THE START of the General Election campaign marked the end of an era for former Mid Worcestershire MP Sir Peter Luff.
For the first time in almost 30 years, Evesham’s MP will not be actively campaigning for election and shared his memories of almost three decades of political life with Observer editor Rob George.
“I WISH I had been an engineer, that was my big missed opportunity I wish I had took.”
It’s a surprising admission from Sir Peter Luff, given his 23 years in Parliament which has seen him play a role in all aspects of life in the House of Commons.
But typically, Evesham’s MP turned his own to regret into a positive and urged younger constituents to follow their dreams and not make the same ‘mistake’.
“I had the A-Levels and should have done it and built a bridge or dug a tunnel and I hope others don’t make the same mistake.” he said.
“Think about your career as soon as you can and plan because there huge opportunities out there for those who are prepared to work for them.
The dissolution of Parliament this week closed the book on almost three decades of elections for the respected Mid-Worcestershire MP.
“I fought the 1987 election as a candidate so this will be first time in almost 30 years I won’t be involved. It will be very strange indeed to stand back and watch others do it.” he said.
“I think I will miss the posters and the fields!
“It’s a mixture of feelings, obviously I decided to give up because on balance it was the right thing to do and I wanted some new challenges before I finally retired.
“There is a lot I am going to miss, the constituency work especially and the chance to see into people’s lives in a very priviledged way.
“I will miss the buzz and excitement in politics of course but it will be wonderful to get back into the real world again.” he added.
Sir Peter believes politics has changed ‘out of all recognition’ during his time as MP drive by both a mistrust of politicians but also because MPs are now more accessible to their constituents.
“When I worked for Peter Walker (former Worcester MP) in the 1970s he got no telephone calls from his constituents because it was too expensive to ring London.
“The only means of communication was at the surgery or by post. He would have on average 15 contacts a day with constituents, that was busy.
“I get 15 or more an hour because e-mail and cheaper phone calls have changed everything fundamentally.
“In the old days people would trust you to take decisions on their behalf, now they demand action to suit their own agendas. People are consumers of politics now, they no longer delegate which is good in many ways.
“The great challenge in politics which hasn’t changed is to listen to the voice of the silent majority who often don’t trouble you
at all.” he added.
“Parliament has changed a lot, we all have offices now so we spend the day in the office dealing with e-mails so we don’t see as much of each other during the day. The tea room we used to meet in is much emptier than it used to be.
“We used to dine during the week at 10pm or later, we talked and chatted and there was much more a feel of team.
“I find the loss of that contact with your colleagues has changed politics for the worse.” he added.
Sir Peter has served a variety of roles during his time in Parliament and said it was impossible to pick a favourite spell.
“I enjoyed very much being a select committee chair which I have done twice and believe I am the only member to have
chaired two: Agriculture and DTI, subsequently Business, Innovation and Skills.”
“I loved forming a collegiate view and presenting a conclusion.
“I was in the whips office for five years, there was a great spirit there doing things together while being a Defence Minister was a huge privilege.” he said.
During his time as a minister, Sir Peter presided over a budget of £14billion per year and said he met ‘some of the most wonderful people in the world from members of armed forces to scientists and technicians’.
“The best thing was flying upside down in a Eurofighter Typhoon at Mac 1.2 at 45,000 feet, they treated me very kindly and we didn’t pull too many G’s as they called it.” he added.
Sir Peter has experienced life under six Conservative leaders during his political life as he first stood for election in 1987 under the leadership of the late Baroness Thatcher.
His time in Parliament has seen him serve under Sir John Major, William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith, Michael Howard and David Cameron, who he nominated for the leadership in 2005.
Asked about the challenge facing the party in the years ahead, Sir Peter said the Conservatives should aim for the ‘middle ground’.
“Over my entire time in politics the two parties have always been seen the same way; the Tories are the party of the toffs and the rich and Labour the party of trade unions and extremism.” he said.
“The two stereotypes are not true, both parties meet in the middle.
“A lot of my good friends in the Labour Party could easily have been in the Conservative Party.”
“The Tory people is full of people who went to state schools with unprivileged backgrounds but we always seem to concentrate on the Etonians and this false distinction worries me no end.
Sir Peter said there were many proud moments for Evesham during his time as MP.
“Saving the Evesham Community Hospital from closure was fantastic thanks to a wonderful campaign while the re-opening of the Regal Cinema has been a fantastic shot in the arm for that part of town and for the wider Vale.
Looking ahead, Sir Peter urged his successor to work for the ‘variety of people’ living and working in Mid Worcestershire.
“We have an area of low unemployment so that is a great start. I would say for me the great unfunished business is school funding.
“It’s an outrage we get less than Birmingham, we are making progress but that is my great failure that in 23 years in Parliament I didn’t do more.
“The key message is to engage with people, a huge sweep of human life is here.” he added.
In closing, Sir Peter paid tribute to the people in the constituency and said: “Thank you, simple as that.
“Sharing their hopes and fears has been a huge privilege for me and what I have been touched by is the decency and gratitude from the people of Worcestershire.
“It’s been a great privilege to have served you for 23 years.” he added.