As a student living in Luton, Kelvin Hopkins MP is somebody who plays a hugely crucial role in my daily life. Luton is split into two constituencies, Luton South and Luton North, with Kelvin Hopkins holding jurisdiction over the North. He has served in Parliament for 16 years (since 1997) and is clearly very popular within Luton, winning his 2010 seat with a majority of 7,500 votes. It is hard not to like Kelvin, not matter what your political standing is. He is straight-talking, welcoming, and above-all seems keen to really represent his constituents. As one of the governors at the College where this blog is run from he paid a visit to an AS politics class, and they got to hear him speak on his time in Parliament and ask him a few questions.
He began by detailing his early life to the class, describing himself as having a ‘strong sense of social justice’ after coming from a political family, campaigning against the use of nuclear weapons among other issues whilst he was young. Before becoming a politician he studied politics at the University of Nottingham, was a member of the TUC, and even taught A-Level politics.
After this he went on to explain his role in parliament and what it means to be an MP. Kelvin believes that it is easy to be selected for a seat around the country, the difficult part is being selected for a winnable seat, and he wanted to credit the voters and say thank you to them for his re-election. Describing the layout of Parliament, he explained that members often sat in the same general area for convenience for the Speaker, and that his section of the house was often referred to as the ‘naughty step’. Kelvin famously disobeyed party whips believing his role is to “try and change the world” which he can’t do if he simply toes the party line.
Kelvin believes that, much like Neustadt’s theory of presidential power, Parliamentry power is simply a question of influence. The more signatures that are added to a motion, the more significant it is deemed and then the member can ask to debate it in the chamber. The increase in the power of the Backbench Business Committee has allowed backbench MPs to have a larger influence over what is debated in the chamber. A frequent speaker, he is never afraid to put forward his opinion whether it be on the subject of European Scrutiny all the way to how the Public Administration is run. One year Kelvin spoke four times more, and asked three times as many questions as any other MPs which is really what all our MPs should be trying to do. He revealed that some MPs never speak from fear of their ability in the chamber which seems preposterous. As an MP, if the Burkean theory is to be believed, it is the Right Honourable Member’s job to represent the people and how can you do that if you’re not playing a key role in the scrutiny and debate of legislation?
He also provided insight on the role of money within politics. Asked about Thatcher, he brought up Paul Flynn’s comment that the Civil Service should be neutral after an impassioned argument after her death. He then backed up his argument that money should be removed from politics by stating Plato’s political philosophy that those who governed ought to be people of gold, then the administration and then the merchants. He believes money shouldn’t govern.
Finally, before answering some of the class’ questions, he recalled stories from his time in politics. One of the best things about Kelvin is his witty comebacks to other members. When arguing over the nationalisation of railways one member said that railways had gone up since privatisation, to which Kelvin returned that railways had “gone up in spite of privatisation”. Perhaps one of the best stories he told was one involving David Cameron. In response to the Conservatives plans for austerity and cuts he asked Cameron if he wished to be remembered as the Herbert Hoover of his time, leading Ed Miliband to be seen as the Franklin Roosevelt’s of his. When Cameron said he was living ‘airy-dairy’ land Kelvin quipped that it was like something out of Benny Hill.
Q: Does Parliament have a meaningful role?
A: It does but we don’t have a checks and balances system like they do in the USA. Thatcher and Blair became too powerful. Blair tried to reduce parliamentary power which led to an increase in sofa politics, his style of governing was Leninist.
Q: If somebody wanted to get involved in the community, what could they do?
A: Well you should join a political party.
Q: Do you consider Margaret Thatcher’s funeral as a political broadcast than a celebration of someone’s life?
A: To build up big political figures as gods is very unhealthy, having a democracy is much better than an ultimate leader.
Q: What do you think about Michael Gove’s proposition to make school days longer?
A: We have a problem with education but we have to find a way to fix it. Gove has it wrong as he wants to turn back the times on education. Gove is still dreaming of grammar schools.
Q: What’s your opinion on 16 year olds being allowed to vote?
A: I am in favour of it because there is a lack of political education. Many people don’t understand that I am member of parliament, I was once introduced as the Mayor of Luton and I had to explain, no, I am an MP! I go down to parliament as a back bench MP and debate various topics but I don’t have a lot of power. I believe citizenship is a very important part of schooling. I often talk in schools, sometimes to year 6s and they often know more than their parents about politics.
All in all, Kelvin Hopkins talks a lot of sense. Whether you’re on the right or the left, he is an amiable character whom everyone seems to like, and after 16 years in the job he has to be doing something right.