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Best of the rest

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In our quest to give you the best, not every interview makes the cut. Here’s some of the unlucky few who didn’t make it to Exeposé Features in 2013.

#1 – Alan Johnson

Image credits: catch21productions
Alan Johnson
Image credits: catch21productions

We met with Johnson in his plush Parliamentary office, with the shadow of Big Ben pouring in through the window. A former postman that made it to the top table of government, Johnson is a first-class champion for social mobility. “It’s really worrying that there’s a treadmill into modern politics,” he sighs, “do PPE at Oxford, then spend a little time poncing around in communications or journalism.” Johnson has worked hard to crack down on unpaid internships in MPs offices, much to the annoyance of a steady stream of Exeter graduates. Since starting his own political career, his straight-talking conviction has provided a rare relief compared to his spin-talking colleagues, including when we ask him about the government’s welfare policies. He doesn’t pull his punches: “Labour has to fight this ‘shirkers versus workers’ image that Osborne is peddling. Saying that people are claiming benefits while lying on the sofa in a string-vest watching TV, but most claimants in London are cleaners going to work in the morning on low wages”. Without a doubt, the former postman wants many coalition policies returned to sender. After resigning from the Shadow Cabinet in 2011, Johnson’s tell-it-like-it-is style landed him a spot as a regular guest on the cult political show This Week. “It’s amazing that it gets 1 ½ million viewers at 11.30pm at night,” he chuckles, “the guests get a surprise sometimes though – Andrew Neil [the presenter] has taken up the mantle of Paxman, but they often aren’t expecting to be verbally assaulted by Andrew at midnight on a Thursday night”. Nonetheless, he has thrived on the show and is now poised to return to the top. Indeed, Alan Johnson is the postman-turned politician who always delivers.

 

#2 – Jacob Rees-Mogg

A self-described Vox Populi, Rees-Mogg is the man of a very different group of people. The son of a Lord and eminent Old Etonian, and nicknamed the ‘MP for the Early 20th Century’, he asked to meet us for tea in Parliament. “Jolly nice to see you,” he exclaims as we arrive, with a jovial handshake, “I do hope you haven’t come too far.” Since becoming an MP in 2010, Rees-Mogg has made quite an impact, having already secured his political legacy by using the longest word in parliamentary history. “You’ll always have people saying oratory isn’t what it was, though ‘Floccinaucinihilipilification’ is all I have to say to that.” Beyond his rhetorical revivalism, Rees-Mogg has proven extremely independently minded, often unafraid of lavishing praise on his political opponents. Peering over his glasses, he explains: “Oh indeed, I take UKIP very seriously. They produce a very attractive manifesto.” He’s equally quick to pay homage to his Labour colleagues. “Ed Miliband was very dignified when he made his tribute to Lady Thatcher,” he notes solemnly. His father had known Margaret Thatcher since university, and Jacob is clearly affected when conversation turns to her death. “There’s a special place in history for her,” he laments, “becoming the first female Prime Minister was an achievement of singular power.” Nonetheless, his own involvement with women in politics has been quite different; he famously brought his childhood nanny to campaign with him in 1997. Despite his eccentricity, Jacob Rees-Mogg is respected for his honesty, integrity and charm. Perhaps, with people crying out for a better class of politician, Rees-Mogg may become the type of MP we need for the 21st Century.

 

#3 – The Hamiltons

The disgraced MP and TV regular Neil and Christine Hamilton have been slowly reinventing themselves as UKIP’s showbiz couple. After Neil was forced out of Parliament in 1997, the pair began their media spree, appearing on Have I Got News For You immediately following his defeat. “Very few politicians can do HIGNFY as they take themselves too seriously,” Christine explains, with Neil dryly adding, “they’re all far too boring”.Admittedly, the thick-skinned pair survived notably well on the hit satirical show. “Unless you’re bonkers, you know you’re there for them to bounce jokes off you,” she jests, “you can’t outwit Merton and Hislop, so all you can do is keep your head up.” Christine followed this up by appearing on the first series of I’m A Celebrity, which cemented her reputation as a larger than life, middle-class battle-axe. “My basic rule is if it’s legal, fun and faintly decent I’m up for it,” she exclaims loudly, “actually if it’s fun I’m doubly up for it!” Neil seems less thrilled: “we’ve had a lot of fun,” he murmurs. When Neil re-entered politics in 2011, the duo cut back on their TV work and jumped into politicking, with the personal backing of Nigel Farage. “Nigel is head and shoulders above everybody else, including me,” Neil exclaims, with the same excitement as Christine moments earlier. Indeed, it’s clear that politics is to him what TV is to her. Without a doubt, they are quite different people, but their joint status as a plucky personality double-act has kept them safely afloat. And, with UKIP’s ongoing rise, we can expect to see much more of the king and queen of political comebacks.

 

#4 – Lord Howe

We interviewed Lord Howe, Tory grandee, following a scholarly and rather profound article for The Independent, decrying the Conservative scepticism on Europe and the unruliness of their backbenchers. Grandee is certainly an accurate term; Lord Howe was a key figure in the Thatcher administration, and clearly had, as we discovered, a sharp political mind, despite being nearly five times as old as his interviewers. After breezing into the House of Lords with surprising ease (apparently all you need is a name and an appointment time), we ended up cloistered in a strange little room on the upper floors, facing a man who had held nearly every position worth having in the British government. And while in person he was less tightly focused than in print (aren’t we all), his analysis showed the same sharp political acumen. In the hour he kindly gave us, we discussed British foreign policy, the House of Lords itself, the EU and his extensive work with the UK Metric Association, as well as an amusing diversion about ties.

Speaking only a month after the death of Lady Thatcher, we were initially quite keen to press the man some would say instigated her downfall on his opinion of her legacy. His reluctance to speak about the topic, however, was clear. Whether unwilling to speak again about a woman with whom he is forever linked, or out of genuine respect for a towering political colleague, we moved quite quickly on to other topics. Perhaps it was for the best; Lord Howe clearly has more to offer than simple reminiscences, and his advice on politics today is still important enough to come out of the shadow of the past.

James Roberts and Alex Carden, Features Editors

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