POLITICS

17 From '17: Kemi Badenoch: 'Left-Wing Teachers Told Me Oxbridge Wouldn't Take People Like Me'

This Tory is not afraid to take anyone on.

03/08/2017 19:01

It was one of the most plum seats up for grabs in the 2017 election - Saffron Walden in Essex. Having been represented by Sir Alan Haselhurst for 40 years - and with a very healthy majority of 24,991- it is the perfect constituency for an ambitious young Tory to launch a career.

Step forward Kemi Badenoch, a parliamentarian not afraid to speak her mind.

In her maiden speech, the former systems analyst declared Brexit the “greatest ever vote of confidence” in the UK. 

She made a dig at the new Labour MPs who attacked Parliament as somewhere that “reeks of the establishment” by accusing them of wanting to “undermine the institutions of this island.”

And as for those in her party who are “wavering on tackling the debt and the deficit” she had one simple message: “Hold your nerve.”

This lady is certainly not for turning.

Here’s Kemi Badenoch’s 17 from ’17 interview.

Kemi Badenoch - Conservative MP for Saffron Walden

Where were you born and raised?

I was born in London but I was raised in Nigeria and the US a little bit. Both my parents are Nigerian, but my mother worked internationally so when she travelled so did the kids. I moved back to the UK when I was 16.

What did you want to be when you were 16?

A doctor, like my parents. Going to a very bad school here stopped me. I had actually got admission into medical school in the US - I got into Stanford pre-med - and I got into medical school in Nigeria but I came here because being a citizen it was just a lot cheaper.

In the US the school fees are astronomical and the universities were closed in Nigeria so this was the best chance for me.

I went to a further education college that was basically failing. There was no aspiration. It was Phoenix College in South London.

The teachers were, I realise now in hindsight, holding very, very left-wing views of how things should be.

They were trying to be helpful to the black kids in the school by not wanting us to try anything that we might fail at. So there was a lot of: ‘Oh don’t apply for medicine, why don’t you consider nursing?’ because in their way it was: ‘Well, if you do this then you’ll definitely get in, but if you try that then you may not get in.’

For me as the daughter of two doctors that was the first time anyone had said ‘Don’t do this.’ It was also a bad school.

No one there really got As - it was just not good, and my grades weren’t good enough.

The only two universities I had heard of in the UK at the time were Oxford and Cambridge and I told my headteacher that’s where I wanted to go and she said: ’Oh, they don’t take people like you. We don’t encourage people to apply there.′

That was probably my first experience of ‘the left’ in terms of, not being nasty or unpleasant, but this is the best way for you to go about doing things, and I really didn’t like it.

I found people who looked like me but came from very disadvantaged backgrounds found it helpful because ‘Oh, they’re trying to help us to make sure we can get something otherwise we’ll never get anything’, but for me coming from a very, very academic family - professors and at least two doctors and so on - this was dumbing down.

PA Archive/PA Images
Conservative leader Michael Howard during the 2005 General Election campaign

When did you first become interesting in politics?

I remember at university thinking it might be fun but never got involved in it. To be honest I wasn’t even sure where I would fit on the spectrum.

I didn’t know then what ‘left’ and ‘right’ meant in the way that I do now.

2005 was very much a turning point, just after the Conservatives had lost the election and I thought actually they should have done a lot better, I didn’t like Labour and this is something I might be interested in doing.

I remember watching BBC Parliament one day and I saw an MP - I can’t remember what she was talking about or what she said - and I thought it was terrible and I can do much better than that. How is she an MP? If she can do it then so can I, and 12 years later, here I am.

Who is your political hero?

Airey Neave and Margaret Thatcher. I put them together as I look at them as a pair and what they did together in getting her to leader of the opposition and then Prime Minister - it was a team effort, it wasn’t just her.

PA Archive/PA Images
Airey Neave was assassinated by Irish terrorists in 1979.

Who is your favorite politician from another party?

