Lunch with... Mark Field MP

Written by Anoosh Chakelian on 23 December 2013 in Culture
Anoosh Chakelian dissects the future of the Tory Party with the Cities of London and Westminster MP. Photo by Louise Haywood-Schiefer

This article is from the January 2014 issue of Total Politics

Mark Field is the Conservative MP for Cities of London and Westminster. He held a handful of frontbench roles in opposition and currently sits on the joint intelligence and security committee. He was an Oxford contemporary of Boris Johnson and David Cameron.

The restaurant

Rex Whistler Restaurant

Recently reopened after the Tate Britain’s renovation, it dates from 1927, when the bucolic Whistler mural, The Expedition in Pursuit of Rare Meats, first enwrapped this still-exclusive dining room. Jeffrey Archer and Nicholas Serota were sitting behind us.

The menu

Starter Dorset crab, pickled cucumber and sorrel.

Main Venison haunch, red cabbage, salt baked potatoes and turnip tops; Trafalgar trout.

We drank 2012 Prieto Picudo, Spain (red).

We discussed

Immigration crackdown The concern I’ve often had, partly as a function of representing the seat I do, is on the tone of our policy on immigration. I’m one of 53% of my constituents who was born outside the UK. The worry I have is the more we bang on about immigration – and it seems as though that is going to be one of the big themes of the next election – it resonates with what we understand people are concerned about, but the more we bang on about that as the Conservative Party, the more we will seem I fear to people in this country with brown skin, with black skin, people who’ve come from outside the UK, they will just think ‘God, Tories somehow see us as being second-class citizens’. I think this is one of the insights David Cameron had in 2005 – he made it quite clear he was uneasy with the way we banged on about immigration at that stage. If we do it in 2013, and if we do it at the 2015 election, the truth of the matter is, the demography of the UK is changing very fast, the number of ethnic voters is getting larger and larger, and my worry is by focusing the campaign entirely on this, we run the risk both of falling into the same trap that Mitt Romney did in America – appealing to essentially a much smaller group of the electorate – but also it runs counter to what we’re trying to do, saying ‘we’re a party for everybody in this country’.

Future Tory leaders The press were out to run a very OTT story about a ‘plot to get rid of Cameron’, and that was never the case. Adam [Afriyie], like a lot of Conservative MPs, was quite firmly against the coalition, felt it was not in the national interest or in the interest of the party. As a result, he had a group of people around him who became pretty friendly. The view always was there is going to be an alternative, if we’re not going to be in government in 2015 – it’s a big if – then there needs to be a more distinctive Conservative voice being put across. There is a group of like-minded people who were thinking about where the future of the party would be, and obviously there is a sense that in a post-coalition future Conservative Party, if we’re in opposition then the issue of leadership will be addressed. The press wanted to make more of it. The truth is that you’ve got people like Jesse Norman, who has got certainly a very big fan club around him of people who are very supportive of him and his agenda, and those sorts of things tend to be on a social basis as well as on political grounds… … [Boris] is a terrific figure. I personally don’t think he’d have much appetite to be leader of the opposition, the hard slog.  You have to be totally disciplined, totally hardworking. With Boris, to be shipped in as PM is one thing, but having to do the hard, hard grind in opposition for many years would be quite another.

The political class Adam [Afriyie] has got a very compelling story in many ways, he’s self-made, was brought up on a council estate in Peckham, a guy of colour, very successful businessman and in many ways… If you look at David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Ed Miliband, George Osborne, Ed Balls, they’re all people who have essentially spent their entire working life in politics, almost all of them have been PPE or equivalent graduates from Oxford or Cambridge. And I think there[‘s a sense of which Adam encapsulates an individual who’s got a story to tell, a different path, a path of aspiration, and making his way in life.  And one of the reasons why UKIP is so popular, and I think will remain popular beyond the European elections, is that Nigel Farage essentially his appeal is two fingers up to the entire political class. There is that worrying disconnect between the political class of whatever mainstream political party – the leadership of those parties – and the public at large. It’s a function in part of the ongoing economic difficulties, but it’s also a function of the personalities involved.

