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Did you hear the one about the Clare man who loves Dublin and is less than enamoured with rural Ireland? Or the staunch Labour Party man who doesn’t worship Dick Spring? Or the politician whose fed up to the teeth with political correctness? Then you haven’t heard about PAT UPTON, Labour TD for Dublin South Central. LIAM FAY did, and now it’s your turn. Pix: COLM HENRY
Liam Fay, 02 Dec 1996
There is a story told by the late Frank Cluskey, Pat Upton’s predecessor as Labour TD for Dublin South Central. It’s a story about a fictional politician canvassing for support in a middle-class Dublin suburb.
The politician has been out knocking on doors all day. He’s been looking for problems to solve, but only easy problems which can be solved without any hassle before polling day. He’s had a miserable time though, because he can’t find even one such problem.
He arrives at the home of an elderly lady, a comfortable two-story residence with an ornamental glass door. The politician trawls through the usual subjects, asking the woman if she needs any help with the local street lighting, potholes, corporation facilities, the whole nine yards. He draws a blank on every suggestion.
With that, our hero smashes his elbow through one of the panes of glass in the halldoor. “Now Missus,” he says, “you’ve got a problem and I’m going to solve it for you.”
Pat Upton chortles with glee as he recounts this anecdote. He believes it perfectly encapsulates the absurdity of the “eejit clientelism” which for decades has been the dominant form of politics in this country. Like Cluskey, Upton recoils from this kind of gamesmanship. He argues that the true role of a TD is as a legislator and as “an advocate for modernisation.”
“I am not interested in the politics of the pothole,” Upton declares. “There are too many pothole TDs in this country, the type of person who has made an inventory of all the potholes in the constituency, the wizards of the pothole dashing around telling people that, ‘Lo and behold, I have fixed six potholes in your precinct today, amn’t I great?’ That kind of thing nauseates me.”
Born in Kilrush, County Clare, in September 1944, Pat Upton first became interested in politics during the early 1960s. He studied science and agriculture, first at UCG and later UCD. He joined the Dublin Labour party in the late 1960s, and has been active ever since. He is married to Ann Kent, and has three sons and one daughter. He works as a science lecturer in UCD, and was first elected to the Dáil in 1992. He lives in Terenure.
A practising Roman Catholic, he describes his politics as “Christian socialism.” He is a self-confessed Blairite. His long term objective is “to see the country modernised.” He wants more investment directed towards science and technology, research and development.
On the face of it, he would appear to be the very model of 1990s, sophisticated, swashbuckling Labour man. One would imagine that he would be a darling of the party leadership. On the contrary, however, Pat Upton is viewed with a strong degree of suspicion and wariness by Dick Spring and his kitchen cabinet.
All of which conspires to make Pat Upton one of the more interesting TDs on the government backbenches.
Liam Fay: Did you miss rural life when you moved to Dublin?
Pat Upton: Being honest, I was glad to get out of it. I left because I didn’t want to live in that kind of closed society bearing in on top of me. I like Dublin. I see it as an international, cosmopolitan city. I don’t see that of other parts of Ireland. I was a student in Galway, and there was an oppressive touch of The Valley Of The Squinting Windows about the place in those days. Galway landladies looking over your shoulders to see were you eating too much or using too much hot water. There was an element of petty snobs as well. Dublin takes you as you come. It’s open to you to make what you want of it. That’s how I found Dublin.
Do you prefer Dublin people to Clare people?
The older Dublin people are the finest, very generous and decent. They live and let live. These are people who put up with tough times in the past, with TB, poverty, tenements. They put the bad times behind them and have learned from them. They’re a good deal more open-minded than people in other parts of the country.
Are you sure about that?
Yes, there’s been a certain British influence in Dublin. Some of the better aspects of British social concern would be more existent in Dublin than in other parts of Ireland. It also has its grandeur. All these writers, Oscar Wilde, O’Casey, Shaw, Joyce – ‘tisn’t that I’m a connoisseur of that stuff, I’m not – but they were produced by the place. They reflect the people and the diversity and openness of the place.
I thought West Clare was a cultural hotspot, in terms of music, folklore, heritage.
That’s exaggerated. It is true but it is not the full story. There is a dark side to the place as well. This oppressiveness, this living in one another’s ears. It thrives on the culture of failure: “What chance has that fella ever of doing anything, isn’t he one of that crowd up the road?.” That sort of stuff erodes confidence. That’s why I had to get out.
