Kelly Tolhurst Interview: Ukip's Mark Reckless Is History And Means Nothing Anymore

Kelly Tolhurst: Ukip's Mark Reckless Is History And Means Nothing Anymore

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 15 MPs from the 2015 intake of the Conservatives, Labour and SNP. This week, it's the multi-lingual Kelly Tolhurst...

It almost went unnoticed on election night, but Kelly Tolhurst delivered one of the most devastating results of the campaign.

Devastating if you are a Ukip supporter, that is.

Conservative Kelly ousted Ukip MP Mark Reckless in Rochester and Strood, overturning the by-election result of six months previously and leaving the Eurosceptic party with just representative in parliament.

A proud Medway girl, Kelly is a businesswoman, competitive sailor and is even fluent in Italian.

Along the way to the Commons, she has been a nun in The Sound Of Music, become a big fan of David Cameron and been in the middle of media circus.

Also, she has probably the worst taste in music of any of the new intake.

Here is Kelly Tolhurst's 15 from '15:

1) Where were you born and raised?

I was born in Canada House in Gillingham. I’ve lived in Rochester and Strood for most of my life.

2) What did you want to be when you were a child?

Probably an actress. I was a very good singer, I used to do a lot of singing and amateur dramatics and different shows. Oklahoma, The Sound of Music, I was one of the nuns because I was one of the only people who could hit a particular note that was higher than anyone else. Oklahoma, I had the leading role. That was at The Woodville Halls in Gravesend, I’ll never forget that. The King and I, that was another one. I used to go to the Saturday school and Sylvia Young’s Theatre School. It wasn’t a conscious decision not to pursue it. You grow up, you actually leave school and realise you need some money and realise you need a job. It’s all very well chasing dreams, but to be quite honest I got into work and I enjoyed it and that’s where my path was taking me.

Kelly was a lover of musicals such as The Sound of Music in her youth

3) When did you first become interested in politics?

I wasn’t brought up in a family that was really political. We always spoke about current affairs and our views on things, but my parents weren’t staunch anything – although saying that during the General Election I found out my mother had always voted Conservative and I didn’t realise that before. What made me get political was I started my business in 2002 so it was right under the Labour government, and to be quite frank, seeing as I didn’t have parents that were trying to influence me, I was influenced by the market and the current situation. As a small business owner in the mid-2000s we saw what happened coming. We could work out what was going to happen because this is unsustainable, where are people getting this money from, and we saw it, if you were running a small business you see it. For me that cemented why I was a Conservative.

4) Do you have any political heroes?

I’m not really one for that, I’m not even one for celebrities really. I don’t really care very much for them, those things aren’t really important to me. Although I have to say I am a bit of a David Cameron fan. I was very impressed with him when he came to the constituency and the way he dealt with my constituents, the way dealt with me as a candidate, and how fast his mind works. It’s 100 miles an hour and I think he is the right person to be leading the country. I never thought I would have ever said that about any politician, but David Cameron very much impressed me and I hadn’t met him before the by-election. He’s actually interested.

One of the biggest things was on one of the very first visits to our constituency walking round a one of the businesses he was talking and one of the BBC cameras was following him. We were talking to lots of different apprentices and on the way out he had a brief conversation with an apprentice. He had had a lot going on, but when he came back two weeks later he remembered everything that that young girl had said to him. I thought 'you are not just looking like you’re interested, you actually heard what was said'. For me, that was a big tick in the box. George Osborne as well, he was really good. So was Liz Truss and Nicky Morgan.

Kelly Tolhurst and David Cameron campaigning together in the 2014 by-election

5) When did you first stand for election?

In 2011. How I got into local politics was the play area near where I live and work, the council wanted to build on it so I worked with the local community and we fought against the Conservative council to get that decision overturned. Then they said would you mind standing as a councillor. It’s quite funny because I took Mark Reckless’s council seat as he was standing as an MP.

[The by-election] was pressurised, but the pressure was mainly caused by the media, not by my party, not by anyone around me, not by my constituents. The pressure was from myself and generally the media.

I knew I lost. He wasn’t a friend of mine, so there was no personal relationship, so I don’t really have any opinion on him really. I know I’m making myself sound very angelic, and people probably don’t believe me when I say it but I was always the best person out of the two of us to represent that constituency and I knew that, and the general public realised that, and that’s what I was pleased about.

If I had lost [the General Election vote] I would have accepted it because people had had an opportunity to get to know who I was, had an opportunity to talk to me and get to know what I was standing for and what I was about. I didn’t think about him, I was just thinking ‘Yes, I’m so pleased that this is a place I was born and bred and now I’m a Member of Parliament for that area’.

It turned into a media frenzy and it was quite ridiculous. I had all the very, very hostile...I think you only had to look at the footage to see [the media wanted Reckless to win]. Funnily enough, naively, I thought I would have been the one they got behind, being the local girl who hadn’t really done anything wrong and was sticking her head above the parapet. Actually, it was ‘attack the person who hasn’t done anything wrong yet’ – well it wasn’t an attack, but it was a surprise. I now know how the media works – probably I understand a little bit more that they have their own agendas, which is sad.

