An Interview with Richard Graham

September 2012
Why are you involved in politics?

“Because I long ago lost confidence in the previous government and because I thought my experience outside government would be useful. Creative government needs new people and new ideas from outside politics – and parliament benefits from new blood untainted by scandals. I draw on my time in different sectors and countries for private companies and as a civil servant, as well as my work for charities. And as I grew up close to Gloucester, there is no higher honour than to represent my cathedral city in my own county.”

Why did you decide you were going to be an MP?

I only decided to be a candidate: Gloucester decided the rest on May 6th 2010. But I felt the country needed some robust new MPs from outside politics to get Britain going again: and I thought Gloucester could do better too. We’d made a habit of punching below our weight.

Were you interested in politics when in school?

I was very interested in history, and the link was closer than I realised. But I never studied politics.

What is your philosophy?

“I believe in old fashioned one nation Toryism: in pulling together regardless of tribal instincts to protect our nation, to grow our business and jobs, to get the economy on track – and use that strength to help the weak and poor. I believe politics is about providing opportunities for as many people as possible and supporting aspiration; about recognising the value of tough love and about contributing positively to as many lives as possible. Politics as the expression of selfish greed can make people’s lives a misery – look at much of Africa – or change them for generations: look at Wilberforce’s anti slavery laws.”

What do you want to achieve for Gloucester?

“Everything that I do is ultimately to build greater pride in our city – through a respect for our history, an open eyed realism about our present situation and a strong belief in what we can achieve in the future. I want to help restore Gloucester’s historic role as shire capital in a modern context: to bring a sense of togetherness across a diverse city; and to be a strong voice for the city in the coalition government and Parliament. I believe everyone can rise above their tribal origins and do great things for the city where we live – and that, for all of us, should be the goal”.

How do you represent your constituents in government?

“Above all by being clear that the regeneration of our city, in so many ways and across all wards, is not an option but a mission – which government can hugely help: or obstruct.”

What is a Parliamentary Private Secretary and what does the role involve?

“It’s a form of apprenticeship, by working alongside Ministers and see what they decide and how they do so, and understanding government better”.

What was your best moment as an MP?

I hope there are still many to come! Getting the law changed after a constituent’s husband was killed later this year will be a good moment: helping people find jobs and being the second MP to have an apprentice ditto; and opening the new Gloucester Academy was special.

How many people in a lifetime have the chance to get the approval to form a new school, win the money to build the first new school for 25 years, and then open it – all in three and a half years?

What plans do you have for the future of Gloucester?

“Big and many! By 2015 I hope that much of the city centre will look different – a new development up at Greyfriars, new plans for Kings Sq well under way, a new civic quarter in the Barbican of Blackfriars likewise, and the Railway and Bus Stations much improved. Elsewhere I hope that the Railway Triangle will become an Enterprise Zone with 1000 jobs, many of them manufacturing related. I also intend that many messy houses will have been sorted out and that there will be new and better social housing built or approved, especially in Podsmead, and brown fields developed with housing and new or expanded businesses. I believe that by then the Rugby Club will be challenging hard for cups and looking to train in Gloucester not Hartpury, that the Football Club will be playing in Gloucester again, county cricket played here each year again and a new Rowing Club to take advantage of our great canal. And so I could go on – many more apprenticeships, an effective LEP forum for business and government to meet, a higher profile university, a frequently used Blackfriars and an increased numbers of visitor staying in more hotels. In short masses to do, and never enough time to do it in.”

What issues in Parliament are you most interested in?

“Work and pensions – more than a fifth of all government spending is spent on this department – and what could be more important than simplifying an unbelievably complex benefits structure and getting our country back to work. And then foreign affairs, which covers our business abroad and all the international relationships through which we engage with the world and the world with us. We are an international country in every way: getting those relationships right is critical. I have spent almost all of my working life involved in issues to do with foreign affairs, international business and pensions.”

What strategies do you use when you are the subject of personal attacks?

I don’t have one – unless a deep breath and ignoring the attack counts. Every now and again I ask a direct lie to be withdrawn from the local newspaper. Reputation matters.

What are the benefits of the job of being the MP of the conservative party In Gloucester?

I would put it slightly differently – I’m the MP of Gloucester in the Conservative Party. The most attractive part of being an MP is always learning something new – about my city, my constituents, a specific law, sector or cause

What are the pro’s – cons’s of being an MP?

Ceaselessly interesting: and ceaselessly demanding. Not one day since May 2010 when I haven’t answered a mail, letter or tel call from a constituent – including Christmas Days. There is one of me and 100,000 constituents.

How did you feel making your Maiden speech in the House of Commons and what was the debate?

No idea what the debate was. I felt very proud to be representing the city which was the shire capital of my home county and which I think is one of the great cities of the our country.