Did you have much of a sex life during your youth in Clare or did that only begin when you arrived in Dublin?
I’d have known a certain amount of people in my youth down in Clare. But, in Dublin, ‘twas much freer and easier. That’s one of the things that would’ve gotten up my snout down there. You come to Dublin, you meet someone, fine. It isn’t the big event next day. In rural Ireland, in those times, if you were seen knocking around with someone, it was the talk of the town for the next month. You’d meet someone, you’d go off with them and it’d be a big deal. You’d immediately have people asking you, “When are you getting married?” All that auld nonsense.
Resentment among urban taxpayers about the constant demand by farmers for cash handouts has never been higher. Isn’t that resentment perfectly justified?
It is, yeah. There is a large degree of truth in the picture of the farmers with their hands out all the time. I don’t particularly want to start promoting a discordant, fragmented society, but I do think Dublin has a strong case in terms of its share of the national cake. Examine the various criteria, even down to things as harmless as heritage grants, Lottery grants. The non-Dublin part of Ireland tends to be doing much better. Dublin doesn’t have a lobby in the same way that rural Ireland does.
Rural Ireland is better at grabbing state cash?
Oh yeah. These people are out there watching, to get what they can. I don’t think that there’s a similar Dublin lobby. Dublin people tend to take things as it comes. They aren’t characterised by this terrible hunger that seems to have afflicted the rural parts, this need to grab everything.
What do you mean?
The Peter Howick thing on The Late, Late Show was a good example, not so much what Peter Howick was saying as in the response to it. The vigour with which these rural representatives pursued him! The extent to which they were flabbergasted that someone like Peter Howick should begin to state a case for Dublin, something that they’ve been doing for their own patches for God knows how long. They were outraged that somebody would have the effrontery to get up and speak on behalf of Dublin. All he did was get down the data and set it out in a crisp, coherent manner over the two or three minutes he had.
Are you talking about rural TDs or rural people?
Both. I find it just a small bit nauseating that people are seen as great TDs because they’ve stuffed their constituency with dosh. I don’t think that’s good. If someone stuffs a constituency with dosh, it’s out of other people’s pockets. That is the money that should’ve been distributed across the board.
Is this just sour grapes because Dublin TDs aren’t as good at this game as their rural counterparts?
Dublin TDs tend to be driven more by matters that relate to ideology and the bigger picture. I don’t think we should all descend down into the begging bowl pit. But I do think there is a very strong case now to be made for redressing the balance, particularly in relation to the deprived areas of Dublin.
Do you admire the rural TDs for their ability to feather their own constituencies?
You have rural TDs who are vigorous – and by goodness, vigorous is the term for them – in promoting and defending their constituency. It’s not the type of politics that I particularly like. I believe that, in politics, you need an element of social cohesion and social understanding. We need to move away from this incessant harping on with the poor mouth. We’ve had enough of it. It is not in the national interest.
What do you think of the standard of farm leaders in this country?
Pretty dismal. Generally speaking, they have been dismal and have encouraged the grabbing mentality, with the possible exception of T.J. Maher who I did think was an outstanding fellow. He opposed Larry Goodman when he was buying up the co-ops. It was certainly not a popular thing to do at the time. He always behaved honourably and with a sense of an overview for the welfare of the country. The carry on of farmer leaders since that has done nothing but exacerbate the urban/ rural divide.
How unhappy were you with Labour’s decision to go into coalition with Fianna Fáil after the 1992 election?
Profoundly unhappy. I don’t like Fianna Fáil. There are decent people in Fianna Fáil, some very honourable, public-spirited people but I object to the culture of that party. It’s the culture of strokes, stunts, that kind of stuff. A culture that should be obsolete now. It’s a culture that belonged, if it belonged any time, to another age, and that’s where it should be left. That sort of stuff is for the dinosaurs.
Dick Spring seemed to share you feelings about the party before the election, but he was still prepared to do a deal with them.
There were huge difficulties arising from that decision, and some of them still remain. I opposed it vigorously within the party. I left nobody in any doubt as to where I stood. I only regret that I didn’t go to the rostrum at the special conference to speak against the decision to join Fianna Fáil and to vote against it.
How did you feel that night when the conference was over, and the leadership were given the go-ahead to shack up with Fianna Fáil?
It made me sick. I was disgusted by it. It was very, very bitter stuff as far as I was concerned. I had gone into that election with high hopes. We had done very well. This was just about the last thing that I wanted to see happening arising from the success we had.
