The rise of the new Conservatives

James Burton 23 October 2009

Andrew Rosindell MP, a fast-rising Shadow Minister, talks to James Burton about Labour, the Monarchy, Europe, and Expenses. But is this seemingly old-school Tory fully on-board with ‘Dave’s’ revolution?

If Andrew Rosindell was an animal, he’d be “a Staffordshire Bull terrier”, because they’re loyal, and English through and through. This pride in Britain is clear in his insistence that public buildings should fly the Union Jack, and he displays an unstinting loyalty to the party, even if his support for Cameron displays the occasional crack.

When I interviewed the Shadow Animal Welfare Minister on Sunday the 11th of October following his speech to the Cambridge University Conservative Association (CUCA), what I found was a man who was seemingly every inch a ‘new’ Tory.

As MP for a London constituency, Rosindell is an unusual Conservative in many ways. He was born in Romford and first worked as a freelance journalist, before being elected as a local councillor in 1990, in the area he grew up in. After a couple of fits and starts, failing to get elected in Glasgow and Thurrock, he was finally victorious in his home constituency of Romford, in the 1997 election,no less, where the Tories suffered a resounding defeat.

In 2005, he won an astounding 59.1 percent share of the vote, the second-highest proportion of any MP for ‘Dave’s’ party, and he never went to university. This is clearly not the Bullingdon Club.

The Shadow Minister’s long-term connection with his constituency is something he sees as very important: “if MPs come from the area they represent, I think it gives them a much stronger base and a much better understanding of their constituents and their community than it does if you’re parachuted in from somewhere else.” I suspect that if he had been elected in Glasgow his views would differ, but decided not to push my luck.

Despite the obvious differences between Rosindell and Dave’ he is for the most part stalwart in his defence of party policy. On the EU, he says in his speech that “Mr Cameron has been very clear. We are against the euro, we are against the Lisbon treaty, we are against further integration. Labour has tricked the British people”.

The respectful deferring of authority to “Mr Cameron” continues throughout his talk. The only time I wonder for a brief moment if Rosindell and Dave might perhaps not see entirely eye to eye is when he moves on to talk about devolution, a subject he feels particularly strongly about.

“Labour have succeeded in dividing our country through devolution. Mr Cameron has accepted this,” he says, and for the briefest moment I wonder if Mr Rosindell disagrees. “We must retain the United Kingdom,” he goes on. “We must not allow it to be divided up.”

‘Kingdom’ here seems to be just as important to Rosindell as ‘United’. The constitutional monarchy “is a fine tradition and probably the best way to govern a country”, apparently. Good job he’s speaking to the Universities Conservative Association CUCA and not at the Union. But if this particularly bold assertion raises an eyebrow, two would be needed for what came next.

“I went to a Diwali recently.” That makes me sit up. I mean, staunch defence of British institutions yes, so far so blue, but an ex-member of the Monday Club at a Diwali? Really? How times have changed. And this turns out to be Rosindell’s point. “I remember going to one ten years ago, to a party like that, and everyone voted Labour and wasn’t very happy to be seen voting Tory. Now, people couldn’t stop coming up to me and telling me they were voting Tory.”

Ok. So far, so reasonable; Dave’s man has delivered. But after a couple more minutes of speaking and answering a few mostly sycophantic questions from the CUCA lot, it was time for my interview. Surely I could coax him into some outrageous political incorrectness?

As an ex-member of the right-wing Monday Club, a noted Euro-sceptic, and a current member of the libertarian Freedom Association, on paper Rosindell reads like an old-style, Thatcherite Tory through and through. But his answers to my questions lacked the aggressive controversy an interviewer hopes for. He is reasoned about everything, and capable of providing firm and apparently moderate support for his anti-immigration (sorry, anti-‘controlled immigration’), anti-Europe, anti-hunting ban stance that I can’t help but find myself giving him a sympathetic hearing.

Take the hunting ban, for instance. He opposed it, which is interesting considering his role now is Shadow Animal Welfare Minister.

But does he object because he believes in the god-given right of the rah-rah set to ride around the country killing things? Lord, no. Foxes are “suffering more now” than they ever did before the ban was introduced. He voted against the hunting ban because he felt it was politically motivated and “badly thought-out”. Fox-hunting “disperses the fox population”, which is, according to Rosindell, good for them.

So what about Europe? He backs up what he said in his speech. He doesn’t believe in pulling out of the EU, of course. An up-and-coming Tory minister would not dream of articulating such a thing. Instead, he recommends allowing “further integration for those who want it” – although you get the sense that he is not included in this. He wants more freedom and flexibility rather than a headlong rush towards federalism, “cooperation not compulsion.” Again, these are reasonable sentiments, but perhaps too overtly sanitised for a man who has been involved in the Conservative party since before 1993.

I quiz him about the Monday Club and the Freedom Association. Does his association with them hide any less reasonable views? Of course not. “The Monday Club had a reputation for views that would not be acceptable today, such as voluntary repatriation. When I was in it, it didn’t have those views, but it still had the reputation… I don’t think these days, there’s any particular issue surrounding the Monday Club that causes any problems. They certainly don’t believe in extreme views on immigration, or that sort of thing, like perhaps thirty, forty years ago they might have done.”

Oh. Then what about the Freedom Association, a hard-line Thatcherite group if ever there was one? But no. “My beliefs are broadly in line with the values of the Freedom Association, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I agree with every single policy statement they make.”

Despite the fact that the subject of expenses has, apparently, been “regurgitated over and over and over and over and over and over again,” I decided to ask Rosindell about his expenses claims – the acid test for any interviewer who wants to know how far they can push their luck. He is charmingly dismissive, joking that “this interview is over” before giving me a fair, if wearisome, answer.

He claimed £125,000 for his designated main home, which was only seventeen miles away from his other house, a one-bedroom flat. “The £125,000 was accumulated over a number of years, it’s not like one big cheque that MP’s received, we are all entitled to claim an allowance which amounts to about £350 a week for subsistence costs, and if you consider the hours we work, the very late nights and the early mornings, and the very unusual nature of the job, I think that it is necessary for MPs to have a base somewhere near Westminster. I think that this whole discussion has been distorted by the media.”

I nod, we shake hands, and he gets up to leave. A Staffordshire Bull terrier? Loyal and British, certainly. You could see the heads of CUCA nodding along in unison as he railed against further integration and praised the Union Jack. Perhaps, though, Rosindell shares another similarity with his animal of choice. I was convinced there was still a fighting dog in there somewhere, behind all the careful phrases, but Cameron’s discipline of the party has given this terrier some caution, maybe at the expense of some of its bite.

James Burton