The Greasy Pole: Andrea’s Friend
There have been many Prime Ministers who have tamed some persistently disruptive rival by giving them a job. So there were many questions asked when Theresa May promoted the likes of Boris Johnson, Liam Fox and David Davis. And among them was Andrea Leadsom, now Minister for the Environment. During the EU Referendum and subsequent Conservative leadership contest Leadsom was notable for having certain doubts about her antecedents, her unwavering prejudices and her forceful style of expressing them. It seemed likely that she would emerge as a front runner in a Tory leadership contest. Except that she withdrew before it came to that, which gave May a free run and the opportunity to promote the likes of Johnson, Fox and Davis – and Leadsom herself.
When Leadsom, framed in some expensive London doorway, announced her withdrawal to the assembled hacks and media gossips, it was apparent that she was supported by, among others, a man whose proximity to her and whose forlorn expression proclaimed that he was her most ardent supporter. This was Tim Loughton, the Tory MP for East Worthing and Shoreham, who was briefly Under Secretary of State for Children and Families. He had become attached to Leadsom when they were – like David Davis – undergraduates at Warwick University. They were also members of The Patricians – a black tie dining club. Loughton was already active in the Conservative Party and signed her up. It was natural that this should encourage rumours about a rather deeper relationship but Loughton has always denied this (as if it mattered). He later took a close interest in her as another Tory MP and when Cameron resigned and she announced that she was in the running for the leadership he stood out among her closest supporters. He organised a campaign which included a small, but noisy ‘march’ on Parliament energised by the shouts between Loughton and the rest: ‘Who Do We Want?…Andrea Leadsom!!!…When Do We Want Her?…Now!!!’ The timing of this must have been faulty as it happened just before Leadsom decided to drop out of the contest so that Loughton later had to admit that the whole thing was ‘a bit of a cock-up’. After all, Leadsom had quickly abandoned the ‘march’ to take a posh taxi to the House of Commons. However there is no reason to think that Loughton’s enthusiasm for her and the party has declined.
In fact his experience in politics has probably taught him something about humiliation. His first attempt to get into Parliament was in 1992 as a candidate for Sheffield Brightside. This was also in its way something of a cock-up. Sheffield Brightside was represented by David Blunkett, blind but relentlessly ambitious, who in that election took 29,771 votes while Loughton got 7,090. What may not have been apparent to Loughton massaging his grief was that Blunkett’s career would not be some kind of conqueror’s march through the seats and corridors of Westminster. The future Baron Blunkett of Brightside and Hillsborough endured a long period of being in and out of important and influential ministries – typically Home Secretary – but was repeatedly cut down by what came to be coyly described as ‘ highly publicised matters relating to his personal life’ or ‘ external business interests’. His standards of professional judgement were often under scrutiny, such as when an ex-Director General of the Prison Service recalled that Blunkett had advised him to subdue rioting prisoners through the use of the army and machine guns. In one crucially influential case it was revealed that he had apparently used his powers as Home Secretary to speed up the renewal of a passport application by the Filipino nanny of one of his female acquaintances.
Well, Loughton was able to offer a variation on that. For the 1997 election he had a gentler ride at the breezy seaside resort of East Worthing and Shoreham, where the accepted standards of poverty were rather easier than among the mills and mines of Sheffield. In the 1997 election Loughton won with a majority of 5,098, which at subsequent elections rose until in 2015 it reached 14,949. In May 2010 he had been promoted to a post known as ‘Children’s’ Minister‘ and laid down his working principles by a vote against same sex marriages on the grounds that ‘…marriage is a religious institution and should be kept as a union between one man and one woman’. Despite or perhaps because of this a few months later he was sacked in one of David Cameron’s reshuffles. Loughton did not take this too well, describing it as an example that the government had ‘dropped the ball’ over the recurrent scandal of child exploitation – ‘the children and families agenda has been a declining priority’, When a reporter from the local Worthing newspaper The Argus asked him ‘If you were doing such a great job why did Cameron sack you?’ he replied ‘You tell me… I was summoned to see the Prime Minister. I actually thought there was a chance I would get promoted. He sat me down and told me what a wonderful job I had done. Then he said he wanted to give someone else a go’.
Loughton’s response to this treatment was to declare a kind of war of relentless questioning against those who had taken over from him at what was known as the Department of Education. He dismissed his successor the Lib Dem Sarah Teather (who was also sacked) on the grounds that, unlike him, she ‘…did not believe in family as she certainly did not produce one of her own’. This was an argument subsequently used against Theresa May, pointing out that she is childless as against Leadsom being a mother of three. He condemned the Minister, then Michael Gove, being like Young Mr Grace in the TV sitcom Are You Being Served? The response from an anonymous member of the staff at the Ministry was to use the Spectator for an adjective-laden description of Loughton as ‘a lazy, incompetent narcissist obsessed only with self-promotion’. By that time Loughton had been reported for using a four letter expletive about an unpaid volunteer in Worthing who had reacted to a picture of him sitting with some children in a local school by asking how many of them would be suffering from worse poverty as a result of his government’s policies. In the Sunday Times of 7 August Dominic Lawson referred to ‘The unfailingly foolish Loughton’ but it is not just the likes of him that we need to be concerned over. Think about Baron Blunkett, David Davis, Michael Gove etc and about this society, with its gruesome system which they are allowed by us to represent.