MP Andrew Stephenson on Karen’s Couch
by Karen Shaw
MOST TEENAGERS REBEL, IT’S TO BE EXPECTED. SOME GO TO WILD PARTIES, GET DRUNK AND SKIP SCHOOL... BUT AS A TEENAGER, MP FOR PENDLE ANDREW STEPHENSON REBELLED IN A WAY NO ONE BELIEVED POSSIBLE... HE JOINED THE CONSERVATIVE PARTY!
“It was an act of teenage rebellion,” laughs Andrew. Encouraged by his form tutor to study A-Level politics, Andrew describes her as “a lovely lady, Scottish by birth and an avid supporter of the Scottish National Party- she believed the monarchy should be abolished. Sometimes I think she was just playing ‘devil’s advocate’, but I really disagreed with her politics.” Andrew’s other politics teacher was “so left-wing he would make Jeremy Corbyn look right-wing,” however, what both teachers had in common was a hatred of the Conservative Party.
“Me and my best friend thought what can we do to really upset them? So we both joined the Conservative Party, it was £3 to join up. We just thought it was worth seeing the look on their faces,” he grins. “My mother thought I’d gone mad. She would have been happier if I’d have come home with a tattoo or piercing. For me, that was when it began and I started to think this is where I want to be.”
“I THOUGHT POLITICS WAS FOR A DIFFERENT BREED OF PEOPLE”
Previous to his decision to join the Tory party Andrew had considered life as pastry chef after making it to the final of Regional MasterChef. “There was two judges, one to mark you on your cooking abilities and the other to judge you on how well you performed in front of the camera. Apparently I scored incredibly high on my food but incredibly badly on TV. I was six foot four by the age of 14 and Lloyd Grossman was about five foot – they weren’t keen on having a kid towering over the presenter!
The word Conservative, by some, is viewed as a ‘dirty’ word, yet it baffles me that, if the party really is so unpopular – how do they continue to win elections? Are we surrounded by ‘closet Conservatives’?
Andrew laughs, “You know, it’s funny you should mention that…” He then goes onto tell me about a recent conversation he’d had with a local constituent. “This chap was anxious about telling his dad that he’d decided to vote Conservative as his dad was a life-long lefty. His dad’s response shocked him when he said, ‘don’t be daft, I’ve been voting Conservative for ten years!’”
If you believe social media you believe that this government is the worst government ever, everyone hates the government and it’s not true. People who want to espouse their views tend to be more left-wing, most people who are just getting on with their lives tend to be more pragmatic and will take an overview and make an educated decision on the party they feel is best for them and their area. We notice around election time with the posters, if you drive into Nelson it would appear that almost every house on some streets has a Labour poster in it and then when they open the ballot boxes you discover 50% of the street voted Conservative!”
Andrew was drawn to politics because he’s an argumentative little sod, (his words, not mine). After graduating from Royal Holloway, University of London with a degree in Management Studies, he earned a healthy wage working six days a week in the big city as an insurance broker, but for Andrew there was something missing.
“I wasn’t motivated or happy in the job,” says Andrew, “I didn’t think it could happen to someone like me. I thought politics was for a different breed of people, it was just a bit weird.”
“I GENUINELY LOVE MY JOB, EVEN THOUGH IT CAN BE CHALLENGING, IT CAN ALSO BE FUN”
Born in Moss Side, Manchester, Andrew grew up on the outskirts of the city in Poynton, attending the only comprehensive school in the country that has produced three conservative MPs -Will Rag, MP for Hazel Grove and Graham Evans former MP for Weaver Vale and of course, Andrew.
Intent on making a difference he became the youngest councillor elected at the tender age of 22. “I wanted to fix things, even small things, like the street light outside someone’s house or sort the bins out. I needed to do something that would help make the world a better place, even if it was just one street light at a time.”
Andrew began his political journey with Macclesfield Borough Council. At the age of 25, he had become the chair of the Tatton Conservative Association, being the youngest councillor to lead a Conservative Association.
When David Cameron became leader of the Conservative Party, it was then that Andrew realised his vocation. “I didn’t have a leader who I was inspired by or 100% behind until David Cameron,” says Andrew. “I backed David for the leadership. I thought he was a good Prime Minister despite personally being on different sides of the referendum.”
It was in 2010 that he was selected to represent Pendle as a Member of Parliament.
When first elected he admits to how much he initially, “hated the job,” and found himself on the verge of quitting. “The weight of taking on everyone’s concerns and issues became a crushing burden,” says Andrew, “I just couldn’t cope with it, people were coming to me with their problems and they were problems I couldn’t fix.
“It was a really challenging time and what changed for me was when I started to be able to resolve some issues that had taken a long time.”
“SUDDENLY THE PAST TWO YEARS WHEN I WAS CONSIDERING QUITTING BECAME IRRELEVANT.”
A defining moment for Andrew – was when he proposed his first piece of legislation, The Bail (Amendment) Bill. The Private Members’ Bill sought to create a right of appeal against Crown Court bail decisions and followed the murder of his constituent, Jane Clough, by her partner who was out on bail. Working with Jane’s parents, John and Penny Clough MBE, Andrew was successful in getting the law changed and this additional safeguard was introduced in 2012.
“We looked at what good could come out of her murder by changing bail laws, which we managed to do. It was too late to help Jane and her family, but it will help victims of violence and abuse across the whole of the UK,” says Andrew.
“Suddenly the past two years when I was considering quitting became irrelevant. It’s those moments that make such a difference and mentally I was in a better position. I’ve had to learn to accept that some issues, I’ll be banging on about forever and we will not get to an end but on other ones I will achieve them.”
With the current political climate and landscape constantly changing and the tragic murders of Labour MP Jo Cox and more recently Sir David Amess I was curious to learn if Andrew had ever considered returning to a life as an insurance broker…
“Absolutely not! I genuinely love my job, even though it can be challenging, it can also be fun. I don’t want to say I’m blasé about it, I’ve had numerous death threats and I’ve had people prosecuted for making threats. When Sir David Amess who I knew really well, when he was murdered, the police were immediately on the phone offering me assistance, which I refused. I will take sensible precautions and since I’ve held all of my surgeries in very visible places. As a member of parliament, you’ve got to be able to go and see people. I think many of our other front line services, police officers, paramedics… a lot more of them are actually attacked, so let’s keep this in context, this is a safe country and I’m in a role where most of the people I meet are lovely.”
Agree or disagree with his politics, that’s up to. you, but one thing you can’t deny, is that this lad is passionate about the politics, but more importantly, more passionate about the people. In these uncertain and dark times, Andrew will continue to light the way…one streetlight at a time.
NorthernLife May/June 2022.