Kate Hoey. She won’t remember this but I met Kate Hoey at a hustings the first time I stood as candidate in Dulwich and we were in the same borough in Lambeth and she said quite a few things and I had a counter-fact for every thing that she was saying. I noticed she was smiling at the hustings and at the end of it she said: “You did very well, I know you’re going to be an MP one day.’

When you look at a lot of her views she’s not that far off from what I think. Often with politicians from other parties there is a lot that we agree on. I liked her because she was complimentary, unlike the person I was standing against, Tessa Jowell.

She wasn’t nasty or anything but every time I met her she kept thinking I was there to support her. ‘Oh thank you for coming to support me,’ she would say.

What did you do before becoming an MP?

I’ve changed jobs three times in the past two years. I was a system analyst just over two years ago, but then after 2015 election I thought politics is what I want to do but my skill set is very techie and I can’t be a Spad [Special Advisor] or anything like that so I got a job as head of digital at the Spectator. Three months after that Victoria Borwick became an MP and an election I had fought in 2012 suddenly made me a London Assembly member. I was doing both for a while just to see which one of these works better and I moved on to the Assembly and left the Spectator almost exactly a year ago.

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

It’s a tough one. I tend to be such a generalist. It’s one of things that I enjoy about being a politician that I can talk a little bit about everything so it’s hard to pick something. I am more philosophical about my politics so what’s conservatism about? How can we sell it? How can we make a package that will be alluring for people? There’s not department that really does that, so perhaps working in the backroom somewhere.

Huff Post: Do you think the reputation of the nasty party has come back a little bit - particularly given Anne Marie Morris comments?

I was appalled by it. As soon as I heard I went straight to the whips office. I said ‘this is outrageous’. It makes it very hard for someone like me, when I want to talk about what a Tory policy’s about, what the Prime Minister’s doing, how amazing it is, and people say ‘look at what one of your colleagues has said.’ I think so many of us were up in arms about it…it’s just so distracting. I just don’t know where it came from. Why would you use this phrase? It’s so antiquated and I think an MP should know better.

I don’t know [if she should come back to the party] as I don’t know what the process is but I was happy that there was a suspension.

I think that’s what’s really important that when someone does something like that, the action is swift. It’s when people come round and try to explain ‘oh this isn’t what they meant’ and so on, that’s when a bad, nasty party reputation comes through and I think the swift action shows that this is not something that is tolerated in this party, and I hope that if someone does something like that, that’s what people see.

It’s in stark contrast to the anti-semitism issues that the Labour party had where there was just a lot of dilly-dallying and a lot of reports came out wringing their hands.

You can’t let people feel like they are under attack and there is no one there to come out to bat for them.

That’s not something today’s Tory party are going to stand for.

What was the last book you read?

I’ve got it in my handbag. It’s called ‘The Rule of Law’. It was a book I read when I was doing my law degree and I feel like I need a refresher. It’s the dullest thing anyone can possible be reading. I might read something lighter on holiday. I love the philosophy around the rule of law.

Who is your favourite band or artist?

My favorite artist has not changed since I was five years old: Michael Jackson. He is still for me the greatest of all time. I like people who remind me of him so Justin Timberlake, Bruno Mars a little bit, people like that. I love that style - Usher, all the imitations.

What is your favourite film?

Back To The Future. I can’t even decide which of the three is best.

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

If I could change the spreading of fake news so you could have a green or red traffic light system for how accurate a fact is, that would be awesome.

I first read this in a Terry Pratchett book but I’m sure he didn’t invent it, that a lie can get around the world before the truth has got its boots on.

I just think so many things went viral, not just in this election but I remember during the Clinton/Trump campaign people were sharing anti-Clinton things with me that there was no way she would have said that - use your brain. Or people who read headlines but not articles - so dangerous.

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

My husband is my best friend. He’s the one person who gets me. He says I’m very thoughtful, a deep thinker, very bold, I always say what I think, I always operate on first principles, and I have a great sense of humour. 

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