POLITICS

Heidi Allen Interview: Meet The Tory MP Who Took On The Government Over Welfare And Won

The South Cambridgeshire MP has not been afraid to stand up to her own party

19/04/2016 15:28 | Updated 19 April 2016
Heidi Allen

In Heidi Allen’s office, there is a framed quotation from Margaret Thatcher: “If you just set out to be liked, you will be prepared to compromise on anything at anytime, and would achieve nothing.”

It is the perfect mantra for the South Cambridgeshire MP, who has made quite an impact since being elected in May 2015.

The 41-year-old quit the family business to enter politics, and her maiden speech last October marked her out as one of a new breed of independent-minded Tory MPs.

Allen attacked Chancellor George Osborne’s planned cuts to tax credits, accusing him of “betraying” Conservative values.

Her words won cheers from Labour, and many of her Tory colleagues also welcomed her intervention. By the time she had finished talking, she was Westminster’s newest star.

Speaking to the Huff Post UK in Parliament, Allen said: “Honestly and truthfully, I didn’t expect my maiden speech to have anything like the impact it did, genuinely. It’s only when I got off the train - my husband comes and picks me up if I’m back late - he was like: ‘Heidi, have you seen the news?’ And I was like ‘No, why?’ I honestly had no idea, I knew Twitter was getting a bit lively but I had no idea at all.

She added: “It was amazing, completely unexpected, but it could have been a complete storm in a teacup. All that noise means nothing until something happens, so it was kind of ‘gosh, gulp, ok.’”

Despite her speech, Allen didn't actually vote against the Government that day, something she now regrets: "It was an Opposition Day motion that we should abandon all changes to tax credits completely and I said I can’t support that. If I had my time again I probably would have abstained."

Just over a month later and the storm in a teacup became a u-turn in the Commons as Osborne announced he was scrapping the tax credit cuts entirely.

Allen remembers not really taking onboard what had been said, but after locking eyes with Tory veteran Bernard Jenkin – who she had asked advice from the night before delivering her speech – she realised victory had been secured.

“He was looking at me and I was looking at him and I texted him saying: ‘Oh my God, did I just hear that right?’ and he said: ‘Yes’ and I blew him a kiss across the Chamber and he blew me a kiss back. It was such a personal kind of like ‘We did it!’."

 

Having played her part in getting the tax credit cuts axed, Allen has shown no let up – speaking out against changes to disability benefits and Personal Independence Payments.

Being such a vocal critic of own party’s policies has led to a mixed reaction from fellow Tories.

She said: “After the tax credits, yeah, I think that probably for a couple of months after there were a couple of the new intake who would find tremendous interest in the carpet whenever I was walking past. It’s pathetic.

She added: “I had so many people, ministers, I had a Secretary of State in the voting lobby, so many colleagues on both sides of the House constantly coming up to me and saying: ‘Well done somebody needed to say it’, so I hadn’t felt anything other than encouragement and that I had done the right thing. Then when I started to look out for it, yeah, maybe a couple of people looked at the carpet, but honestly and truthfully there was no knock at the door, the whips didn’t come, nothing at all.”

Allen was inspired to enter politics in summer 2011, when riots swept through London - “I got angry and patriotic watching the Tottenham riots and thought ‘Hell with that, my country’s better than this. What’s going on?’”

But what made her knock on the door of the Conservative Party as opposed to Labour?

“Two reasons and they’re both going to sound really cheesy but here we go. One – Margaret. Whether you do or don’t agree with her policies, for a woman taking no rubbish, being strong, being ‘just don’t mess with me’ - that’s a hell of a kind of powerful image for a woman. I grew up with a German mother who was you can imagine was very disciplined, so that was a bit like my mum I suppose – this woman who takes no rubbish. My mum loved Margaret Thatcher and it was always this image of this amazing powerful woman who refused to be messed around - that was kind of inspiring.

“Fundamentally, I’m sure I am very much on the left of the Tory Party, if you’re going to say it’s all right and left, but I think the difference for me between the two parties – because we do meet on a lot of things – is my sense that the Labour Party ethos is the state having a bigger role. I think the state should be as small as possible and only there to pick up where people need help, such as the welfare state, and that feels more Conservative, but there’s no massive burning reason why one or the other but that’s where, on balance, the power lies to me and I want the people to hold the power, not the state.”

Hulton Archive via Getty Images

As well as welfare, another of Allen’s big political passions is the NHS. Her interview with Huff Post UK was rescheduled so she could make it into the Commons Chamber for Labour’s Urgent Question on the Junior Doctors contract dispute.

She said: “I understand why Jeremy Hunt has done what he’s done, I understand why the BMA are angry and visa versa but for God’s sake! When I look back at my time at Royal Mail affecting change, changing night shift patterns or whatever it might be, people have got to be with you. They might not like it, they might be a bit grumpy about it, but if you sit down and explain why you’re going to do it, you’ve got half a chance of making it work.

“I think in fairness the BMA were a bit late to come to the table and the Department of Health doesn’t have to listen – they can just impose. You reach a point where both sides have let so much time pass that one of you has got to take a serious fall in pride and face, if you like. I think we’re at that point now where I don’t see either side doing it.”

When asked what she would do now, Allen was blunt in her reply: “I’d start again, I wouldn’t impose the contract. I would say ‘Come on then tell me why this contract is so rubbish. How would you make it better?’ But I don’t think that’s going to happen unfortunately.”

On the big issue dominating politics at the moment – the EU Referendum – Allen is on the side of Remain, but she is not actively campaigning.

When pushed on who she thinks will be the next Tory leader, Allen is waiting “to be swept off my feet by somebody”, but admits: “I’m a big fan of Stephen Crabb.”

If Crabb does climb to the top of greasy pole, that would leave a gap as Secretary of State for Department of Work and Pensions. Could Allen see herself sitting around the Cabinet table?

“I honestly, genuinely, totally, don’t think it will ever happen because I can’t swallow the party line if I don’t agree with it – I just can’t.

“If I buy it and I believe it then happy to but you don’t need to give me a bit of paper to tell me to do it. The whole playing the game thing, I can’t do it.

“We’re not going to see 'Heidi Allen: Prime Minister' as they would rather put Ricin in my tea than let that happen," Allen joked - making it clear she did not really believe 'they' would poison her.

But who are “they”?

“Them! The establishment!” Allen replied with a smile. 

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