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OPINION: My fondness for Steve Barclay MP

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Journalists have a problem – we don’t make friends easily.

And especially with politicians.

It affords us – rightly so – a distance from any or all connected even remotely with some form of government.

Which is why MP Steve Barclay has never been a friend, but someone nonetheless with whom I have enjoyed a long association.

So, tonight’s, not unexpected, news he is returning to the back benches is neither a matter for celebration nor commiseration. It is simply a fact of political life which he, most of all, is aware of acutely.

That he backed the ‘wrong’ horse for Conservative Party leadership in Rishi Susak is of no consequence to me or to most people in his NE Cambs constituency.

Steve is shrewd enough to have recognised the risks and so it was not surprising that Liz Truss, his neighbouring MP, and now PM, decided he was better out than in her Cabinet.

“After seven years in government I am returning to the backbenches,” he tweeted tonight.

“Thanks to all colleagues, both political and civil service, for their fantastic support. Wishing Liz Truss and her ministerial team every success for the future.”

And there, for now, his ministerial career is paused, though possibly not ended.

Whatever thoughts he might harbour (personally I thought he would make a darn good health secretary in the short to medium term) the ministerial limos and civil servant functionaries are for another time and another day.

Steve has been, despite the constant and almost expected hectoring on social media, a good constituency MP. And will remain so.

I first met him at Harry Smith Community College when I had been invited to be the neutral chairman for the NE Cambs Conservative Association as they sought a successor for Malcolm Moss.

My role was to grill, entertainingly at times, six prospective candidates, from which one would be chosen at the end of the day. It was an open primary which meant any constituent, of any party, could attend and vote.

Such was the confidence the Conservatives had that anyone with a blue rosette attached to their lapel would win the seat.

So, it proved, and Mr Barclay has won each election since with an increased majority.

I always remember one of the candidates (I’ve told the story over the years so some Rotarians, Round Tablers or OAPs will know lol) approaching me at lunchtime.

He had been one of the three morning candidates and approached me as I was in the school grounds enjoying a cigarette.

“Excuse, Mr Elworthy, may I ask a question?” he said.

“Of course, I replied,” I responded.

“How do you think I got on?” he asked sheepishly.

“Honestly? Not too well,” I replied and scuttled off to a quieter spot.

But Steve sailed through and has been a good, and formidable, Member of Parliament.

I assisted best I could on his Read to Succeed campaign, just finishing its 7th year, and he wrote a gracious, and public, acknowledgement of that work after I left Newsquest.

But I remember best of his all his campaigning zeal from the back benches to expose bad practice, bordering on wrongdoing, at the former Local Enterprise Partnership.

A stickler for detail and with a forensic mind one had no doubt he was destined for ministerial office.

Whilst he certainly had the ability to become PM and made very few public faux pas (unlike Liz Truss of course) he failed to appreciate that the Great British Public enjoys a Prime Minister with a ‘bit of form’.

Johnson had it aplenty. Truss (who can forget her ‘pork’ speech) had it too.

But I can’t think of a single moment when Steve fluffed his lines, hesitated, or went off curve – and maybe if he had done so destiny might have played him a different hand.

But Liz it is and for now Steve will swallow his pride and get on with the job in hand.

You’ll never know, though, for sure what he’s thinking – that would be so far out of character it remains an untenable proposition.

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