Naively, the population think the media are there to report fact, not their own opinion, but there we go. People were waiting for me to slip-up during the by-election, the media were waiting to see if I would say something wrong, and during the general election they weren’t really interested. There were loads of other things going on and I suppose in a way because I did come from a working-class background they just assumed that I would slip up, whereas actually people don’t always realise when you come from a working-class background you can fight just as hard as anybody else you just did it through a different way.

I haven’t seen him since the count. He means nothing. He’s history. I’m the MP for the next five years.

Nigel Farage congratulates Mark Reckless on his by-election win in 2014

6) What did you do for a living before becoming an MP?

I’m a marine surveyor. You survey boats. You never use the word ‘sea-worthy’ as it wouldn’t stand up in a claim. We also distribute marine paint to boat builders and manufacturers. I love what I do. I’m not working in the business but I’m going to keep an interest as it’s who I am and it’s given me the skills and experiences that have enabled me to be hopefully a half-reasonable politician. As part of that I deal with Europe, I deal with the rest of the world, and also I deal with places like China. So in 2011 we started doing some exportation to China with a company I was working with. It’s about getting stuff done, it’s not just about what you say. I’m a doer. Running a business is very tough, you work very long hours. Being an MP is kind of similar.

7) What do you do to relax?

Up until I was ill a couple of years ago, every Saturday I would race International Dragon, which is a sailing boat. I’m hoping over the recess, even though I’m not having a holiday while I’m in the constituency because I want to get everything sorted, I will hopefully be having some Saturday afternoons where I’m out actually on a boat racing. You go out for about two and half hours on the estuary, through the Medway onto the Thames estuary. It’s so full on, it’s all you can think about. It’s quite a good de-stress because for two hours you can’t really think about much else. It’s a three-man boat, six to eight metre.

An International Dragon Class boat

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

I suppose the one that would be of most interest to me would be Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) – if I wanted to run a Government department, which I don’t!

Another key area I am interested in is looked-after children and children’s social care, and specifically post-18 care for looked after children. I’ve had a lot of interaction with looked-after children and it’s an area I feel personally quite strongly about. I’ve seen some of these lives and watched them grow because my sister is a social worker, she used to work for a local authority but she works for a fostering charity which I used to do work for. I was a contact supervisor, supporting children, an independent visitor. I’m still keeping a connection with them, and still work with them. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done because I’ve always worked in commerce as opposed to the caring professions, so for me it’s been a real good opportunity.

9) What is your favourite film?

I don’t really have a favourite to be honest. I quite like Inspector Montalbano [An Italian Detective drama series]. I speak Italian because I work with Italian firms. I started watching it because it was something quite interesting I could watch in Italian as when you’re not over there all the time it takes a few days to get into it. I learnt French all through school, and then I went to work for a French company, and used to have private lessons on a Friday. I learnt my Italian at the Adult Education Centre in Medway over 10 years, and it’s wiped out all of my French! For films, I’m a bit of a sad-o. I like Saturday Night Fever, Swallows and Amazons, I don’t really have a favourite to be honest.

Inspector Montalbano

10)What is your favourite band/artist?

[Laughing] You’re asking me stuff like this and I’m really not interested! I like everyone…erm, I just listen to the radio but I never go and buy any…I like loads at the moment but I can never tell you who sings them or the bloody names of the songs because I never remember! I’m really failing here! I quite like Scouting For Girls, there we go! But only because of my friend and getting dragged around everywhere that Scouting For Girls are doing some kind of event. The last time I went to the Albert Hall was to see Scouting for Girls.

Kelly's favourite band, Scouting for Girls

11) What is the best thing about the House of Commons?

I have got an opportunity to try and impact on things which under normal circumstances I would have seen on the news, or read about, and not have had any say in. This time round I’ve got an opportunity to fight the corner of my area and give my opinion. I’m here to represent the majority view of my constituency.

12) What is the worst thing about the House of Commons?

You do so much, it’s just so full on. You want to do as much as you can and as a new MP you’ve got to work out what you want to focus on. You can’t do everything, you haven’t got enough hours in a day and it’s a real challenge. That’s something that hopefully over the summer I will sit down and really work out, now I know how it works.

13) What is the one thing you would change about UK politics if you could?

To be quite honest I’ve not seen another system which works as well as this particular one, and I think unless there is a system that’s better than this, stick to it. I don’t think anything’s perfect, but you have to recognise that and make the best of what you’ve got.

14) What one reason would you give someone to visit your constituency?

If anyone is thinking of coming down to Kent for the weekend they should always have a day, or a couple of days, in Medway. We’ve got so many things. We’ve got the river, we’ve got the castle, we’ve got the cathedral, we’ve got the Royal Engineers dockyard. We’ve got Tudor houses, we’ve got Upnor Castle, we’ve got so much. We’ve got Napoleonic forts, we’ve got countryside parks. There’s loads to do.

Rochester Castle

15) What are the best and worst aspects of your personality?

I suppose I’m a control freak, so I like doing everything myself. It means I end up putting a lot of pressure on myself and that means that I maybe don’t always reach deadlines because I’ve got to do it and I won’t let anyone else do it. The best part of my personality is I like people, and I like talking and I like meeting people. I get on with most people hopefully. Communication is probably one of my best skills.


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