17 From ’17: Tory MP Gillian Keegan: ‘I Make Laura Pidcock Say Hello To Me When I See Her’

The 2017 General Election saw 92 MPs elected to the Commons for the very first time. In a series of exclusive interviews, HuffPost UK is speaking to new MPs from the Conservatives, Labour, SNP and Lib Dems. This week, it’s the globe-trotting Gillian Keegan…

An international businesswoman who has lived all over the world, Gillian Keegan brings a wealth of experience to the Commons.

Taking over from the much respected former chair of the Treasury Committee Andrew Tyrie as MP for Chichester, Keegan has a background more associated with her Labour opponents.

Raised against the backdrop of miners’ strikes in Yorkshire and industrial action on Merseyside, Keegan decided the Tories, not Labour, offered the solutions to the changing world.

Here’s Gillian Keegan’s 17 from ’17…

Where were you born and raised?

I was born in Leigh in Lancashire. I was raised for a few years in Lancashire, a few years in Yorkshire and then most of my time from the age of ten in Liverpool.

What did you want to be when you were 16?

Hairdresser. I had no idea, very limited careers advice and it seemed like something glamorous to do. My mum went off the scale thinking how that would be a dreadful waste of me, as she thought. My dad, who had a much smarter way of managing me, encouraged me, said that would be a fantastic idea and then took me round in his car to experience the day in the life of a hairdresser, including going to speak to some girls who were hairdressers and basically demystifying the bits I thought were glamorous.

At the end of it doing my monthly budget of how much I would be able to afford, and what kind of house that would get me in Huyton where I was living, and let’s just say it was high-rise and not so nice and that was pretty much all I would be able to afford.

It made me much more aware of things like how much you needed to work to increase your earnings and how difficult it was to get well paid jobs that post-tax you’d be able to pay all your bills.

When did you first become interested in politics?

I’ve always been interested in politics because I grew up in the 80s in Merseyside. We had the Militant council, we had the unionised factories out on strike all the time and I was working in one of those while studying Business Studies. It was a car factory that actually made sub-assemblies.

I was experiencing the union’s disputes. Largely they were not genuine disputes, they were ‘which person was allowed to clean up a coffee cup’ or old working practices they tried to extort more money out of the management to protect.

At the same time I was studying Globalisation as I was doing Business Studies at Liverpool John Moores University on day release. I was studying that thinking ‘OK, none of that makes any sense, the unions aren’t in control of this whole decision.’ There are other places in the world to make a car part. And of course there was the miners strike which was a feature of when I was growing up in the 70s in Yorkshire and we were in a mining village, so all of those things when I put them all together I got very interested in politics.

Labour’s running of Liverpool council caused a split in the party in the 1980s 

Of course everybody round me thought the answer was Labour. The difference between what I was experiencing was because I was studying business studies at the same time and studying about Globalisation I didn’t have the luxury of thinking it was all just awful. I had to try and think what the solution was. What do you replace it with then?

When you’re looking to find the solution that led me to a very different path, that actually led me to becoming Conservative because the economic policies that the Conservatives have will provide much better long term solutions for our country. I joined the Conservatives in 1998.

Who is your political hero?

I would probably say bits of everybody. For their time, you couldn’t beat Winston Churchill or Margaret Thatcher in terms of the right person with the right approach at the right time, and timing is everything. It’s everything in business and it’s everything in politics as well. If I look at who’s the best orator, I look at Barack Obama and think wouldn’t you love to be able to give a speech like that, or even Michelle Obama to be honest, she gives great speeches. I think I would take bits out of everybody. I like the reformers as well, Kenneth Baker in his time, people who looked at problems and thought we do need a different system in place and that takes quite a lot bravery actually.

Who is your favorite politician from another party?

Actually I met Laura Pidcock and said to her “that’s a silly thing to say”. She reckoned she didn’t say it. I make her say hello to me in the bar every time. I’ve worked with Margaret Hodge, I think she’s great, I think she’s great fun. Meg Hillier I’ve got a lot of time for her. She’s the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, I think it’s important you can respect someone you work with. 

What did you do before becoming an MP?

27 years in multi-national business. Started as an apprentice in a car factory in Liverpool aged 16, leaving school with ten O-Levels but not feeling that I had many options to do A-Levels that were going to lead to me getting anything like the right results to lead to me going to a decent uni. I went the apprenticeship route, it’s what would now be called a degree level apprenticeship. They sponsored me through to degree level. By the time I was 23 I had seven years business experience, a 2:1 in business studies, no student debt, I had cut deals, I had managed a team, I was flying really. What was a disadvantage at 16 became a massive advantage in my early 20s. I never looked back. 

If you could run any Government department which would it be?

The ones I would say right now based on the areas I’m interested in or know more about would be Business or Education. They’re the natural ones. But also Foreign Office – having a lot of international experience – or International Trade as well.

What was the last book you read?

Call to Account, which is Margaret Hodges’ book on the Public Accounts Committee.

Who is your favourite band or artist?

The Beatles, it would have to be. The White Album is my favourite. I would say Sexy Sadie is my favourite song on that album. Probably the best concert I’ve ever been to, still, is Oasis at Man City. It was amazing. Then we went to the Hacienda afterwards, we did the full Manc experience.

What’s your favourite film?

It’s got to be a Christmas film. I would say It’s A Wonderful Life or Scrooge, the BBC version. It can even go up to Love, Actually now I suppose. It gets you in the mood for Christmas, it makes you want to wrap your presents.

What one thing would you change about UK politics if you could? 

It’s got to be the way we engage with the electorate. It’s got to be being able to have a more balanced discussion. What it seems to me, and the same in the referendums, you get two very polarised views of why it’s all going to be fabulous or it’s going to be terrible, whether it’s Labour versus Conservatives or Remain versus Leave, and life just isn’t that binary, there is much more shades of grey. I personally think that the British public is very much capable of understanding some of the nuances. Not great depth, but the nuances and the shades of grey. Also understanding risks and downsides of decisions. But the way that it’s all discussed now is as though everything is going to be perfect or if we take this route it will 100% solve the problem.

Which three words would your best friend use to describe you?

Kind, confident, fun.