This article is from the January issue of Total Politics
Politics hasn’t been the most popular profession in recent years. How can we restore trust in our institutions?
Politicians have always been under fire. Many years ago, I met President Gorbachev, and he said to a group of us young politicians: “The thing about politics is it will test you and find every weakness.” You are particularly exposed to every conceivable kind of pressure. It’s not just a job; it’s a way of life. You need to be more aware and you need to be more resilient and you need more energy than in other professions. I often say that the overriding characteristic an MP needs is stamina.
Apart from building stamina, what advice would you give to an MP elected today?
I’d say the traditional advice, ‘Stay out of the bars and specialise’ still applies. You need one or two subjects you can drive forward.
Someone like John Major suffered a lot on Europe. How’s Cameron going to come out of this?
He’s going to come out of it well. He’s shown good leadership and he’s now trying to do what a lot of people want to do, which is to change European legislation so that we can bring some decision-making back home. I very much welcome that.
What have been some of the highlights of your parliamentary career?
The first was winning a seat that had been under attack from both Labour and Liberals. I’ve won six elections. Secondly, at the end of the Cold War I organised a series of conferences to bring politicians from the whole of the Northern Hemisphere together in London. The first was in 1990, just at the Cold War’s termination. It was fantastically poignant. That was quite groundbreaking, as I’d thought of it before it actually happened, a year ahead of the Berlin Wall coming down. Another project I’ve pursued relentlessly is bringing complementary and alternative medicine into mainstream use, with varied success.
Who would you say is the best Conservative Party leader you’ve served under?
Thatcher was an outstanding, driven personality. I remember sitting behind Geoffrey Howe when he made the speech that brought her down. That was a poignant moment.
What has been the biggest fundamental change in the Conservative Party since you became an MP?
We’ve become much more representative of the country, as a whole. I suppose that, as a party, the thing that’s changed has been agreeing to go into a coalition with another party whom we’d campaigned against. That was a challenge.