The 2015 General Election saw 176 MPs elected to the Commons for the very first time. In a series of exclusive interviews, The Huffington Post UK is speaking to MPs from the 2015 intake of the Conservatives, Labour and SNP. This week, it's Havant MP Alan Mak...
A proud Yorkshireman who was raised above a shop, Alan Mak's backstory reflects two of his political heroes – William Hague and Margaret Thatcher.
But Alan had to travel way down south to Havant near Portsmouth to win election to Parliament, becoming the first member of the British Chinese community to ever find themselves in the Commons.
The 31-year-old made his political pilgrimage via a stint working for a Tory MP, a career as a corporate lawyer and even dipped his toe into the murky world of Tower Hamlets politics.
His enthusiasm, youth and focus has already set him out as one to watch from the new intake of MPs. Just don’t call him ‘The Chinese MP’…
Here is Alan Mak's 15 from '15:
1) Where were you born and raised?
I was born in York. I was raised above my family’s corner shop, which was also a takeaway. I grew up above the shop and worked in the shop from the age of about 10. I had a great upbringing because I always saw my parents. Lots of kids when they are young, their parents go out to work and there’s a long commute and they don’t see them but I spent most of my time with my parents, both in the day time and the night time. That’s really been the defining experience of my life - seeing how hard they worked. I mentioned it in my maiden speech, and even to get to that position where they ran their own business my dad had been a waiter, a bartender, worked oddjobs, and my mum had been a cleaner.
They saved up to buy the house to have a place of their own to start their own small business and they worked really hard at it and got me working hard at it. It was absolutely the most formative experience of my life and it’s really shaped and informed my Conservative values – hard work, family values, looking out for other people but also trying to get on in life as well.
2) What did you want to be when you were a child?
I really wanted to be a shopkeeper like my folks actually, just because I had spent so much time in the shop and for me it was the source, not only of income, but of pride for my family. They had been immigrants to the country and they had made a huge effort to settle in and to integrate. They became very well respected in our community, and I saw how people respected them for their hard work, the fact they were quite modest, quiet people. They were very much my heroes when I was growing up.
It wasn’t romantic at all. It was very, very hand to mouth and I think it was a very intense experience as you were spending all your time with your parents. That has positives in the sense that it was a very loving family and I got to see them, so I never felt I wasn’t seeing them because they were working. It meant that I didn’t have as many opportunities when I was young to travel, to see more of the world, which is why when I went to work in the City Of London I had all those opportunities not only to explore a large city, but a global city as well and find out more about the world.
3) When did you first become interested in politics?
I’m a Yorkshireman, and William Hague was a big figure in Yorkshire politics. I got an assisted place to my school so I guess my political story begins at 13. My state school was earmarked for closure, it was a poor failing school, a comprehensive. I got an assisted place which was a government scholarship started by Margaret Thatcher for bright kids from poor backgrounds, and that was to a neighbouring minor independent school and I saw how Conservative policies, and also government, were stepping in to help me. That was a very transformative moment.
Whilst working in the shop was transformative experience, the immediate jump from one school to another was a transformative moment. It led me to be the first in my family to go on to university, to Cambridge University, to get a professional job. But aged 13 I was very aware of the fact that there was this thing called the Government, that there was this woman called Margaret Thatcher, she had bought in this scholarship and it was directly helping me.
When I was 16, William Hague became leader and he launched the Keep the Pound Campaign which I got more involved in and interested in because I started studying A Level politics and that was really when I started becoming more involved in the party. He was saying sensible things on euro and Europe.
4) Do you have any political heroes?
Margaret Thatcher is a big hero of mine. She’s the shopkeeper’s daughter from Grantham. William Hague is another one. He stood up for our country at a time when it wasn’t hugely fashionable to stand up for the pound.
Margaret Thatcher and William Hague
5) When did you first stand for election?
I stood as a paper candidate in Tower Hamlets in 2010 [in the local election coming 12th out of 16], it was more to help the local party. We are not very strong there. We had the Lutfur Rahman – George Galloway situation. I wasn’t involved in the politics there particularly. I lived there as I worked in Canary Wharf and the City but they have a very strong Islamist and Bangladeshi community and I think the Tory party was fourth or fifth then and they were needing candidates. We weren’t going to win, we were honest about that, but we needed people on the ballot paper so I did the odd canvassing session.
6) What did you do for a living before becoming an MP?
