POLITICS

17 from '17: Bim Afolami Warns Abuse Is Putting People Off Entering Politics

HuffPost UK spoke to the new Tory MP

13/07/2017 07:01 | Updated 13 July 2017

The 2017 General Election saw 92 MPs elected to the Commons for the very first time. In a series of exclusive interviews, HuffPost UK is speaking to new MPs from the Conservatives, Labour, SNP and Lib Dems. First up week, it’s the extremely well-read Bim Afolami...

An Eton-educated, Oxford graduate who worked in the City - so far, so cliche for the new Conservative MP for Hitchin and Harpenden.

But Bim Afolami is just as happy at a Drake gig as reading a book about Disraeli, and is passionate about making sure today’s youngsters are prepared for tomorrow’s jobs.

Here’s Bim Afolami’s 17 from ’17 interview.

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Bim Afolami

Where were you born and raised?

I grew up in Berkshire. My mum was born in Britain, but both my parents are of Nigerian background. We moved around a bit because my dad was a junior doctor, so we moved a round a lot and they had us when they were quite young. We started in the Wirral, although when I say that nobody ever believes me. Then my dad got a job in Ashford hospital in Middlesex and then we generally stayed in Berkshire and settled in Crowthorne.

What did you want to be when you were 16?

I think I wanted to be in politics actually. I could just give you rubbish and say I only thought about it two years ago but you wouldn’t believe me, and quite rightly so.

When did you first become interesting in politics?

I definitely became interested in current affairs quite young - seven, eight, nine years old - but not British party politics. When you have parents who come from somewhere else and they are well educated, their political discussion is such a big part of daily life. All my parents’ friends were doctors and just the nature of what we talked about was international affairs. My dad always read The Economist, always read foreign affairs magazines so I used to read those when I was about ten. You start reading it and not really understanding.

I cannot think of a day when I’ve spoken about politics with my parents and the NHS hasn’t come up, and also foreign affairs: Britain, America, foreign policy, aid, Africa, the place of colonialism and what that means. My parents had a very nuanced view of it.

My first big speech at the Oxford Union when I was a student was on the place of Africa in the world and something along the lines of whether colonialism had helped or hindered. I was arguing that it had helped.

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Bim took over the Hertforshire seat from former Cabinet Minister Peter Lilley.

When you come from a country like Nigeria where the concept of the NHS is amazing, the idea that you can have this thing, there was definitely a huge pride in it, and there still is. As I got older I think there was the sense that management wasn’t good enough, you should allow doctors to run things, funding wasn’t enough. There was a sense there was a lot of waste, bureaucratic incompetence. Often they would say you had the money to do something but there wasn’t the beds, let’s say, and therefore you can’t do it. Sometimes you had a whole new wing developed and yet you didn’t have the doctors or the nurses.

The one thing that was a real constant was a real pride in Britain, in that slightly amorphous sense of being proud of tradition, proud of the monarchy, proud of being part of this global Commonwealth family, naff and old-fashioned as that seems to some people. That was an underlying constant, more than what you might call party political things.

Who is your political hero?

I’ve always had a thing for Churchill because how could you not? But I’m also really interested in Disraeli - but not for the same reason other people are. The reason I’m interested in Disraeli - despite the fact the was a pretty shameless opportunist, brought down Robert Peel’s Government when he was trying to do something that was right - is to come from a Jewish background and do what he did, I see it very much from that insider/outsider perspective.

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Benjamin Disraeli served as Prime Minister twice - for nine months in 1868 and then from 1874 to 1880.

Who is your favorite politician from another party?

Roy Jenkins. He was quite an interesting guy and I would have loved to have met him. What I really admire about him is he had an enduring set of values which ended up not really aligning with his party. By the end he probably would have had much more in common with Michael Heseltine than Michael Foot. He maintained a wide variety of interests, thats what I really admire about him. He would keep writing, he would keep reading, he would go to plays, he would keep abreast of life outside Westminster. 

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Former Home Secretary and Chancellor Roy Jenkins in 1975

What did you do before becoming an MP?

I worked as a corporate lawyer in the City, then a corporate lawyer at US firm where I did about six years doing M&A deals, floating businesses on the stock market, raising capital, this sort of stuff. I stood in 2015 in Lewisham Deptford for the party where we did alright but it’s a very safe Labour seat. I was a bit bored of law and I wanted where I could learn a bit more about business but in a none legal way. A job came up at HSBC, so I was a senior executive in a team that was restructuring HSBC. I spent some time working for George Osborne when he was in opposition and Howard Flight when I was 18/19 as an intern. I worked for George just after I left Oxford for a few months and then I went off to law school. It was great because it gave me a test of it and I got to know a few people and it gave me a hand in but it didn’t mean I was so in this Westminster bubble that I couldn’t get out.

If you could run any Government department which would it be?

I don’t know if this fits into a department but I can tell you the things I would really like to work on at a national level. Definitely the economic challenges of the country, in particular how are we going to deal with an economy that’s changing faster than anyone can figure out. Also technology, automation, and the fact that the world of work is changing faster than it’s ever done. There are jobs existing now that 5 years ago did not exist anywhere in the world and there are people are being paid six-figures in their twenties to do these jobs, that five years ago nobody even knew existed. How do we prepare people for a world of work in the next 10/20 years? I’m not saying I know all the answers but I’m starting to think about that.

It’s education in the context of what does that mean as a nation for our economy, for our productivity and as a society.

What was the last book you read? 

I generally read concurrently a few books at a time. I’m currently re-reading Nassim Taleb’s Antifragile - a fantastic book. I just finished, for the second time, Robert Caro’s book on Lyndon Johnson ‘Master of the Senate’. I’m trying to get through Neil Ferguson’s book on Kissinger - it’s just proving a bit tricky, I don’t know why.

Who is your favourite band or artist?

The best way of judging this is who have I seen live? The last two people I saw live were Jay Z and Drake.

What’s your favourite film?

The Godfather. Obviously. Who doesn’t love that?

What’s the one thing you could change about UK politics if you could?

Vicious attacks on people on social media. Part of this is a party political point, part of this is not. The last campaign, Conservative candidates all over the country, just the stories you hear. I know myself I faced an admittedly pretty muted version of this but just the vile rudeness of some people on social media just never ceases to amaze and I think has got a lot worse since Jeremy Corbyn starting leading the Labour Party - I really believe that. I think most people understand that even if they don’t say it. I get off easy compared to a lot of people. A lot of women, particularly in the Labour Party, Jewish people in the Labour Party, the things that they were getting…I just find it so depressing that people cannot be civil in their attitude and behaviour. It’s a real shame and I know that it is already putting people off going into politics.

Which three words would your best friend use to describe you?

Energetic, serious and fun.

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