On the 16th of September, Desmond Swayne, MP for New Forest West and former Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) to the last three Tory leaders, visited the BWS Politics Society. During this visit he discussed the wide variety of roles that he has taken on during his time in politics. He talked us through his political career and his views throughout his life, with incisive wit and great humour.
To begin with, Mr Swayne talked about his path into politics and how he was captured by the excitement of politics as a young boy in 1970 by the riotous election hustings incited by MP Robert Maxwell in his local village (the same Maxwell who went on to lead a very colourful career). It was here in these arguments amongst locals that he learned how exhilarating politics could be, especially with the firm political divides at the time – divides which he feels are becoming faded today.
He then went on to discuss his role as MP and offered the view that there are a number of people who believe that he should vote as constituents think. This, he thought, misses the purpose of an MP as it is his job to make the right judgement for the entire constituency and not just those who contact him on a regular basis. A particular gripe of Swayne’s is the tendency for some who sign up to the petition website 38 Degrees, which supposedly sends him ‘6000 emails a day’.
Swayne further discussed some of the roles he has held in his long political career, notably being PPS to the three previous Tory leaders and the Secretary of State for International Development (DFID). During his time at the DFID, he acquired the view that the international development aid shouldn’t really be thought of as charity – money is removed from our pockets by force (in the form of taxation) and as a result should be spent in the national interest. He described how nearly all ministers, himself included, when entering DFID, approach it with the ‘Daily Mail’ view (full of scepticism and cynical of the need of international aid), but leave optimistic that the money helps in a genuine and lasting way.
However, I am of the view that we have particular responsibility to assist in the international development of, at the very minimum, the countries from the commonwealth that were mistreated and exploited during the time of the British Empire, namely Nigeria and India. As a result of this, we are not only giving them something back but we are far more likely to have their allegiance in times of trouble – in the same way that we did during the second world war when many fought for the allies heroically.
On the subject of Theresa May, Mr Swayne had nothing but kind things to say – notwithstanding the fact that he was recently sacked when she became prime minister. He recollected how in 2006 he claimed that she was “not liked or trusted across the party”. This he felt was especially true, since the press had blown out of proportion her “nasty party speech” and how neither she, nor Boris Johnson, bothered to invest time in the party in order to get support for her current position. Similarly, he thinks that she purposely selected a group of “rebels” to cabinet positions in order to make a point; politicians don’t have to agree with the prime minister’s and the party’s consensus – a problematic prospect with a majority of only 17. Nevertheless, he thinks that she is a “formidable woman” and perhaps, in this way, he thinks she is strong enough to lead the country in such uncertain times.
We at the Politics Society would like to thank Desmond Swayne for coming in and answering our questions thoughtfully and attentively.
By James Scott-Stacey
This article represents the views of the author, and not the views of the Politics Society, nor of Bishop Wordsworth’s School.