I was corporate lawyer in the City and I started my own small business as well. It was helping start-ups to raise finance and to grow. I also co-founded a small events company which I’m still shareholder of but not involved in anymore.
7) What do you do to relax?
I play and watch sport, I play a lot of hockey, watch Man United, spend a lot of time with my friends and family and that’s become very important. Coming to Parliament you can get sucked into a bubble and I’m determined to keep a normal life outside of politics and stay in touch with my friends. I’ve invited a lot of them to come and have lunch or coffee in Parliament, drink on the terrace but I’m very mindful at weekends I go and hang out with them.
8) If you could run any Government department, which would it be?
Can I have two? I should start by saying I’m very committed to being a hardworking constituency MP and will always be Minister for Havant, but my passion is education. I benefited from an assisted place and I have been proud to serve as president of children’s education and health charity, Magic Breakfast…so I would love to be part of the education department, so that’s my passion. I would also love to be involved in the Treasury. Britain has a big opportunity to position itself as the most exciting economic nation in the 21st century by being a bridge between the fast growing economies of Asia, Africa and Latin America and our traditional markets in North America and Asia with my heritage, as you know I’m the first ever MP of British-Chinese heritage of any party, I feel that I can bring some expertise and experience of emerging markets and fast-growing markets to the economic debate in this country.
I’m very clear that I’m here to represent the people of Havant and to serve the country. I’m certainly not here to represent the British Chinese community. But what I am here to do, and I feel a burden of responsibility which I want to discharge, is I want to be a good role model for people from the British Chinese community and I also want to try and bring Britain closer to some of the exciting markets of the world, of which China is one. But I’m very clear that constitutionally my constituents are in Havant and they’re the people that send me here and it is them that I represent. I don’t represent every single British Chinese person in this country, they have their own MPs and it would be wrong of me to try and usurp those MPs.
But I am very mindful that we have a very successful British Chinese community which I’m very proud to be part of, I’m very proud to engage in politics and I want other people from that community to step forward. But I want to be clear, I don’t represent them, and secondly I don’t want to be known as ‘the Chinese MP’. But I’m happy to be known as ‘the British Chinese MP’ as I was born and grew up here. I’m happy for people to say ‘he is the first MP of British Chinese heritage’ because I am and I’m very proud of that, but I don’t want them to pigeon hole me into some sort of small box. That’s the point I’m making and I’m very clear about that and I’m certainly not here to represent the people of Hong Kong, or China, because that’s not how our system works and that’s just a matter of fact.
9) What is your favourite film?
Probably the Bourne trilogy. I guess everyone says Shawshank Redemption as it is a great film. I’ve also enjoyed the newer Bond films. I have to say Lord Dobbs’s modern incarnation of House of Cards has been absolutely awesome.
10) What is your favourite band/artist?
I’m a big fan of cheesey ballads. I’ve got quite an eclectic taste; it ranges from Take That and Elton John to Kenny G-jazz.
11) What is the best thing about the House of Commons?
The congeniality between the MPs of your own party and of other parties. People leave the politics in the Chamber and when they leave the Chamber everyone is very friendly, everyone is very helpful and I guess everyone is actually determined to do some good here. I haven’t met anybody who’s come to the Commons who isn’t committed to serving their constituency or making Britain a better place to live. We all have different political philosophies but everyone shows a passionate and profound commitment to making Britain a great country and that’s something that is very inspiring.
12) What is the worst thing about the House of Commons?
I haven’t experienced any bad things yet because I’m quite new but I think we always have to be vigilante to make sure we are not stuck in the Westminster bubble, which is why I spend a lot of time in my constituency and time with my non-political friends.
13) What is the one thing you would change about UK politics if you could?
I wish more people would watch Parliament on television. We have BBC Parliament and Parliament TV, I think we should do more to raise the profile of those. If people watched what happened in the Chamber more and not just PMQs they would have a better understanding of what MPs do.
14) What one reason would you give someone to visit your constituency?
It’s a beautiful constituency that represents Britain at its best. Havant has suburbs, it has a market town, it has a coastal village and it has a rural island. Havant is a microcosm of all that’s best in Britain.
15) What are the best and worst aspects of your personality?
The worst aspect is, as you have noticed, I’m often late for things [Mak was ten minutes late for the interview]. The best part I would like people to think I am hardworking and energetic and care about people’s and issues. I’m also quite impatient for things to happen. Coming from the City things happen quickly, and from business, things happen quickly. My personality is wanting things to happen quickly.