FEATURE: Sir John Major talks politics with reporter John Fieldhouse

Sir John Major at The Petwood to support Victoria Atkins' campaign for the Louth and Horncastle seat.
Sir John Major at The Petwood to support Victoria Atkins' campaign for the Louth and Horncastle seat.

Some famous faces from British history have visited the Petwood Hotel.

As Sir John Major sat in the Squadron Bar, if he’d glanced up, he’d have seen portraits of some of the heroes of the 617 Dambusters Squadron from the Second World War...Guy Gibson included.

The Squadron Bar served as the Officer’s Mess.

However, when it comes to national if not world-wide profile, few can match Sir John. The most famous face to walk through the Squadron Bar door? Perhaps.

His arrival was certainly a case of perfect timing for the local Conservative party.

If you believe opinion polls, they were once so far ahead in the race to win May’s General Election, it seemed pointless anyone challenging them.

Now, well, it’s said Victoria Atkins’ lead over UKIP hopeful Colin Mair is down to a couple of percentage points.

So, the Tories wheeled in a heavyweight...and they don’t come with a much ‘bluer’ background than Sir John.

Indeed, he’s the last Conservative leader to win an outright majority at a General Election. Just whisper the words ‘1997 and Tony Blair’ quietly when you are in his earshot, though.

Sir John seemed surprised to see the assembled press gathered for his visit. He certainly wasn’t best pleased when the man from ITV pressed him about his views on UKIP and the Maastricht Treaty.

He was much happier ‘tub-thumping’ for Mrs Atkins...someone he admitted he’s known since she was in nappies. First (but not last) blush of the night from the prospective MP!

Not surprisingly, Sir John threw his considerable political weight behind his fellow Tory. He said all the right things...as you’d expect from someone who often dealt with the world’s media.

He skirted around UKIP’s local threat - “It would be foolish of me to comment,” he said, “because I don’t live here.” He did admit his mother was born in the county.

When asked about the fact Gloucestershire based Mrs Atkins was an ‘outsider’ he quickly drew parallels with Churchill - and his own Parliamentary career.

He said: “You have to ask what a Member of Parliament is for. An MP is to represent constituencies on local and national issues. You want someone of the highest ability.

“I remember being in exactly the same position (as Mrs Atkins) when I first entered the House as the Member of Parliament for Huntingdon.

“My predecessor had been the MP for 34 years and everyone said to me he was a hard act to follow.

“I was an outsider, if you like. But he was extremely supportive and gave me a lot of help. I’m sure Sir Peter (Tapsell) will do the same here.”

Sir John spoke passionately about the House of Commons - and what Mrs Atkins can expect - if, of course, she is elected.

He said: “For the first 10 years, it’s a very steep learning curve. My advice to Vicky will to be enjoy it.

“You get an extraordinary range of experiences as a candidate and as an MP. You learn about people, the way they live, the problems they have and what needs to be done in the short term and long term. You come face to face with the problems they have.

“The people who come to Vicky will be the ones who are in distress because they have tried to get help from other sources and failed.

“That’s why they come to see an MP. It’s a very important job because it teaches you about the problems that people have.

“We are one of the wealthiest nations in the world. Even so, all through our history, we’ve had pockets of depravation, pockets of problems that will come along that an MP will have to deal with.

“So it is a huge learning curve. In the midst of it there’s an awful lot of fun as well. There’s a tremendous amount of satisfaction when someone brings a problem to you and you sort it.

“Perhaps sometimes you are just a shoulder to cry on but more often than not, being an MP gives you the capacity to help people and that is one of the most rewarding parts of the job.

“I think she will love it.”

There were some predictably kind words for Sir Peter who is retiring. There was laughter when Sir John said Sir Peter has been around the since the Great Flood. He didn’t mean the last time the Bain burst its banks either.

“He’s an iconic figure. He’s the father of the House. He’s been there since the Great Flood. That means people listen to what he has to say. He had the great respect across all parties.”

He gave an insight into what the new Louth and Horncastle MP will face.

He added: “There’s the excitement and the sense of history when you walk into that building for the first time as a Member of Parliament.

“I thought I would go in there and be quite anonymous but the moment you walk in, all the attendants know who you are.

“Wherever you go, somewhere in the House of Commons - in every single corner - something remarkable will have happened.

“The atmosphere just reaches out and grabs you. That’s why the House of Commons is so special.

“Whatever criticisms there are of it, that’s why it always reacts well in times of a great crisis. It lifts itself to the level of events.”

Sir John admitted he did not miss the cut and thrust of modern-day politics. He has no doubt either, his young protégée will handle the pressure.

He said: “I think she will be very successful. Yes, I’m deeply prejudice. I’ve watched her grow up. I’ve watched her skills.

“She carved out an extremely successful career as a barrister. She could undoubtedly have followed that career to great pecuniary gain for a very long time.

“She is now ready to move onto the national stage and make a contribution. I think she will bring her own perspective to that. Her own perspective will be worth having.

“She is young, someone who has seen politics, albeit from the outside, and someone who has had a lot of experience in life.

“She’s had a lot of experience through the health service. She will have something very solid and worthwhile to contribute to a range of issues.”

And UKIP nationally? “I think UKIP will get very, very, very few seats in the General Election.

“This is an election that is going to determine the future of the country. That’s nothing to do with UKIP.

“That’s going to be a choice between the major parties and I think as you get close to the election that choice will sharpen.

“Five years ago, people weren’t even sure their money was safe in the bank. We’ve moved on a long way since then. People will look at the really big issues and that will be decisive.”

So, sorry Ed. Sorry Nigel and sorry Nick, it’s game over,

There again, back in the 1940s they said the bouncing bomb would never succeed.....