Dick Spring never seriously considered coalition with Fine Gael, apparently because of his visceral distaste for John Bruton. Wasn’t the conference therefore simply a means of rubber-stamping the leader’s personal preference?
Things weren’t easy at that stage. The figures were difficult, they weren’t adding up. There would have been an element of instability in the government if we had gone in with Fine Gael. That’s the case you can put forward for the Fianna Fáil coalition. But, sometimes, you have to go where the music takes you. People voted for change and their concept of change was a move away from Fianna Fáil as led by Albert Reynolds. Lo and behold, when the merry-go round spun, it spun right back to Albert. That is something that the public found very, very hard to stomach. I do tend to see the public divided into those who are for Fianna Fáil and those who aren’t. The people who vote for us are from that block of people who don’t like Fianna Fáil.
Did you enjoy a feeling of vindication when the Fianna Fáil/Labour coalition fell apart in November 1994?
No, I just regretted not speaking out more forcefully against that coalition. There was an inevitability about the end of that government. The time bombs were sitting there waiting to go off, especially in the form of the Beef Tribunal.
A lot of commentators are saying that Bertie Ahern has been a bit of a disaster as Fianna Fáil leader. Isn’t he going to be Bruton’s best weapon come the next election?
Yeah. Bertie is a nice fella personally. ‘Twould be wrong of me to start saying anything unpleasant about Bertie at a personal level. He’s affable, pleasant, ordinary. But he tends to be a healer, a compromiser, in politics. That damages his leadership. The public are looking for leadership.
Is he too affable, too ordinary?
Yeah, there is a element of that in it. When the public look for leaders, they don’t want the fella that’s sitting beside them in the pub or kneeling down beside them in the church. Maybe that was one of the problems that Reynolds had. Mister Haughey had his regal style, his imperial style. Lots of people denounced him for it. I’m not sure that the public, or at least a strong element of the public, weren’t very approving of that. He had supporters above and beyond the Fianna Fáil loyalists who, if Korky The Cat was leader, they’d be in favour of him.
And, of course, Charlie never took a libel action.
Exactly! He was stoic in the face of being insulted by people. One of the reasons that people like Charlie don’t do that is that they see themselves beyond being libelled. If you perceive yourself as so far above the people who libel you, why would you be libelled?
Did you enjoy a chuckle at the outcome of Albert Reynolds’ case against The Sunday Times?
Ah no, I wouldn’t take any pleasure out of his misfortune. He’s had his own ups and downs. I’m opposed to Albert Reynolds politically but I kinda felt sorry him. I’m not giggling at it, not at all. Okay, he put a brave face on it but it must have been a miserable experience.
It’s hard not to giggle when you hear Albert implying that it’s impossible for a poor old Irish millionaire to get a fair trial in London.
I think he’s getting a bit carried away when he goes on with that kind of stuff. On one level, I was taken by the way in which he presented what I would’ve thought was a setback as a great win. It was very reminiscent of the Beef Tribunal: “I’m vindicated (claps hands). Bob’s your uncle!” It’s the old Fianna Fáil stroke and spin again.
Was it right of Fergus Finlay to agree to testify against a former Taoiseach in a British court?
I could see why Fergus Finlay would do it. There was a lot of aggravation and bad blood between Fergus Finlay and Albert at the time of the break up of the government, and it has left a lot of marks on people. If he felt he had to tell the truth, he had to tell the truth. The truth is bigger than any of us. The truth endures.
What do you think of Proinsias De Rossa’s decision to sue the Sunday Independent?
Ah, I think he had a case. The stuff that was written about him was fairly awful.
Do you think he’ll resume the case in the new year?
I presume so. If he says so, I have no reason to doubt it.
Are you close to Dick Spring?
No, I’m not. (Laughs) If I said I was to close to Dick Spring, I suspect that some of your readers would eat the paper in amazement. I’m not in the least bit close to Dick Spring.
Were you ever close to him?
Oh yeah, I was. My relationship with Dick Spring now is okay. It’s businesslike, cordial. But it’s very different to what it was. I defended Dick Spring vigorously, and I tried to rope in as many people as I could to help defend him, at a time when many people who are now very important in the Labour Party sought to destroy him.
Do you mean people on the left wing of the party like Emmet Stagg , Michael D. Higgins?
