Peterborough MP Stewart Jackson on the Prime Minister, gay marriage and defecting to UKIP

On the election trail: Stewart Jackson with Conservative colleague David Campbell Bannerman in Peterborough city centre.

On the election trail: Stewart Jackson with Conservative colleague David Campbell Bannerman in Peterborough city centre.

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‘Has he signed it yet?’’ The “it’’ is a bottle of whisky and the “he’’ is Prime Minister David Cameron.

Peterborough MP Stewart Jackson is asking the question of one of his staff in his office in Portcullis House, just across from the Houses of Parliament.

The signed bottle of whisky, Mr Jackson tells me, is to be auctioned off to raise money at Peterborough Cathedral’s fundraising 900 dinner with Jeffrey Archer.

Mr Jackson has had an uneasy relationship with the leader of his party, not least on such controversial issues as same sex marriage and our membership of the EU.

But in the wake of the Tory’s unexpected election victory, has Mr Cameron gone up in his estamations?

Mr Jackson pauses for a moment considering his response. When it comes, it is measured.

He said: “The victory we had was a victory for the whole Conservative party which was united and focussed behind a coherent campaign that worked.

“It was a campaign that was positive, aspirational and ambitious and people related to that rather than the negative, rather downbeat one that Labour ran.

“He’s entitled to view it as his personal victory as he did take some stick for apparently running a boring campaign.

“If boring is winning our first overall victory in 23 years, he’s entitled to take some strong credit for it.

“Personally, I’ve had some differences with David Cameron. I went to Chequers just before Christmas and I had a nice chat with him.

“For me it was about what’s good for Peterborough. I said to him: ‘Look, I don’t want to bang on about immigration but it has affected my constituency a great deal and that’s the only reason I mention it’.

“The message has got through. We are going to look at access to housing, access to social benefits, access to healthcare, not allowing people to claim benefits if they haven’t got a job, and leaving the country if they haven’t got a job after six months.

“All these things I was proposing way back in 2012 which the government did not take any notice of.

“Now it is effectively government policy as is an EU referendum which I left my role as a government PPS in 2011 to campaign for.

The UK’s continued membership of Europe is a key issue for Mr Jackson , a member of Better Off Out.

But do people in Peterborough really care about Europe?

“They won’t care if the case for leaving the EU is negative. It must not be about ‘we don’t like foreigners’.

“I trust the British people to make the right decision if they have all the information.

“It should be about our role as a global trading nation - ultimately it’s about jobs and growth.’’

Whatever the outcome, Mr Jackson is likely to find himself allied with UKIP supporters in demanding Britain’s withdrawal from Europe.

In the giddy aftermath of the election party leaders were tumbling left, right and centre including (for a short time) UKIP’s Nigel Farage.

After he had offered his resignation, one bookie was offering 16-1 on Mr Jackson becoming the next leader of UKIP.

“Where did that come from?’’ I ask, and, more importantly, “should I put a tenner on it?’’

He laughs: “No. I did laugh about that. UKIP did ask me to join in September 2014 to defect to them but I was never very likely to do that not least because how could I turn round after almost 15 years of being a candidate and MP and kick my own party in the teeth and people who’ve been loyal and supportive and worked so hard for me?

“The UKIP people in Peterborough are very nice people – decent, patriotic people. But I am a Conservative and I’ll remain one.

“I felt I could get more done for the people of Peterborough as a Conservative MP and still think that.

“I think UKIP are going to have a tough time over the next few years with just one MP.

“I’ve no regrets about not joining UKIP. So, no, I’m not going to be the leader of UKIP.

“Who would want to be anyway?’’ he laughs again.

Mr Jackson it seems might have flirted with UKIP but has decided to stay with the missus (the Tory Party).

ON THE GAY MARRIAGE CONTROVERSY

“I have many gay friends,’’ says Stewart Jackson.

As he tells me this I can almost see the eyes of his opponents rolling and hear the sound of their jaws dropping.

Peterborough’s MP has enraged many gay people , including a well -known TV personality on the subject of same sex marriage.

It is something he regrets, but typically there is no sign of any backtracking on his part.

A few months before the election he became embroiled in a social media storm with a married gay constituent .

