McLOUGHLIN Patrick mouthWhy do we so seldom hear from Patrick McLoughlin on the radio and television? Here is a Cabinet minister whose father and grandfather were coal miners, and who himself spent five years as a miner. The Transport Secretary and MP for Derbyshire Dales is living proof that the Tories are not just a party of toffs.

Part of the trouble is that for an unbroken spell of 17 years up to 2012, McLoughlin was a whip: for the last seven of those years, Chief Whip. And in those days, this was not a role in which one sought to address the nation.

But to appreciate McLoughlin, one really has to hear him speak. Only then does one get the measure of his toughness, trenchancy, tolerance, humour, conservatism and a multitude of nuances which are not fully conveyed just by quoting his often rather flat and deliberately unshowy words. In an age which is fed up with the cult of youth, let’s hear from McLoughlin, born on 30 November 1957 and an MP since 1986.

ConHome: “Did you foresee that Carswell and Reckless might jump ship?”

McLoughlin: “No, I didn’t see that they’d jump ship, and you know the truth is they owed their position to the Conservative Party. Nobody would have known who those people were if it hadn’t been for the prominence the Conservative Party gave them. And I very much regret what they’ve done.”

ConHome: “Are they aware that you regret it?”

McLoughlin: “I don’t suppose they’re aware or care.”

ConHome: “What’s your impression, having canvassed in Rochester and Strood, of how things are going?”

McLoughlin: “By-elections are by-elections, they’re always very difficult. But you must never read too much into any one by-election. I was elected on a by-election. On the same day there was a safer seat up, Ryedale. We lost. Twelve months later we won Ryedale back, and my majority went from one hundred to 11,000.”

ConHome: “What are your wider ideas of how UKIP should be dealt with?”

McLoughlin: “Look, we’ve got to be robust in what we’re suggesting. I think the Prime Minister’s party conference speech was superb in mapping out what the Conservative Party will fight the next general election on. The next general election we’re going into, I don’t like using this word improperly, because most people do use this word improperly. But the next general election is unique, because I can sit here and tell you the date when the general election’s going to be. No Cabinet minister has ever been able to do that in the past. And also the Government is not going to seek re-election.”

ConHome: “At the moment, Labour are drifting down and the Conservatives are remaining fairly stationary.”

McLoughlin: “Yes, we’re in this fog at the moment, the fog of government, where everybody knows the election isn’t going to be until next May, and that’s unlike any other time, because we’ve not had it before, it is a fundamental difference to how this election is going to be played. We get that fog of government where people get fed up of the day-to-day issues, without thinking who do you want to govern for the next five years. And that’s what the general election’s going to be about.”

ConHome: “A lot of research shows that people still think of the Conservative Party as the party of the rich, which is a big, big problem.”

McLoughlin [sighs]: “I just think we’ve got to show people we’re on their side, to be honest. And we want to reward those who put the effort in. People struggle to bring up families. My father died when I was six. I never really knew him. Well the day after my seventh birthday, to be absolutely accurate. The first of December 1964.”

ConHome: “Was he just ill?

McLoughlin: “He had cancer, but that was not really known to me.”

ConHome: “How old was he?”

McLoughlin: “Fifty-one. My mother was told not long before he died.”

ConHome: “And was that related to his having been a miner?”

McLoughlin [sighs]: “Who knows. He’d had some bad accidents when he was down the pit, he broke his back when he was down the pit and was off work for quite some time. I don’t talk about it very much because I didn’t know him. My mother brought us up. I was one of three. My eldest sister had just got married, literally about a month before my Dad died.”

McLoughlin reverted to politics: “So I think we’ve just got to show people we’re on their side. And if you look at the Cabinet, actually there are a number of colleagues who are from very ordinary backgrounds, Justine Greening, Philip Hammond, William Hague, Sajid Javid, Elizabeth Truss. The background of a lot of senior people who sit round the Cabinet table is not that of wealth.”

ConHome: “Perhaps we should hear more from you. Your predecessor in your constituency [then known as West Derbyshire], Matthew Parris, still has a house there?”

McLoughlin: “He’s a constituent.”

ConHome: “But he doesn’t have a position in the association?”

