Yes, believe it or not, as well as the crooks, the charlatans and the liars there are a smattering of politicians who are just genuinely nice guys. And gals. People you’d trust to babysit your kids. People you’d go for a pint with. People who you’d trust with your lottery winnings. Well, maybe. Iain Dale profiles his Top 10 Nicest Politicians.
Shirley Williams (LibDem, Former Leader of the LibDems in the House of Lords)
Shirley Williams was the first politician I ever met. She visited my school one day in 1978. I told her recently that what she said turned me into a Thatcherite. She smiled. I think. Shirley Williams may have abolished grammar schools and she may have been Prices Secretary when inflation rocketed in the late 1970s, but by universal consent Shirley Williams, or Baroness Williams of Crosby to give her her full title is possibly the nicest politician in the country. She’s become the unofficial Grandmother of the Liberal Democrats and is still recognised everywhere she goes. One of Question Time’s favourite guests she was once tipped as Britain’s first female Prime Minister, until ‘you know who’ pipped her to it. I once asked her what she would change about herself. She was characteristically honest in her reply: “Looks. Hair particularly. I hate my hair. Nothing I can do about it except pull it out.” She hasn’t. Yet.
Most likely to say: “I’m running late”
Least likely say: “Where’s the comb?”
Dominic Grieve (Con, Beaconsfield & Attorney General)
If there’s a nicer, more polite politician on the Tory benches I have yet to meet him. Dominic Grieve personifies the word ‘decent’. Perhaps because he lacks a certain political ruthlessness, it took some time for the leadership of his party to appreciate his talents. David Cameron is said to regard him with suspicion and thinks he’s far too liberal by half – although nowadays, you’d think that would be regarded as a ‘good thing’. One of the few QCs in the House of Commons, Grieve is idolised by those who have worked for him. His crescent-mooned facial appearance and semi permanent grin give him a warmth and humanity so lacking in most of our ruling masters and mistresses.
Most likely to say: “I say, would you mind awfully...”
Least likely to say: “String ‘em up”
David Laws (LibDem, Yeovil) Former Chief Secretary to the Treasury
An intense private man, David Laws was the shining star of the coalition in its first three weeks. And then it all went wrong. For a politician he’s an immensely private person and to have his private life dragged through the press was a very painful experience for him. He can appear aloof at times, but those close to him insist he’s nothing of the sort. Indeed, he has a waspish sense of humour and despite his sometimes hangdog appearance, is incredibly funny. He remains a huge influence on coalition policy and is heavily tipped to make a deserved cabinet return later this year.
Most likely to say: “Yes, Nick. I’d love to be Business Secretary.”
Least likely to say: “Yes, I’d love to write for the Daily Star.”
Keith Simpson (Con, Broadland) PPS to William Hague
Known as The Colonel by his colleagues, Keith Simpson is what people imagine a Tory MP ought to look like. Big built, 6’ 4” tall and one of the few MPs to sport a moustache, he has the air of a 1950s headmaster about him. His love of a bit of military discipline led him to marry a military policewoman whose attempts to encourage him to spend time do anything other than reading military history usually fall on deaf ears. As chairman of the Conservative History Group, his Summer and Christmas Reading Lists are eagerly awaited by his fellow MPs. Not that he’s one to gossip, but... well actually that’s a lie. But in politics, who doesn’t? In a Top 10 List of Tory MPs Labour MPs enjoy bantering with, Keith Simpson would feature near the top.
Most likely to say: “It reminds me of the Berlin offensive in 1944...”
Least likely to say: “I never want to read another book”
Tom Harris (Lab, Glasgow South) Former blogger
When he realised he was better known as a blogger who happened to be an MP rather than the other way around, Tom Harris quit his blog. It was a dark day for those who had enjoyed the wit and insight he had provided in his daily jottings. It’s to his credit that Gordon Brown didn’t “get” him. Indeed, so much did he not “get” him that he sacked him as a transport minister. Harris is not a bitter man. Well, not very, but his friends find it inexplicable that the new Labour leadership can’t find a use for his talents. Perhaps his obsession with Dr Who counts against him.
Most likely to say: “In series 4, episode 1 of Dr Who...”
Least likely to say: “I love and deeply respect Gordon Brown”
Nigel Farage (Leader of UKIP)
If you want to have a drink with a thoroughly entertaining politician do your best to make a date with Nigel Farage. The very personification of a bon viveur, he’s quite open about his penchant for living the high life and the maxim ‘seize the day’ could have been invented for him. However, Farage’s dice with death in a plane crash on polling day last year seems to have made him re-evaluate his life and priorities. Well, it would, wouldn’t it? He’s now back as leader of UKIP, a job which is akin to having a degree in herding cats.
Most likely to say: “I blame Europe”
Least Likely to say: “Where’s that banner to tie on the plane?”
Andrew Mackinlay (Lab, Ex MP for Thurrock)
Andrew Mackinlay is a rough diamond who was never in politics for the sake of it. He knew he was unlikely to be a minister so took up lots of unfashionable campaigns – the Gurkhas, British dependencies to name but two. He loved Parliament and in any rational system he would have been made a Lord after the election. But political parties don’t like those who have an independent mind, and Mackinlay certainly has one of those. Over 42 days detention, Gordon Brown tried to bribe him into supporting the then government but he refused to be bought by the baubles offered to him. A true House of Commons man, he’s a great loss to Parliament.
Most likely to say: “Where’s the ‘no’ lobby?”
Least likely to say: “Stuff your peerage.”
Eric Pickles (Con, Brentwood & Ongar) Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government
The self styled ‘Fat Boy’ of British politics Eric Pickles is one of that rare breed of politician who lacks enemies. Unless, of course, you count some of the posh kids who surround David Cameron. But we’ll forgive them, for they know not what they do. Eric’s favourite word is ‘chum’, and indeed, he regards everyone as his ‘chum’and is genuinely perplexed by anyone who reacts badly to his unique brand of charm and wit. He encourages huge loyalty from his staff who react well to his firm style of political leadership. He’s a man with a plan and he knows how to implement it. He’s been one of the stars of the coalition so far and is tipped for even greater things.
Most likely to say: “Pass me another chip butty, chum”
Least likely to say: “I think we need to create another quango”
Hilary Benn (Lab, Leeds Central) Former Cabinet Minister
Close your eyes and you think you’re listening to Tony, rather than Hilary Benn. He’s got the voice and mannerisms of his old man, and I’ve often wondered if that has been a hindrance to him in his political career, rather than a help. Hilary Benn is living proof that nice guys do exist in politics, but some would say he’s also living proof that nice guys don’t win. His deputy leadership campaign in 2007 was a disaster. Having been tipped as a putative Labour leader, he burned and crashed, possibly lacking the ruthlessness of the likes of Harriet Harman. And long may that continue. If all politicians were like Hilary Benn Parliament wouldn’t be in the parlous state it’s in today.
Most likely to say: “Yes, I can see your point of view.”
Least likely to say: “I don’t care what you say, we’re doing it my way.”
Michael Gove (Con, Surrey Heath) Secretary of State for Education
Michael Gove is another member of that select club of politicians that almost everyone likes. Even Ed Balls couldn’t bring himself to be as nasty to him as he clearly wanted to be when they both held the education brief. The ex-Times hack was just as popular when he was a member of the media pack, and that takes some doing. Possibly the most polite and self-effacing MP in the House of Commons, Gove has that incredible knack of making commentators who have been critical of him feel as though they have just kicked a Labrador puppy.
Most likely to say: “Would you mind awfully...”
Least likely to say: “I want to turn every school comprehensive.”