This article is from the February 2013 issue of Total Politics
No one has ever accused Patrick McLoughlin of being a trendy politician. He has not been seen in daylight during the last two decades thanks to his long service in the whips’ office. Now, the transport secretary is back at a department he first worked in as a minister during Margaret Thatcher’s reign. Normally, a political career is measured in simple ascension and rapid descent. McLoughlin’s progresses in circles.
The ex-miner has a political career as long-wearing as the coal he used to mine. I wanted Total Politics to speak to McLoughlin because he proved a surprise appointment in last September’s reshuffle and there was no gentle probationary period. Almost immediately, the grave errors in the West Coast Mainline bid awarded to First Group were revealed. Crisis management is one of the job qualities required of a chief whip but that is undertaken away from the limelight. West Coast placed McLoughlin at the centre of a public storm that brought into question this government’s basic competence.
Transport, a previously unglamorous department viewed as a mere staging post on the journey to another cabinet destination, now finds itself at the centre of the government’s growth strategy. When George Osborne is willing to prise open the Treasury’s shrunken purses, he often looks towards transport favourably. Roads or rail, McLoughlin has new announcements to make, but is he any cop at explaining why aviation expansion remains locked away in a review that won’t report its preferred solution until after the next election? The questions about Heathrow’s future have existed since before his first stint at the department in the 1980s. McLouglin’s explanation can be found in the interview on p40.
The idea that Westminster is populated by slick, TM Lewin-dressed, bland identi-bots is punctured by the continuing presence of politicians such as McLoughlin and our other major interviewee Vernon Coaker. Neither position themselves as sophisticated polymaths but their straightforward honesty and working class backgrounds mark them as essential presences in their respective cabinets. It is encouraging that, while rare, working class backgrounds still exist at the top of politics.