Sunday, 11 June 2017

Back to the Future

Following Thursday's General Election, it's been an "interesting" few days for our country and certainly for me.  And one thing I've learnt is that very few people I know have a clue what I do - or did - for a living.

I've always been fascinated by politics and, almost exactly 21 years ago, gained my first political job as Parliamentary assistant to the then Ulster Unionist MP for East Antrim, Roy Beggs.

At my interview, I clearly remember Roy's cautionary words: "You do realise you're getting yourself into a risk business?"

He meant this on two levels.  Firstly, the IRA was not on ceasefire at that time so posed a mortal threat to anyone working against its interests.  And second, with the 1997 General Election just a few months away, there was a real possibility of Roy losing his seat - and me losing my new job.  I said I would take my chances.

Roy comfortably retained his seat at that landmark election which propelled Tony Blair to power and ushered in the heady days of Cool Britannia.  It also led to me upping sticks and moving to London to be part of it.

During the campaign I was offered the chance to head up the Ulster Unionist Party's Westminster Office and it didn't take long for me to accept.  I spent the next six years there, the highlight being 1998 when the Good Friday Agreement was signed and my boss David Trimble was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.  Good times.

Vanessa and I moved to Leeds in 2003 to consider marriage and procreation.  For the next three years I worked at regional development agency Yorkshire Forward and then a PR agency.  But I missed really missed being involved in day-to-day politics where - against perceived wisdom - the vast majority of representatives from all political parties really do work hard to improve people's lives.    
As fortune would have it, a job then came up as policy officer/political adviser to the newly-appointed Leader of Bradford Council, Kris Hopkins.  So I went for it and got it. We spent the next four years at Bradford City Hall trying - and often succeeding - to do good things for the district.  That took us up to 2010 when Kris was elected as the new Member of Parliament for Keighley.

I was delighted for him but I wasn't sure I really fancied a return to Westminster politics.  But I said yes anyway, thinking that I wouldn't hang around too long.

In the end, I hung around until 4.50am on Friday morning when Kris lost his seat by 236 votes to Labour's John Grogan, an old friend of mine who I was pleased to congratulate and will do well.

Roy's words from July 1996 ran through my head once again as I got the 5.59am train back to Guiseley and pondered what happens next.

To be fair, I'm in a much better position than so many other colleagues now going through the redundancy process.

You may or not know that, in the autumn of 2014, Vanessa and I set up a little PR/communications agency called Vanbar Associates (can you see what we did there?)  We have a website and everything which you can see here.  

I went part-time with Kris back then with the intention of drifting away over time.  However, the 2015 General Election crept up followed by the EU referendum and the start of the Brexit process.  Kris was also appointed as a Northern Ireland Office Minister.  So I found it tough to walk away.  However, thanks to the kindly voters of Keighley, the choice was finally made for me just over 50 hours ago.

So the future is Vanbar and hopefully it is bright.

Vanessa and I have already have a handful of clients, which is great, but I could never commit the time to go out and find more.  I now have all the time in the world.

I'll let you know how we get on.

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