She was annoyed by his stance and after receiving election mail from him said: “Please never write to me again.’’

Mr Jackson received a lot of flak for responding: “The feeling’s fully mutual. Please feel free to never bother me again.’’

It is clear he is a little exasperated by the episode.

“That Facebook thing was in response to a rude constituent who happened to be gay. She escalated it, deliberately in a malicious way, in my opinion.

“You’ll not find any references to her family circumstances or her sexuality in my answer.

“I took that position on same sex marriage because a lot of my constituents are very unhappy about that.

“It’s ridiculous to say I’m anti-gay.

“A member of my staff is gay, godparents of my daughter are in a civil partnership.

“I have lots of gay friends.

“I took issue with a piece of legislation which was not mandated at an election. I didn’t think there were sufficient protections for people of faith who had legitimate concerns not because they dislike gay people but because they wanted to protect their beliefs.

“The view if you don’t approve of same sex marriage as it was put forward in 2012 makes you some sort of raging homophobe is a really simplistic view.

“I regret gay people have been so hostile to me and I hope some of the more thoughtful people will see I was opposing legislation because it was seeking to redefine centuries old traditional marriage.

“It wasn’t about equality and fairness.

“I wish gay people, who are gay married, all the success in their future lives.

“I’m here to represent all my constituents whatever their sexuality.’’

l The MP’s outspoken views even got him into a spat with TV medic Dr Christian Jessen of Embarrassing Bodies fame a supporter of same sex marriage. Mr Jackson accused him of making “crap chav TV’’?

So does he like any “crap chav’’ TV?

He replied:“I like history, I like documentaries, true crime’’

So far so boring..

He added: “I was watching Britain’s Got Talent, I like that , I like Come Dine With Me.’’

Ah, gotcha, surely that’s crap chav TV? It appears not.

He defended his choice: “Come Dine With Me is syndicated across the world. It’s so simple, it’s just brilliant British televsion.

“We love the characters, the food, being nosey about people’s houses.’’

WALKING THE CORRIDORS OF POWER

Even for a seasoned hack like me, it’s hard not to be a bit starry- eyed when you walk through the corridors of power at Westminster, crossing paths with people you normally only see on the 6 o’ clock news.

Not surprisingly after a decade as an MP, Stewart Jackson is much more comfortable in these historic surrounds.

There’s a polite nod to health minister Jeremy Hunt and time to stop for a friendly chat with Leader of the House Chris Grayling.

But perhaps what is surprising is that Mr Jackson clearly numbers political foes among his friends at Westminster.

We bump (the twists and turns of this ancient building mean you do literally bump into people) into Tom Harris, a Labour politician who was swept away by the Scottish Nationalist Party tidal wave after 14 years as an MP, some as a junior minister.

The friendship and rapport between the two is clear as Stewart commiserates with his former colleague.

Then there’s a brief but warm conversation with the Labour MP for Huddersfield Barry Sheerman, well known in the Peterborough area as a key and passionate supporter of the John Clare Trust in Helpston.

STEWART SOUNDBITES

On Peterborough’s much delayed University Technical College: “It has to happen next year. It’s the piece of the jigsaw that is missing. We don’t want to be languishing with young people lacking skills. It’s an absolute priority.’’

On breaking the cycle of crime. “Prison should be about retribution but also rehabilitation. So if you’re in prison, no drugs, learn to read, write, learn to add up, get life skills.People aren’t inherently evil, they just make wrong choices and need a bit of help.’’

On improving the city’s schools. “You should sack bad teachers and pay good teachers a really good salary. We need extra help to recruit and retain excellent teachers. We have overly focussed on buildings.’’

On how he got into politics. “I’ve been interested in politics from a very young age. I did an essay competition when I was 14. Everyone chose fluffy subjects and I did should Britain sell Harrier jump jets to China? It was a bit precocious and I won the competition. I was 14 when Magaret Thatcher was elected and I was fascinated. I joined the Conservative Party when I was 17.

On being an MP: “I know it gets a bit of a duff rap, but I think politics can be a really noble calling. Across all parties there are a lot of good people who really care passionately about our communities.’’