'We're going through an age of populism, not Conservatism' - the view of Tory Lord with decades in politics

“Have I changed, or has the Tory Party changed? That’s a big question I have to ask myself.”

And it is a question that surely has a lot of material to consider, when you have had a career as long as that as Lord Timothy Kirkhope of Harrogate.

Lord Kirkhope believes he is the “only person alive” to have served in four legislatures as a representative for the UK.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Counting them off on his fingers, he lists local government, a Member of Parliament, a Member of the European Parliament, and now the House of Lords.

Lord Timothy Kirkhope of Harrogate (JPI)Lord Timothy Kirkhope of Harrogate (JPI)
Lord Timothy Kirkhope of Harrogate (JPI)

He says: “It’s open to challenge, of course, but I’m the only person as far as I know who’s alive who has served in all four.”

Having observed up close the rise and fall of many a party leader, how does he rate Boris Johnson’s ongoing premiership?

He tells The Yorkshire Post: “I questioned last weekend myself whether in fact, the Conservative Party I’m now a member of – still a member of after all these years – is actually a Conservative Party that fits with the principles which attracted me in the first place.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The questions remains initially unanswered, though, as to whether the party is one that such a veteran supporter still wants to be affiliated with.

Turning to check that the interview is being recorded – “Hello, hello,” he says to the dictaphone sat on the table – Lord Kirkhope continues his answer, and simply says: “No. It isn’t.”

He adds: “We’re going through a phase of populism, which is not the same as conservatism. The strength of the Conservative Party over all these years has been flexibility, pragmatism.

Read More
Partygate scandals could damage trust in policing, Yvette Cooper suggests

“It has had a non-dogmatic approach which allowed it to manoeuvre across the different parts of the political spectrum, and attract people from all backgrounds and all parts of society and so on.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“Is the current operation in that sort of style? No, I don’t think so, but that is a temporary phenomenon.

“If conservatism wins, as opposed to those who promote populism at the moment, then we will find ourselves back in a very strong position.”

With a political career that stretches over five decades, Lord Kirkhope was an MP and Whip under Margaret Thatcher and John Major, but he lost his Leeds North-East seat in 1997 when Tony Blair won his landslide victory for Labour.

Two years later, Lord Kirkhope was in Brussels, where he stayed until 2016, when he was granted a seat in the Lords in David Cameron’s resignation honours.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

His longevity has clearly made him a recognisable figure on the Parliamentary Estate. In the hour he sat in a coffee shop in the middle of Parliament chatting, he raises his hand to say hello to colleagues every couple of minutes.

At one point, a former Minister and a senior national news journalist are stood behind the table, which gives Lord Kirkhope the opportunity to make a joke at the expense of those who have benefited from his mentorship.

“Sorry, there’s just some rude people here,” he says. “Excuse me, could you go away? We’re trying to have a serious discussion here about politics, which you know nothing about by the looks of it.”

Laughing, he returns to the interview: “That’s the other thing about being in the Lords, you can be much more mischievous.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“I’m not trying to be a Minister anymore, I don’t want to be a Whip, I don’t want to be anything. As my wife keeps telling me, ‘I’m very lucky to be here’.”

Lord Kirkhope says that he hopes the Conservatives can return to its “conservative with a small c’ roots”, away from the populism he thinks he sees today.

When asked what has changed the party, and marking what he believes to be a remarkable shift in policy, he says: “Obviously you expect me to say Brexit?”

Lord Kirkhope was opposed to leaving the European Union in the 2016 vote, and adds: “I mean, it’s clear there was a polarisation of politics – which was forced by that referendum – that forced people to take a position.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“And so it polarised them and by doing so, polarised an awful lot of people and views in other areas too.”

One of the issues he believes it has ignited are concerns over immigration – a topic that was once in his ministerial portfolios, describing himself as taking a “firm but fair” approach.

However, in terms of the policies, which the nation is now hoping to deploy in a firm but fair manner, is lost, he admits.

Lord Kirkhope adds: “What we’re doing is suggesting a whole lot of things which appeal on a popular basis, but are not really workable.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

As I stand up to leave the table, needing to get the rest of Tuesday’s edition of The Yorkshire Post written before the looming print deadline, Lord Kirkhope makes one request.

“I am not trying to interfere with independence or anything,” he says. “But I would prefer it not to be an obituary.

“You know: ‘This is who he is and this is what he did, now reflecting on his years in office, sitting in his bath chair’.

“Because I’m still here, and I’m still operating.

“And I’m still ambitious. Not for office, but for my party.

“I’d like to see its fortunes fully restored, and if I can be of any help in doing that, then I will.”