James at The Springfields Academy
James with representatives of 1st The Queen's Dragoon Guards during a Welcome Home Event for 20th Armoured Brigade
James Gray MP with representatives from Google and The Countryside Alliance Foundation
James Gray MP welcoming representatives of 20th Armoured Brigade to Parliament
What a liberating feeling it is to be a confirmed backbencher. Anyone who goes into politics has a lingering ambition to be Prime Minister, even if in their heart of hearts they realise that it’s unlikely. Then we act in the hope of some kind of preferment – a junior Cabinet role, perhaps a Minister of State; or maybe I’ll have to put up with just being Parliamentary Under Secretary for paper-clips in the Falkland Islands. And what a merry dance we lead in the hope of being noticed! Jumping up and down to make helpful interventions on ministers; never missing an opportunity for a spot of brown-nosing masquerading as political influence; hoping to join the right clubs or support teams, rushing in ever-decreasing circles in the hope, let it be admitted, of promoting oneself rather than one’s constituency or National interests. I am sure that you know plenty of examples of the kind of MP I mean.
And then there comes that wonderful moment when you realise that promotion is becoming pretty unlikely. Perhaps the face doesn’t fit, or perhaps you have spoken up or rebelled once too often. A moment or two of disappointment at this self-realisation is quickly replaced by a great feeling of relief. You’ve got all the favours and distinctions you need or are likely to achieve in Parliament, your career may well develop down one or other of the different avenues available in Parliament and for the first time you owe nothing to anybody and can do and say pretty much what you like and you believe to be right for the Constituency and the Nation. The final realisation for me came this week when I rebelled on three things – the Euro-referendum, the right to wear the PJM, a medal for British military service in Malaysia, and the need for a military coroner. I didn’t agree with the government’s stance on all three; I said so; and then I voted against the Coalition. And there is nothing at all that anyone from the Prime Minister and Chief Whip downwards can say or do about it.
Now this liberation has several linked effects. First it means that I can be even more passionately committed to representing the people of North Wiltshire in Parliament. That freedom is the envy of several of my colleagues – some locally – whose ministerial ambition is not yet dimmed, and who have had to cross their fingers and act against their own instincts on several occasions. Second, it means that I can have some fun. I can fight for what I truly believe in, 95% of which would be wholly in line with Conservative policy, but a small proportion of which would be at odds with it. Third, it means that I can spend lots of time in the constituency, not only carrying out even more worthy constituency engagements, but also enjoying my life - something which precious few ministers can do.
It has also enabled me truly to enjoy welcoming friends and colleagues who are ministers down to the constituency without any sense of envying what they do. Bob Neil, the Minister for Localism and Planning came down on Friday last to address the Wiltshire Association of Local Councils. Then today we have Schools Minister Nick Gibb, who as a very old friend agreed to come down to visit schools in my patch – Springfields Academy then St Mary’s in Calne, Lyneham Primary and Wootton Bassett School.
Now there will be some who will feel disappointment that their local MP is not destined to be one of the very great in the land. I hope they will content themselves that instead they have a 100% committed constituency MP who also has the freedom and the guts to speak up for what he believes is right and in the interests of the patch. A happy and thoroughly contented backbencher.
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