This article is from the January issue of Total Politics
Gavin Williamson, PPS to Hugo Swire, Northern Ireland minister. Conservative MP for South Staffordshire, Williamson is a cheery soul known for his easy smile. He grew up in Scarborough and has a background in manufacturing.
The restaurant The Northall
A five-minute walk from Parliament, The Northall restaurant at the plush Corinthia Hotel is grand with a tempting lunch menu. High ceilings and a no expense-spared interior make a seriously impressive room. The food is themed around “British culinary strengths” and sourced from across the UK.
Starter Potted shrimps and sweet pickled cucumber, brown bread and butter; fennel and barrel-aged feta, pomegranate and tarragon leaf salad.
Main course Cumbrian beef burger, chargrilled chips; neck of Herdwick lamb; tendered stalk broccoli.
Dessert Buttermilk pannacotta, lemon cream and cardamom ice cream; homemade ice cream and sorbet selection with cookies.
The Northern Ireland Office Hugo Swire and Owen Paterson are very accessible for the Irish MPs. Northern Ireland isn’t in the headlines as much because of how the peace process has moved forward. It’s actually about making sure that people don’t forget how important Northern Ireland is − keeping the success of what is already happening at the fore in terms of the peace process and making sure people understand what is happening over there and how far things have got.
Defining his PPS role Immediately before being appointed, I got some practice in what it would be like to be a PPS by getting my youngest daughter to be a minister and my elder daughter to be a civil servant and I practised passing paper between them. Realising that I’d managed to master this art, I felt that it was an appointment I could accept.
So much of the role is defined by the minister as to how much they will involve you and what they want from you. Especially with Northern Ireland, a minister is not always able to be in Parliament as much as other ministers. I’m fortunate that I’ve got a minister who wants to get me involved.
Industrial policy There was a very interesting article in the Financial Times about how we need to start thinking about having more than industrial policy. The ministers in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills are doing fantastic work so we’re actually recognising that we’ve got fundamental weaknesses in our industrial base.
Why does Germany have a premium automotive sector? It’s not just by pure fluke and accident. It’s because people sat down in government and asked ‘how we can support you?’ It’s not about picking winners, it’s about offering support to people who can make things happen. We’re so scarred by our industrial legacy of the 1960s and 1970s, when we thought Whitehall knew best, that whenever we start talking about industrial policy and how we can help things everyone goes ‘aaaarrggghh’. We need to take a more grown-up approach.
There’s got to be a consensus that we have to tackle the manufacturing destruction that’s occurred. That’s only going to be done through investment and research and development. Business doesn’t want a minister saying, ‘That’s a good business and that’s a good business, let’s put them together to create a national champion.’ What it does need is to know that they can turn to a minister and they’re actually going to get help, get that support whether it’s through research or a way to bid for money through regional growth funds.
New challenges There are a lot of people who want to go into politics for the challenge and the opportunity to do it but they don’t see it as their whole life. They come in, enjoy the experience of being an MP and contribute a lot but decide they can contribute to society elsewhere. That’s not something we should discourage because fresh ideas and fresh views aren’t a bad thing. Maybe in the past we’ve been too guilty of thinking that you go into politics and you stay in politics forever.
Perfect for A very good lunch in a new venue only a short walk from Westminster.
Not suitable for It might do burgers but this is no pub lunch.
The cost The lunch menu is £25 for three courses, excluding wine.
To book a table at The Northall, call 020 7321 3100 or visit www.thenorthall.co.uk