I don’t want to start naming names but there were people who were keen to un-horse him. I defended him, basically because I believed it was the right thing to do. And, it was the right thing to do. Dick Spring has probably been the best leader the Labour Party has ever had – he is if you apply success at elections as the criteria, and it’s as good a criteria as any. I annoyed Dick Spring and lots of the people around him with the positions I took after the formation of the last government: in opposition to the coalition with Fianna Fáil, the tax amnesty and the passports-for-sale stuff. I don’t have any regrets about doing that either. All that was poison to me. I’m in politics to do what I think is right.
So, are you saying that Dick Spring has forgotten his true friends?
Ah, I don’t know whether he has or not. I don’t know what he feels about me. I don’t go around asking him what he feels about me. In politics, you have to go where the music takes you.
But the common wisdom is that you’re not going to progress any further in the party while he’s still leader, in terms of getting a cabinet position, for example, or a junior ministry?
I don’t know is the straight answer. Times change. That’s certainly the lesson of the last 20 years in the Labour Party. Mention people like Michael D. Higgins and Emmet Stagg, they wouldn’t have been supporters of Mister Spring for a long period of time and they’re in government positions with him now. These alliances come and go. But I don’t look at politics in terms of promotion.
You don’t want to be a minister?
There’s nobody in politics who wouldn’t like to be a minister. But I don’t have a burning ambition to be a minister. I’m not beside myself every day of the week, saying “Oh my God, isn’t it awful that I’m not a minister.”
When you did the Mad Hatter’s Box some time ago, you described your concept of Hell as “prolonged exposure to politically correct bores.” Are there many politically correct bores in the Labour Party?
We do have our share of them, more than our fair share of politically correct bores. I find them exceptionally tiresome.
How would you define a politically correct bore?
Politically correct bores are people who mindlessly reiterate and parrot off a series of statements which have been made up for them by other people.
Care to name a few?
No. (Laughs uproariously) Sadly, some of them are in exceptionally powerful positions. I don’t want to open up another warfront where I’m being shelled by politically correct bores. They seem to me like characters out of The King’s New Suit. I find it hard to believe that they can believe what they’re saying. Maybe they’re so gone in the mind with polishing up their door-knockers so carefully that they go on with that kind of stuff.
There were various politically correct hobby horses taken on by certain people because they were politically correct, and they weren’t burning issues with the public at all. Then, there was a lot of these people preening about and talking about how well the party was doing. The reality was that the public wasn’t that impressed with them. That was the kind of thing that used really irritate me.
The decriminalisation of homosexuality – was that a politically correct hobby horse?
That wasn’t a burning issue with the public but I think it should’ve been done. I wouldn’t have any regrets about that. There are things which are right even if there’s no votes in them. What I’m talking about is the general tone that surrounded some of the Labour people, a tone of being very prissy, very correct. “Look at me, how busy I am and how virtuous I am.” There was an element of being holier-than-thou about.
What about the Ethics in Government bill?
Ethics in Government wasn’t a burning issue with the public at all. We overstated that, we overdid it.
Was the criticism of Eithne FitzGerald in relation to that bill justified?
Ah, she should have gone a bit easier on things, yeah. All that stuff she said comparing people to Imelda Marcos, around the time of the Ethics in Government bill, that shouldn’t have been said. The reality is that the vast bulk of people in politics aren’t crooks at all. They’re ordinary people, struggling to get by, and that holds for all parties, for Fianna Fáil as well. There might be a small number in there who are a bit hooky and a bit crooky, but you shouldn’t tar everybody with that brush.
Do you think that the politically correct ethos within the Labour Party extends to, say, the promoting of women to ministerial positions because they are women, rather than because of their ability?
I do think people were promoted because they were women. I’m not saying that they weren’t competent. I don’t begrudge it to them. Some of them have done very well or done well enough anyway. But, at the end of the day, if we’re to be modern we’ll have to work on the basis of ability, not on the basis of any type of preferment, be it for gender, inheritance, education or wealth. If we are to progress, it’s got to be on the basis of the best person to do the job for the country.
Will we ever see a Labour TD who is openly gay?
I don’t see why not. The Irish people are more broad-minded in their outlook than they’re given credit for. Norris is openly gay, and the world hasn’t ended. People take Norris as he comes. He’s a very honourable fellow. But, for a gay TD to exist, the gay TD has got to get elected. A gay TD won’t get elected cause he’s gay, he’ll get elected because he’s a good TD.
What about Mervyn Taylor’s Department of Equality, was that just another gesture of politically correct piety?
