Adam Holloway MP, OC visited the school on Friday 7th June to address the Knoller Society. His audience was made up primarily of Lower Sixth politics students, with some interested others. He breezed into the Reading Room with the confidence of a front line politician fully accustomed to far more difficult and hostile audiences in his gritty urban constituency of Gravesham, Kent. (It seemed he had not anticipated a stern grilling from a well briefed James Edwards, the self-professed anarcho-syndicalist of the Lower Sixth year group.) Mr Holloway chose immediately to embark upon a question and answer format, giving the talk a free-wheeling, fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants feel – perhaps a good reflection of this Tory’s political style.
Cheekily prompted by Maisie La Costa to give his opinion on the political class, he echoed a common complaint by tearing into the Westminster establishment: “Not enough collective experience of the real world; too few leaders. Many of them wouldn’t have passed Army Officer selection,” he asserted, with the confidence of a man who has served in the Grenadier Guards. He did not write them all off, of course; but when asked by Harriet Blurton to identify the “coolest” person he has met in politics, it was a community volunteer in his constituency who took the title.
James Edwards challenged him on where he stood on policing and civil liberties. Intriguingly, he believes, “unlike my friend David Davis”, that all UK citizens should have their DNA on a database. He does not buy the civil liberties argument, given the potentially huge gains this could entail for fighting crime.
Angus McConnell-Wood cross-examined him on the UKIP threat. Might he defect? Though highly euro-sceptic, his answer was emphatically negative: “UKIP should rejoin us!” He is well aware that his activists have some sympathy for Nigel Farage’s insurgency, and assesses that a quarter of those constituents who voted for him in 2010 could vote for UKIP today. This, he conceded, may even cost the Tories the 2015 election.
He was clear on what a Labour victory might entail: a spike in the interest payable on UK sovereign debt. Pointing at Charlie Ricks, he warned that, even now, £13,000 of debt was in effect being added onto Charlie’s credit card over this 5 year Parliament. He envisages a dark scenario unfolding out of this: sudden market indigestion of gilts could lead to a public order issue, he reckons, “when you suddenly can’t pay for the NHS”. George Thomas swooped on this point like a fiscal hawk: how can the government tackle the debt mountain? “Unfortunately nobody will vote for a party that promises, in an election campaign, to make massive cuts in public spending,” came the admission.
Fin Johnston probed the issue of lowering the voting age to sixteen in order to re-invigorate political participation. Appropriately, Mr Holloway made recourse to direct democracy by taking a poll of those present. Perhaps counter-intuitively, a solid majority of the sixth formers in the room voted against the motion. He himself does not have a strong opinion on this question; but he is against the introduction of compulsory voting, agreeing with Oliver Sexton that the right to abstain is an important form of protest.
There were anecdotes about sleeping rough in New York (for a TV documentary rather than as a lifestyle choice), taking tea with Afghan warlords, and working as a motorcycle dispatch rider during a career transition: “Terrible job – try it! The receptionists treat you like dirt; they’re so snobbish.” He also had some more concrete career advice for the sixth formers: “work really hard, to get into the best university you possibly can.” Those teachers present nodded sagely, albeit somewhat forlornly. “And you could do worse than joining the Army,” he added. “The stupid wars we have been in are coming to an end, so you’re less likely to get killed; and it’s great fun!”