McLoughlin: “No, no, no, no, no. At least I don’t think he does.”

ConHome: “That Clacton piece he did made a big sort of…”

McLoughlin: “Yes, well, you’ve got to be, sort of, I suppose it’s…” But at this point he collected his thoughts and realised what would be the best thing to say: “I never read it, myself.”

ConHome: “It was rather down on Clacton.”

McLoughlin: “It was rather down on Clacton. But he’s not down on Derbyshire.”

ConHome: “Who do you rate on the Labour benches?”

McLoughlin: “I’d probably still go for the old stagers. Alan Johnson. Margaret Beckett, she survived the whole of the Blair government and then was a bit shabbily treated in a way by Brown, although she would never say that. Let’s see what people like Tristram Hunt do. I wish them a long time in opposition.”

ConHome: “Who are your political heroes?”

McLoughlin: “Well, you know, anybody who served with Margaret Thatcher can’t help but in hindsight even have even greater admiration for what she did and achieved. Macmillan was a fascinating character and has links to my Derbyshire constituency [he married a Cavendish and often stayed at Chatsworth]. Kennedy. And I suppose Reagan.”

On the day of the interview, David Cameron had announced a “roads revolution”, promising improvements to 100 major roads: a speech one might have expected McLoughlin, as Transport Secretary, to make.

ConHome: “The Prime Minister seems to have stolen your thunder today. I know you’re the loyalest of colleagues.”

McLoughlin: “The Prime Minister gives a general view of the Government he’s in charge of. I know my place.” This was said with rueful, self-deprecating amusement.

McLoughlin pointed out that since 1989, when Thatcher made him a junior transport minister, there has been “a rail revolution”: “I was here with Michael Portillo, who of course has now made quite a thing out of the railways. In those days, though he was in charge of rail, it was all British Rail. And what has happened to the railways over the past 20 years since we privatised – if John Redwood had got up and made a speech saying this’ll lead to a rail revolution, we may have just said, well that’s very ambitious – but that is exactly what has happened, there has been a revolution in rail travel in this country: 750 million journeys 20 years ago, 1.6 billion last year. And continuing to grow, year on year on year.”

ConHome: “Do you think the public have caught up with this? We’re so much in the frame of mind of complaining about the railways.”

McLoughlin: “I make the point that 20 years ago, when I was last in the department, the last place you’d want to spend any time was King’s Cross St Pancras. It was an awful sort of area. You’d turn up to St Pancras Station and you’d pray that your train was not going to be late, that it’d be there on the platform, because there was one pub which was terrible. Now, they’re destinations in their own right. St Pancras – I feel so lucky that it’s my local station. It’s really improving par excellence. Same with King’s Cross. The one that lets the place down is the one that was originally the modern one, Euston, which is now in desperate need of things happening to it.”

ConHome: “You can assure us that we’re going to get the Euston Arch back?”

McLoughlin: “I am very much hopeful that the Arch will be back. We’ve recovered most of it. There’s little bits of it that will need replacing, but most of it has been recovered.”

“And the other thing I’d say with the 25-year difference is that transport is now much more up at the top of the political agenda, for economic regeneration and economic growth. A lot of companies now do just-in-time delivery. So the logistics of getting goods to companies is very, very important. And if you look at the remarkable turnaround of our motor industry in the West Midlands, it does rely on just-in-time delivery. With Jaguar Land Rover, Toyota, logistics to them is of vital importance.”

ConHome: “I saw a story in the Financial Times this morning, that there’s a shortage of lorry drivers.”

McLoughlin: “Yes.”

ConHome: “Well what are you going to do about that? It’s some wretched European regulation. The drivers don’t want to spend £500 a head having this stupid training.”

McLoughlin: “Well we say this stupid training. If you’re driving a motor vehicle, with the investment you’ve got in that motor vehicle, it’s no bad thing to know what you’re doing.”

ConHome: “Their average age is about 53, so most of them do know what they’re doing.”

But McLoughlin instanced a driver he knows who was “very reluctant” to do the training, but then conceded it had been “worthwhile”.

ConHome: “Given that many of us only buy presents at the last minute, is there going to be a problem with deliveries this Christmas?”

McLoughlin: “I hope not. I hope not. I think we’ll be all right. But I’d advise everybody to get their shopping done.”

