It is rare that losing a day watching a Test cricket match is welcome. I had expected to be watching England play Ireland with my wife and two of my children on the Thursday before last. Instead, much to my delight, Boris Johnson asked me to become Leader of the House of Commons and Lord President of the Council, so I had my first cabinet meeting, my first outing at the Despatch Box and first Privy Council meeting. Anselm, my fourth child, went to Lord’s in my place so was equally pleased.
The joy in joining the government is, naturally, in part personal but mainly because we will now leave the European Union on October 31. Something that would not have happened with any other possible prime minister. I have immediately gone ‘native’ as I am deeply impressed by the civil service. My new private secretary had a full briefing ready for me at 11.30 at night and was on parade at seven the next morning with a full team to continue the preparations for my first appearance as Leader of the House. I had previously thought only corporate bankers worked such hours.
Most interest in my appointments seems to have focused on my list of banned words. Not quite the famous ‘Index’ of banned books but a few specimens of bureaucratese that I particularly dislike. My apologies to those who wrote in to note that ‘going forward’ was not on the list — it is an otiose phrase that will be included in any future editions. Generally, my aim is to be polite to my constituents, who after all employ me — to address them correctly and be clear. Also I dislike the Oxford comma but that is mere prejudice.
I laughed out loud at Craig Brown’s thoughtful additions to my list, especially his view on rocket science: ‘One simply lights the blue touch paper and steps back. A day or two later, one or two of your best chaps find themselves on the moon…’ No doubt many people will follow his example and use the words ‘egad’ and ‘zounds’ more often, although personally I prefer ‘oddsfish’ which was much employed by Charles II. It is a corruption of ‘God is a fish’, as zounds is of ‘God’s wounds’.
Returning to Somerset after all the activities in London is inevitably a pleasure, not least as during school holidays my family stays there while I am in London fending for myself. There is additionally the fascinating work of a constituency MP, which included a recent shift with the local police. We met at the old Keynsham police station at eight in the evening, when I joined two local policemen who had grown up in the town so know it well. This was invaluable in dealing with a disorderly 16-year-old: one of the police officers rang the boy’s mother, which solved the problem. I was also struck by how much falls on the police that is essentially social work or properly that of other services. We attended to a man who had had an accident on his motorbike and when no ambulance came for an hour and a half, we took him directly to the Bath Royal United Hospital. As the man could have had a back injury this was a risk but the police could not just leave him there, nor could they wait indefinitely. The RAC had still not come to collect his damaged bike another hour later although it had promised to. As I am with the AA, I do not know if this is typical.
Earlier in the day I had been to a presentation by local teenagers involved in National Citizen Service. This was in Bath at the Salvation Army building and was the antidote to any complaint about the next generation. I listened to three presentations about community projects, all of which sought to help local people and were particularly focused on the elderly and mental health issues. National Citizen Service takes up a big chunk of their summer holidays and I had not realized how impressive its work is and the real opportunities it gives to the participants, including training in public speaking, something that can often be useful.
Finally, the chairman of Portmeirion Group wrote to the Telegraph pointing out that I seem to have ‘photobombed’ a picture of a Spode Blue Italian cup and saucer that was on the paper’s front page. The said china had been moved to my new parliamentary office along with my style guide. I hope that it will also continue to be used at Somerset Capital Management, the company I founded in 2007 with Dominic Johnson and Ed Robertson. Sadly, on taking public office I have had to leave, which is a great wrench even though I had been effectively non-executive for some time.
This article was originally published in The Spectator magazine.