“I’m still not a Thatcherite Tory”
What Steven asked Tracey Crouch, MP for Chatham and Aylesford
With our new interview schedule, we wanted to talk to significant figures in Medway, and ideally each of our three MPs ahead of next year’s General Election. Thankfully Chatham and Aylesford MP Tracey Crouch agreed and invited Steven to her constituency office at Medway Innovation Centre.
Tracey Crouch has been the Conservative MP for the constituency since 2010. She has served as a Minister for Sport and Loneliness. In this interview, she discusses how she got into politics, the benefits of Brexit locally, her evolving view on votes for 16-year-olds, and how she’s feeling about the coming General Election…
Where were you born?
(laughs) That’s a direct opening question. I was born in Ashford, in the old Kennington Hospital that doesn't exist anymore.
What jobs did your parents do growing up?
My mum was a social worker and my dad - he was the ‘old man from the Pru’ and sort of worked in insurance stuff.
How did you find school and university?
I absolutely loved primary school and was obsessed with school sports, but famously wasn’t allowed to play football at school. Thrived academically, went to a school in Hythe and have so many fond memories. I passed the 11-plus and went to the Folkestone Girls grammar school. I made loads of friends and enjoyed it. I just don't have any bad memories of school apart from not being allowed to play football. I then went to the University of Hull to study Law and Politics.
What was your first full-time job?
Well, my first job was a paper girl, although technically before that my first job was babysitting. Then I worked in the shop where I was a paper girl, and then I went to another shop, and then I'm going to McDonald's for years and then after I left university I came and started working in Parliament. I turned 21 a month after I started working in parliament for a Tory MP who lost his seat in 1997.
Who was that?
He was called Walter Sweeney. He had a majority of 19, which at the time was the slimmest majority and (laughs) rather wonderfully he thought he was going to win. It was a real lesson for him and for me to always remember that your personal vote is actually not very high, contrary to what you might think. But yes, I started working in Parliament and in those days, you could work for multiple MPs. I worked for five MPs in the run-up to 1997, only one of whom survived the 1997 cull and that was Michael Howard, who was the one that got me into politics in the first place.
What event or issues first got you involved in politics?
I started to really get interested during my A-levels. I did an A-level in politics, which was a complete mistake. I’d actually opted in for AS Maths and it clashed with my History and so I had to choose a different option and so I chose politics for no reason. My mum - by this time my parents were divorced - was not interested in politics at all. We didn't have the news on, we didn't have newspapers, we didn’t have the radio. I didn’t grow up in a political household, but I thought I’d do politics I didn't really know what it was, and it was really interesting, and as part of that Michael Howard came to our school to talk to the class. My best friend Emma - she loves this story - made a bit of a dick of herself. Trying to ask him a question, she thought was going to stump him, flummox him, and actually it was all just a bit embarrassing. I don’t know why I did this, I’m really embarrassed about it what happened next, which is that I wrote to Michael Howard to apologise for my friend’s behaviour. I said I found it really interesting and thank you for inspiring me, blah blah blah, and he invited me to come up to London and do some work experience with him. I did, and I found that really interesting and got involved then with the local Conservative party, helped them on the doorstep for the 1992 election and that’s basically how I got involved.
When did your name first appear on a ballot?
2010. Yeah, I hadn’t stood for anything. I’d been elected for such things as the Vice Chair of the Hull University students. I don’t think I’d been elected to anything else. I certainly hadn’t stood for local council. So yeah, 2010.
What additional roles - paid or unpaid - do you currently do?
I am on the Horse Welfare Board, which is a paid role, which I love and it's all about animals in racing and horse racing. It can be quite a divisive issue, and I come from an animal welfare perspective, so I don’t like the use of the whip for example and the board has just done a massive review of the whip and its use. So that's a paid role and then unpaid, I am on the cycling board, I’m on the Kent County Cricket board, I’m the patron of various things, and that’s it, I think. It’s all in the register of interests. Obviously, the biggest thing I’ve done recently is in football with the fan-led review, which took up an extraordinary amount of time.
How is that going?
The government has published its white paper and pretty much adheres to the spirit of all the recommendations in the fan-led review and has cross-party support, which has always been the wonderful thing about the portfolios that I’ve held as a minister is that they tend to be ones that just naturally gather consensus, and so football is one of those things.
Who has been the best Prime Minister of your lifetime?
Well in the last year, we’ve had three. Well actually, it’s really impossible to answer that question with just one name because there are bits that are really interesting of lots of different Prime Ministers. I was born in 1975, so there are Prime Ministers that I have no real recollection of. I wasn’t a Thatcherite child, I wasn’t a Thatcherite Tory, I’m still not a Thatcherite Tory even though my formative years were under Margaret Thatcher.
I would say that John Major was the one that inspired me into politics and it’s all about timing. If you are not from a political background, your interest is about who talks to you at that particular moment in time. So, when I started doing my A-Levels, John Major had just become Prime Minister and he was very different to Margaret Thatcher. He was very similar to me. He had come from a single-parent background, he had gone to a grammar school that had given him the social mobility to consider university, although I can’t remember if he had gone to university or not. But now all of a sudden, he was Prime Minister. He believed in meritocracy. He believed in lots of things that I believed in. So that’s what really brought me into One Nation Conservatism. He just spoke to me at that particular time.
Then I look at the Prime Ministers since. I look at what Tony Blair did to the Labour Party. How he completely reformed and revolutionised it, brought it into modern-day politics and you have to sort of kind of admire that, even if it's on the other side of the spectrum. David Cameron, he would always be remembered for Brexit, but actually, he changed the Conservative Party and made it more modern again. He made us more environmentally conscious, he made us look at other things that weren’t naturally aligned to what people thought Conservatives were. I’ve always admired David as well. John Major and David Cameron are two people that I look up to in terms of my interest and my role within the Conservative Party.
Why did you play football inside the House of Commons?
(laughs) It’s a bit of a myth really. We were having a photo of the women’s Parliamentary team and we obviously had a ball to pose with. Hannah Bardell, who is the SNP Member of Parliament, started doing keepie-uppies and it just went on, and we got severely told off. Quite severely told off. We weren’t having a full-blown match, it was just passing the ball in a very small place. Nevertheless, we shouldn’t have done so.
What was your reaction to being in a coalition government?
Actually, at the time, if I recall correctly, we were just pleased to be in government and it then provided some challenges. But I have to say I look back now and I think it was possibly the happiest five years in Parliament. There were obviously things we disagreed on, but we got stuff done. There's been some times in Parliament when we just haven't got stuff done. It’s been really frustrating and you don’t go into Parliament to see major blockages in legislation progress, or things not going forward as quickly or swiftly as you want them to do. That's the frustrating aspect today, or the last four years is that it feels like we've had missed opportunities to progress because obviously, two years of covid wiped out a lot of progress on things, but then arguments, changes of Prime Minister, you know, blah blah blah. Whereas five years of coalition just seems like a lifetime away of general happiness really.
What has been the biggest benefit to Chatham & Aylesford from Brexit?
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