Tory modernisation Funnily enough, although I’m not necessarily regarded as someone particularly close to David Cameron, I’ve always been a moderniser in the party… I don’t think modernisation is dead. I believe the concern is that essentially, Nick Boles, a forthright thinker, and his group have been in charge of the party in the past eight years, and if it’s dead how has that come to pass? I think one of the problems with elements of the modernising agenda is that it’s never been seen as authentic. For example, the green stuff – one always had a sense that that was being put across by the party leadership from 2005 onwards partly as a way of trying to draw a line with the past – it never really struck you as being entirely authentic. Of course now, we’re moving very much away from that agenda… The one concern I’ve always about the authenticity of modernisation is this: unlike New Labour, our gods never failed. Labour had to jettison their passion for socialism, because essentially the world had moved on. The difficulty with the whole ‘Heir to Blair’-type approach the Conservatives engaged in after 2005 is that our gods had never failed – capitalism and free markets are the type of thing we should be looking to support. Modernisation was never really encouraged to its nth degree. I hope that he [the PM] and the leadership will reflect in the run-up to the election, how outward-looking, optimistic and forward-looking are we? We’ve got to remember that.

Economic growth A lot of the debate at the moment is now we see this growth in the economy, and I think we’re going to get some pretty chunky growth in the foreseeable future, the danger now is that we say ‘let’s hang out the bunting, let’s have big tax cuts’ and the traditional Conservative agenda, elements of which I can understand, but equally if you do say that, then it’s quite difficult to make the case for the on-going cuts in public spending that need to be made if we’re going to get our deficit back in order.

Coalition blues We’re going to be going into the next election saying ‘coalition’s a terrible thing, we want to have an overall majority’, but actually we want to stand on our record of what’s happened over the last five years, so it’s going to be slightly paradoxical in that way – the debate on the good or ills of coalition… I have to say both at the time, and particularly now with hindsight, I think we should’ve had a second election in 2010. In fairness to Osborne and Cameron, there was a sense of a big crisis economically, that was a legitimate concern... [But] I think most Conservatives would take the view now that with hindsight, the right thing to have done would’ve been to be in a minority administration. A second election in the Autumn of 2010, having set out a bit of a programme, would’ve been the right way forward. Personally, my own view is I think it would’ve better certainly for the party, and for the country, if we’d had a second election. We would’ve probably had an overall majority at that point, not a huge overall majority, with a clear mandate to do things that needed to be done. The two detrimental things the coalition has done is unite the left, the moment the coalition was formed. The other thing is that unfortunately it’s opened up our own right flank. The compromises of coalition have been vital lifeblood to UKIP.

Oxford buddies Whenever I listen to myself on television or the radio, I think ‘my God, I sound very posh!’ I’m a grammar school boy; I was the first person in my family to go to university. And I was at Oxford at the same time as people like David Cameron. I knew Boris Johnson pretty well. I was involved in journalism as well as JCR president and OUCA (Conservative Association) secretary, and Jeremy Hunt was and remains one of my best friends and is godfather to my young daughter. I knew people like David Miliband very well – we were JCR presidents at the same time at different colleges. And of course people like Michael Gove, Ed Balls, and of course David Cameron was at Oxford at the same time but wasn‘t really involved in student politics particularly, but he was a figure who was known about... I knew Boris very well, I had no idea he was a Tory at that time. He was president of the Union, and let it be known he had this vaguely environmentalist agenda. To be fair, being closely associated with the Tory Party in the mid-1980s in Oxford Union politics was not necessarily to one’s advantage. He was also at Balliol, quite a left-of-centre college.

Banker bashing [Jailing bankers and deferring their bonuses] it’s a little bit like the announcement made recently by the health department, that recklessness will lead to a criminal charge. The danger of a lot of this is that it becomes rhetoric that is actually unenforceable. How do you define “reckless misconduct” in banking? There is a bit of a danger that, to get a quick headline, we talk about ‘yeah, we’re going to be able to throw bankers into jail’. The truth is you either end up disappointing the public because you have unworkable legislation which doesn’t make a different, or you so terrify the bankers that they don’t want to run the risk of making an honest mistake in case it ends up with a criminal charge. If it is workable, it probably ends up acting to the detriment of that industry, so I’m a little bit sceptical.

Perfect for The artiste elite.

Not suitable for Tourists looking for a snack.

The cost Fair – a two-course lunch is £21.

To book a table at the Rex Whistler, call +44 (0)20 7887 8825 or email

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