'I'm not somebody who advocates career politicians' - York Outer MP Julian Sturdy on experience in Westminster

For Julian Sturdy, the Westminster bubble is something that should be well and truly burst by politicians bringing experience from outside of the corridors of Parliament.

Handout photo issued by UK Parliament of Conservative MP Julian Sturdy speaking in the House of Commons in 2020
Handout photo issued by UK Parliament of Conservative MP Julian Sturdy speaking in the House of Commons in 2020

“I’m not somebody who advocates career politicians,” he says.

“I think it’s important that you have outside experience to bring in, and then you can utilise that experience to try and either create or mould policy going forward.”

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Among the many lawyers, teachers, bankers, medics and charity workers that fill the seats of Parliament, Mr Sturdy, the Conservative MP for York Outer, is one of a much smaller group with a specific professional expertise - agriculture.

The former Harrogate councillor farmed near York before winning his Westminster seat in 2010, and continues to take a keen interest in the agriculture. He sits on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, and chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group on Science and Technology in Agriculture.

This range of experience, he believes, makes Parliament work more beneficially for everybody.

“I would advocate that it’s important that you have a different experience,” he tells The Yorkshire Post.

“People come into politics with a wealth of different experiences and I think that’s really important.

“When we’re having debates on the NHS, you have people who have worked in healthcare coming through, you see the richness of their experience coming forward in those debates.

“You’ve got people with military backgrounds when you’re talking about the current conflict, their experiences come through, they’re crystal clear.

“If you’re in a debate when someone has worked in that sector or that area and they’re speaking from experience, then you take note, you listen.

“It does make a difference because they’re speaking from an experienced background, something which they’ve actually been involved in and they are trying to enrich that debate.

“That’s an important part of politics.

Amid growing concerns over the cost of living crisis and fears that the situation could worsen even further given the escalating conflict following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine at the end of past month, the security of the country’s food supply chain is suddenly a much hotter topic across Westminster than it once was.

“We can’t become reliant on imports,” Mr Sturdy says.

“We’ve got to produce our own food in the UK.

“We are always going to import some food we know that, but we have to remember food security is an important part of what we’re trying to deliver as well.”

He is a big advocate of the use and development of new technology within agriculture to ensure the sector has a more sustainable footing for the future, and thinks that the UK has a responsibility to optimise new production methods in the coming years.

Policy development such as this, however, has been relegated down the political agenda in recent months, as the Cabinet has been faced with a succession of scandals and major crises including the allegations of parties being held in Westminster during the Covid-19 lockdowns.

Mr Sturdy, who has served on the backbenches for more than a decade, is one of a number of Conservative MPs to have voiced their frustration with the Government’s handling of a range of issues.

He describes himself as a man who “has a tendency to call a spade a spade”, and he has not been afraid to let Ministers know he has been unhappy with their approaches to partygate, and more recently the developing refugee crisis.

However, with the still-looming Sue Gray report on the allegations of lockdown-busting gatherings having been shifted off the front pages by the events in Ukraine, there is a hint that party spats may have been put to one side.

“I would say things are slightly more united than they have been for a few months,” Mr Sturdy says. “And that’s because the current crisis means that naturally everybody has to come together. And that’s not just within the Conservative Party, that’s right across the House and across the Chamber, which I think is important.

“I do believe that people want to see Parliament working together on issues like this (the war in Ukraine), rather than simply squabbling amongst themselves.

“It is really important that leaders, politicians and parties come together on these really important issues, and I think they have.”

Figures in Westminster have been asking in recent weeks, however, whether the concerns about Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s leadership - which threatened to reach a critical point in the weeks after Christmas - have disappeared altogether, or have just been put on hold while priorities are elsewhere.

The question remains as to whether Ministers will manage to rebuild the trust of long-serving backbenchers such as Mr Sturdy.

“I think it is coming back,” he says. “Although, the trust had been lost to a certain point. There was a lot of concern out there, and I was one of those. But I think it is coming back and obviously what is happening in Ukraine is horrific and the humanitarian crisis that’s going on at the moment is unprecedented. We have to do everything that we can.”