour Party and turn it into this election-winning machine commands nothing but massive respect. I’ve a great deal of respect for him and I’m very much looking forward to meeting him. Sayeeda Warsi is a Tory, but I think she’s obviously a different type of Tory to the ones they have now, she’s brave enough to take on the alleged Islamophobia and racism in the Tory party. My sister said she saw a TV programme she was in, where she was doing a stand up routine, and apparently she was very funny. She’s a plain-spoken Yorkshire lass. I think she’ll be a very interesting person to meet. I’m not the type of person to go “Oh no, that person’s stripe of politics makes them completely anathema to me.”
If the opportunity arose, would you ever consider standing for parliament?
I think I would refer you to my previous answer, which is the whole thing about having to subscribe to an entire manifesto, and how I would feel about that. If I could stand as a candidate for the Kirby Party, or the Truth and Reconciliation party, and I had a chance of winning I might do it. Occasionally you get the odd doctor, or someone like Martin Bell, who win. But I think the nature of modern parliamentary politics I would find too dispiriting. The whipping, the discipline, the ‘gotcha’ journalism, all that kind of stuff, it makes it impossible for people of real integrity. When I was a kid, if you were a Tory, you were probably in small business or big business, or a lawyer or something like that, and you would join the Tory Party. And the Labour Party was full of more left-wing lawyers or trades unionists. These were all people who had had real lives before they went into politics. I think one of the curses of modern politics is the machine politician. They are in the University politics club, they get hired as a researcher by central office at the age of 21, a few years as a SPAD, they get parachuted into a safe seat by the age of 30, and by 35 they are running a multibillion-pound department of state. And they’ve never had a proper job in their life. These people are not fit to tell the country what to do, because they exist in an entirely hermetically-sealed bubble of political consideration and not human experience.
As you are about to embark on this experience, how are you feeling?
Hungry, because I haven’t had breakfast today! I’m feeling good, I think I’ve met pretty much all the other guys and gals now, they’re obviously all a bright, sparky bunch, and I’m really looking forward to starting to work with them in whatever way providence prescribes.