ConHome: “Are you practising what you preach?”

McLoughlin: “No. I’d rather not go in to my Christmas present list. I’m actually a bit better prepared this year than I am most years. My wife’s very worried about it. I’ve told her I’ve sorted her present out. She can’t quite believe this. She gives me a list about two weeks before of things she would like. But let’s not go in to that.”

ConHome: “It’s not a beautiful model of HS2?”

McLoughlin: “She’d love a beautiful model of HS2. But I think I’ll give her something else.”

ConHome: “You’ve described yourself as a consensus builder on HS2. Is the consensus OK?”

McLoughlin: “I think it is. Look, I understand the people who say this is a very expensive project and you can spend the money better elsewhere. I’ve gone obviously in to great detail. We’ve had reports done for us by people like David Higgins, who’s the chairman of HS2, who said if you’re looking at long-term capacity, this is the answer. And I find it rather ironic, as a midlander myself, that I can go from London to Brussels on a high-speed train, I can go from London to Paris on a high-speed train, but I can’t go from London to Birmingham, or to Manchester, or to Leeds, or to Sheffield, on a high-speed train. And you know in all the problems we had last winter with the storms, there was one railway line which didn’t close last winter, and that was HS1. Why? Because it was built to modern resilience standards…We’re electrifying 880 miles in the next five years. The Labour Party in 13 years electrified eight miles of railway. Electrification brings many benefits. It’s environmentally cleaner than diesel. It means you can put lighter rolling stock on, so there’s less wear on the rails. So it brings double benefits.”

ConHome: “I interviewed Andrew Tyrie the other day, and on economic grounds he’s against HS2. He just thinks the money could be better spent, and he claims you could upgrade the West Coast Main Line.”

McLoughlin: “Well we have upgraded the West Coast Main Line. Nine billion pounds has been spent north of Rugby on the West Coast Main Line, and it has made a difference. But it’s now full again. It is one of the busiest railway lines anywhere in Europe. What HS2 will do is it will relieve a lot of what’s being used at the moment on the West Coast Main Line for new services to come in to being. There has also been a 60 per cent increase in the amount of freight on the railways over the last ten years. What I’d say to Andrew Tyrie, much as I like and admire him, is that when the first railway was built between London and Birmingham, there were arguments in the House of Commons that the canals were perfectly adequate.”

ConHome: “Now what progress has been made since 1989 on aviation capacity in the south-east?”

McLoughlin: Well, OK, when I first was aviation minister, I think ATMs [Air Transport Movements] at Heathrow were 240,000 a year. Last year there were 370,000. Now that is technology, that is better management at Heathrow. But there is no doubt that one of the questions that we were talking about in those days was aviation capacity in the south-east…But what I think Davies and the commission [Sir Howard Davies and the Airports Commission] have done incredibly well is they have gone about this in an incredibly methodical and detailed way. Consensus is important on something like this and I hope that when they publish their report next June, whoever is sitting behind this desk, they will be able to say this is based on proper evidence.”

ConHome: “So we might get another runway at Heathrow in fact.”

McLoughlin: “I don’t know. They’re looking at three options.”

ConHome: “That would produce such anger.”

McLoughlin: “Any one of those three options, that’s what the Commission is there to try to get us to address.”

ConHome: “But the Estuary is out of it.”

McLoughlin: “They’ve ruled the Estuary out. They don’t think the Estuary is a runner.”

Snip20141112_3The Transport Secretary’s office is adorned by a picture of him in a miner’s helmet: “This is my first ever poster as a parliamentary candidate. That was Wolverhampton South-East [in 1983]. You wouldn’t be allowed these any more, because they’d be outside the corporate image that we all have to…”

ConHome: “Surely you of all people can defy that. I’m sure Lynton Crosby would think that’s a great picture.”

McLoughlin: “Taken 30 years ago. I don’t think even I should use an election picture taken 30 years ago.”

ConHome: “You can’t really tell. The helmet makes it an ageless image.”

McLoughlin: “I was probably five stone lighter.”

43 comments for: Interview: McLoughlin – “If it wasn’t for the Conservative Party, nobody would know who Carswell and Reckless were”

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