Wed 4 Nov 2009
By Mel Stride
My earliest political memory is listening to the radio for the results of one of the 1974 General Elections. I was 12. I probably didn't understand the issues but I knew that the outcome mattered to my father, who was struggling with a small business.
As with most people who care about politics, much of my drive comes from my background. My mother grew up on a council estate and left school at 15, and my father spent his childhood with various foster parents and in children's homes. He left for the world of work at just 14 years old. I was lucky. I got a free place at a grammar school, and when that opportunity arrived I picked it up and ran with it as far and as fast as I could. I am the only person in any part of my family to have gone to university, and it has left me feeling very strongly about the importance of education in terms of social mobility, opportunity and fairness. When people ask me why I want to go into parliament I explain that one reason is that I want to see a society in which more young people can benefit from the quality of education that I was fortunate enough to receive.
At university I was President of the Oxford Union and the university Conservatives. This was when I started to become actively involved in politics, to engage in the battle of ideas and when I was lucky enough to meet lots of interesting people from all walks of life and of all political persuasions. They were the ones who shaped my views. We argued and debated. Agreed and fell out and seemed to laugh a lot. It was one of the times in my life that I cherish the most.
A couple of years after I left, I decided to encourage bright, young graduates to go into industry and manufacturing, rather than areas like the city and accountancy. I thought it was damaging to our economic future that so many talented young people were shunning industry and I wanted to do something about it. I thought the best way that I could make a difference was to organise an exhibition of what young people in industry were doing. I persuaded about a third of the largest 50 industrial companies in Britain to take part with each showcasing a key project undertaken by young men and women within their business. I ended up being interviewed on the Today Programme because my event coincided with the 1987 Stock market crash when jobs in the city suddenly became precarious. It was fortuitous timing. Sir John Banham, then Director General of the CBI opened my show and the event reached around 9 million people nationally. I loved creating an enterprise from scratch. Finding creative solutions to problems was the part that I enjoyed the most and it led me onto what was to be the long, often tough but exhilarating path of building a business.
A few years ago I decided to become politically involved again. One reason being that I thought I had enough life experience to have something to contribute. I think there should be more MPs with real hands on business experience, especially entrepreneurial experience, the kind that finds creative solutions to difficult problems and that can help to achieve results through working with, and motivating others.
I grew up in the countryside and feel very connected to it and I see a lot of my role as trying to protect what we have. Our rural communities, our local services, our post offices, community hospitals, our farming, that sense of togetherness that seems to be disappearing from much of our country. In rural areas you still find it and where you do it needs to be protected and nurtured as something very special.
Over the last three years, as a Central Devon parliamentary candidate, I have spent as much time as possible listening to people. I have chatted to many thousands on the doorstep and in that sense I am very much a pavement politician. If elected, that is how I will continue. I believe that anyone who seeks to serve in parliament should expect to work extremely hard to get there and just as hard once they are there. I don't have any time for patrician politics and thankfully those days are disappearing fast.
My interest outside of politics revolves around my family and with young children that keeps me busy. Without a very understanding partner, it must be difficult to be a parliamentary candidate. It's one of those pursuits that is kind of endless. To do it well, you have to give it 110 per cent, and at the end of the day it's your partner who carries much of the weight. I owe my family a great deal, especially my wife Michelle. Win or lose - we'll still have each other.
Other columns by Mel Stride
Busy right across the constituency - Tue 9 Nov 2021
Investing in local public services - Mon 2 Aug 2021
Corona - A year on - Mon 14 Jun 2021
Supporting our Local Communities in difficult times - Mon 1 Mar 2021
The PM’s first year - Thu 1 Oct 2020
Quizzing the PM - Tue 7 Jul 2020
It’s the economy, stupid! - Tue 11 Feb 2020
Vision for the Future - Mon 2 Dec 2019
Into the Cabinet - Thu 1 Aug 2019
Local Apprenticeships Matter - Fri 3 May 2019
Huge shot in the arm for our High Streets - Thu 24 Jan 2019
Reading - Thu 8 Nov 2018
EU - In or Out? - Mon 11 Mar 2013
Opportunity. - Tue 22 Jan 2013
Where do we begin? - Tue 13 Nov 2012
To Infinity and Beyond - Wed 5 Sep 2012
Working in Westminster - Sun 1 Jul 2012
A Better Balance - Thu 5 Jan 2012
Capital Shame - Mon 7 Nov 2011
Olympic Feat... - Sun 11 Sep 2011
The Coalition - A year on - Mon 11 Jul 2011
Labour Dreams - Sun 17 Apr 2011
Now we really must mean Business - Thu 10 Mar 2011
Freedom and Responsibility - Sun 9 Jan 2011
A leader for Labour - Thu 4 Nov 2010
Education and Freedom - Mon 6 Sep 2010
Tradition and Words - Mon 6 Sep 2010
Mel Stride - Early Days in Westminster - Tue 6 Jul 2010
Mel Stride Conservative Parliamentary Candidate on The Big Society - Mon 3 May 2010
A look back over my years as Conservative parliamentary candidate and contributor to The Cottage - Sun 28 Feb 2010
Building the homes of the Future means giving Power to the People - Thu 3 Dec 2009
As General Franco lay dying... - Tue 20 Oct 2009