Some of the things that Mervyn Taylor has done have been very good. He calmly, methodically, meticulously steered through the divorce referendum. But there was an element of piety in the concept behind his department, yes. The department is very, very small. It has a budget of only a few million. I think that Mervyn Taylor’s talents are a bit wasted in there. He would have made a very good Minister for Justice.
Would he have read his Department of Justice mail more carefully than Nora Owen appears to do?
Who’s to know? The Department of Justice seems to me to be chaotic. What happened in Nora Owen’s case was essentially a systems failure. I accept that. People have to learn from mistakes and try to move on. I’m not into the culture of retribution. I don’t believe in head-hunting. I consider that old-fashioned. I’m not into vengeance.
Should Nora Owen resign if any prisoners walk free as a result of the cock-up?
What has happened has happened. She should either resign over what happened or she shouldn’t. I don’t think she should.
Does the ascendancy in the Labour Party of what you term ‘political correctness’ affect the way you behave personally? Would you, for instance, be reluctant to compliment an attractive woman on her appearance, for fear it might be misinterpreted?
I would never have been into complimenting women on how they were dressed. I would compliment a woman if I felt like it. I’m not into the politics of gratuitous, mindless compliments to people.
Do you open doors for women?
Ah yeah, I’d do that alright. I’d open a door for anyone. I have long since had the view that women are perfectly equal to men. But there’s a sequel to that as well. If women are equal to men, they gotta pull their weight. I’m not in favour of discrimination in favour of woman either. I don’t think we should have to defer to woman.
You have a PhD in nutrition. Are you exceptionally careful about what you eat?
Knowledge of nutrition doesn’t translate into pickiness. There’s 101 reasons why you eat, nutrition is only one. You don’t take out your computer and key things in when somebody puts a Chinese curry in front of you. I tend to eat just about everything. The only food I don’t particularly like is eggs. That’s just personal taste.
Given the rise of BSE and the increasing evidence on Irish farms of the use of angel dust and the like, do you think it’s time we all packed in eating meat altogether?
Ah no, I wouldn’t go that far. There is an element of risk in eating meat, no question about it. That has to be acknowledged, especially in relation to BSE. One of the things which bothers me about the modern world is our inability to get any fix on risk. You have these pub bores who lecture you on the dangers of eating beef while they’re on their seventh or eighth whiskey and you can just about see them amid the smoke they have generated as part of their 50 or 60 fags a day. I know that is a caricature and an exaggeration but there’s truth in it too. There a certain perception out there that life should be without risk, and it isn’t like that.
What do you think of vegetarianism, from a nutritional point of view?
Perfectly adequate. There are studies which show that vegetarians tend to live longer and have less medical difficulty during their lives. A lot of the studies, however, have been done on people who were vegetarians but also, say, Seven Day Adventists who had a lifestyle that was somewhat different from the norm. Generally speaking, vegetarians are a bit more careful about their lives and their bodies than the rest of us.
Some vegetarians take years off everybody else’s life by banging on about the subject all the time.
Oh yes, there are nutritional bores. Vegetarian bores can be awful. But there are all sorts of bores in this country. One of the great difficulties of Irish life is encountering bores and trying to escape from them. Before I got into politics, I could liberate myself with an appropriate gesture but the difficulty now is that not only are some of these people terrifying bores, they also happen to be supporters of mine (laughs). My tolerance hasn’t gone up but my endurance has. It’s like your man’s song: “A drunk on the bus told me how to get rich/I was glad I wasn’t going too far.”
Your colleague, Moosajee Bhamjee, says that, since he became a TD, he does most of his drinking at home because he doesn’t like to be seen getting drunk in public. Do you have any such reservations?
No, I still go to Kavanagh’s more or less every night of the week. If I don’t show, Andy would send up for me to know what was wrong. I drink down in Terenure as well. I have no problems at all that way.
A man with your cosmopolitan, European tastes must have smoked a lot of dope in his time.
No, never. I never learned how to smoke. When I was in school, I made an attempt to learn how to smoke but I never succeeded.
As a science student, were you not interested in experimenting with drugs?
I wouldn’t have been, no. In some ways, I’m pretty cavalier but I’d be very cautious about things like chemicals. When you see the effect of some of those drugs, boy, they put you thinking. I’d be frightened out of my mind of them, to tell the truth.
Isn’t the anti-drugs vigilantism currently manifesting itself on the streets of Dublin proof positive that the Gardaí have completely failed in their duty in relation to the drugs situation?
No, I wouldn’t accept that the Gardaí have completely failed. I think it arises from a deep public frustration in areas where drugs are a big problem. There was an inability to deal effectively with the problem. I do think that things have changed. I think that this Dóchas thing has made a difference and the new commissioner has made a difference as well.
Some of these anti-drugs groups are, in their behaviour and outlook, very similar to lynch mobs. Doesn’t the fact that politicians refuse to unequivocally condemn these groups implicate the politicians themselves in activities that are both illegal and immoral?
I think any elected representative has a duty to be quite unequivocal in relation to anybody taking the law into their hands. There can be no ifs, ands or buts about that. Anybody who breaks the law has to face the due process. Any elected representative that condones lawlessness is leading people down a very, very slippery slope. Albeit a very seductive slope in the short term.
What do you think of the argument for decriminalising drugs?
I wouldn’t go along with it, at present. But I do feel that, unless the situation can be arrested, then it will become an inevitability.
What about the argument that internationally, the ‘war on drugs’ is over. Governments have lost.
I don’t think that it’s lost here yet. We have to persist with the present policies for the foreseeable future.
Another 10 years? 12 months?
I wouldn’t set it in terms of time. If the thing gets beyond a certain threshold, drugs will undoubtedly be decriminalised. I don’t even have a very clear picture of where that threshold is. But, if that happens, drugs are going to be like alcohol in their availability. I hope that that day doesn’t come but we’ve got to learn from history in these matters.
Is your information on the ground that there is Sinn Féin/IRA involvement in some of the anti-drugs groups in Dublin?
There is, yeah. They have a very definite influence. But the vast bulk of people who are involved are ordinary people, exhausted and frustrated with the situation. There is another political agenda at work beneath the surface, however.
Are the Gardaí right to keep these groups under surveillance?
The Gardaí have no option. The Gardaí have to have intelligence. I don’t think that’s incompatible with the Gardaí dealing with the drug problem at all.
Do you accept Gerry Adams’ sincerity in his public pronouncements about his commitment to peace?
I take the man at face value and I accept his motivation. He seems to have been a major figure in bringing them to where they are, which is much better than where they were. Every day that there aren’t more bombs is a step forward. I have tended to stay away from the North of Ireland in politics. I have hardly ever spoken on it in public.
I see that fighting as old politics. My instincts and ambitions are to move on, to modernise. In a modern economy, that sort of stuff wouldn’t exist. I’d like to see an end to fighting in Ireland and the best way to do that is to try and develop the country here to a point where the incentive isn’t there for people to be fighting, because they have better things to be doing. We shouldn’t be getting ourselves into a knot about Britain or getting into aggravation with Britain. We should look to Europe. There’s a much bigger and better world out there.
Are Irish governments too preoccupied with Northern Ireland? Do they spend too much of their time on the issue?
I can well understand the motivation of the various party leaders. Spring has put an inordinate amount of time into the North of Ireland, and he’s had his element of success. The fighting has died down. But it’s a great pity. If the problem didn’t exist, we could re-utilise that effort elsewhere to great effect.
A lot of the pundits predicting the outcome of the next general election are suggesting that your seat is a goner. How do you feel about that?
I don’t think it’s of any consequence at all. At the end of the day, it’s very, very hard to gauge how the next election will go, until the ball is thrown in. I had 12,000 votes the last time. I could get by quite comfortably with half that. I believe I will be re-elected.
Do you envy your constituency colleague, Gay Mitchell, and his knack for grabbing an Evening Herald headline?
No, I’m not that kind of a politician. Gay Mitchell is very effective in his own way. But I’m not in that end of the political spectrum.
There are a couple of very effective rent-a-quote merchants on the Labour backbenches too.
I wouldn’t be going for rent-a-quote. I don’t particularly like politicians chasing journalists asking, “What would you like me to say today? I’ll get you a statement saying exactly what you have just indicated you would like to hear.” I don’t ring up journalists asking them if they would like to avail themselves of the benefit of my views. I only respond to people who ring me up.
Will your political career have been wasted if you don’t make it to the cabinet table?
My ambition is to try and call it as it is. If I get cabinet posts, fine. But it has to be on my terms, on the basis of the way I am. Not on the basis of I taking up positions or toeing lines, doing what the people making the offers would want me to do. I’m not going around biting my tongue all the time, supporting things that I don’t like.