Browning, Angela (1 of 1). The History of Parliament Oral History Project
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House of Lords, London
Browning, Angela, 1946- (speaker, female)
Milden, Kayleigh, 1974- (speaker, female)
Part 1: [Session one: 10 March 2015] Angela Browning [AB], born 4 December 1946 in Reading, Berkshire. Description of earliest memory of stamping in puddles. Mention of having two younger brothers, and of father being prisoner of war during world war two. Comment on being a ‘baby boomer’. Remark that mother worked in BBC Monitoring service, father as laboratory technician at Reading University. Description of growing up in a council house and going to grammar school—‘a typical 1950s childhood’. [05:02] Description of the importance of religion to the family. Mention of St Laurence Church in Reading and discussion of AB’s personal faith, including when MP for Tiverton and Honiton. [08:08] Description of schooling, including at Westwood Grammar School for Girls, and leaving school at 16 to study home economics at Reading Technical College and adult cookery teacher training at Bournemouth Technical College. Comment about teachers who encouraged a love of English literature—mention of Thomas Hardy. [09:52] Description of place of politics in the family, in cold war context. Mention of ‘Ban the Bomb’ campaign, CND and Aldermaston march. Was not particularly interested in party politics until much later. [12:37] Description of being a voracious reader as a child—mention of Shakespeare—and how that formed her opinions. [cont. from 14:08] Description of various roles after education and while starting a family. Mentions having two children without stopping working for long. [16:28] Story of running own training consultancy, becoming more involved with Conservative party and husband’s support for entry into politics. Mention of Margaret Thatcher [MT] and the encouragement of seeing a female Prime Minister. [18:43] Description of being a woman in politics, about which AB did not complain, and how it compared following a career in business. Mention of chairing Women into Business and the further work required for equality. [20:22] Discussion about first time standing for Parliament, for Crewe and Nantwich constituency in 1987, and how the family coped with the expense of standing for a constituency far from their home in Devon. Mention of AB’s retirement in 2010. [cont. from 22:33] Description of activities before standing for Parliament. Mentions anti-nuclear debate and the Greenham Common peace camp. Mention of AB joining Peace Through NATO as a platform speaker and Women and Families for Defence, a group founded by Lady Olga Maitland. Story about speaking at the Tipperary Peace festival with Ann Widdecombe. Such speaking roles helped to prepare AB for politics. Description of work with Women into Business. [25:19] Description of initial political involvement in early 1980s, joining the Conservative party and becoming chairman of the Tiverton Conservative Political Centre, which led to national party positions. Mention of volunteering in marginal seats during elections. Description of issues in her rural area, but comments that she focused on national issues rather than getting involved in local government. [cont. from 27:35] Story of first selection as a prospective parliamentary candidate in the 1987 general election. Stood for selection in Yeovil and Plymouth Devonport coming second both times. Then ran in Crewe and Nantwich against Labour’s Gwyneth Dunwoody [GD], who had a majority of 290—that increased to 1,092. [29:29] In 1992, AB stood for Tiverton, where she lived, because the sitting MP, Robin Maxwell-Hyslop [RMH], had been advised to retire. Credited her experience in Crewe with helping her selection. Elected in 1992. [cont. from 30:32] Recalls relationship with GD, whom she nominated for Speaker, and the support of RMH. Mention of the Conservative National Women's Committee, and how different relationship between Members and the national parties was when AB was elected compared with now. Story of reading a book about how to control her voice for radio and television interviews, as MT had to. Recalls Edwina Curry recommending that she slow down and lower her voice, but that made her sound like she was mimicking MT. [33:18] Description of campaign financing—AB paid her own deposit in every election, and never lost one. Story about Conservative central office complaining that AB wore a yellow jacket on television because that was the colour of the Liberals. [34:52] Story of causing a stir during the 1997 general election campaign by warning about joining the European single currency, causing distress to John Major [JM]. Mention of Maastricht treaty.[cont. from 36:18] Description of thrill of entering Parliament for the first time as an MP and setting up her office. Mention of surprise that 1922 committee was not a forum for serious discussion and debate. Mention of enjoying the camaraderie of Members’ Tea Room, and the party divisions therein. Discussion of ‘Inside the Commons’ and becoming more guarded with the onset of social media. [41:19] Anecdote about sitting next to Dr Ian Paisley during the Speaker’s election— between Peter Brooke and Betty Boothroyd—before being sworn in. Comment about the light in the Commons Chamber. [43:00] Story about two all-night sittings on Scotland (Bankruptcy) Bill in one week. Description of ‘bizarre lifestyle’ in Parliament and busy weekends visiting people in large constituency. [45:18] Description of legislative scrutiny, which AB enjoys but thinks might put new MPs off. [46:17] Story of maiden speech [22 June 1992] on agriculture, attended by AB’s mother, which ended with expression of a desire to help people with learning disabilities. Aside about nerves upon first speaking from the Dispatch Box. [cont. from 48:24] Described House of Commons staff as wonderful, with special mention of the Doorkeepers and Hansard reporters—‘brilliant’. [49:16] Description of focus as Back Bencher on learning disabilities, autism and mental health, continued in House of Lords. Mention of difference between ministerial role and speaking for constituents on dualling of the A303 and agricultural and rural issues. [50:48] Description of change in work as Minister from 1994 onwards, support from civil service and managing own work with help from staff. Description of debating and arguing her case; frustrating but part of the job. [53:17] Notes greatest achievement as ten-minute rule Bill, Adults with Autism Bill 2007-08, which did not proceed beyond First Reading but was followed by Cheryl Gillan’s [CG] similar private Member’s Bill, which became Autism Act 2009. [54:22] Description of relationship with media—better with local newspapers than national media. [55:44] Comment on office setup. [56:15] Discussion of effect of being MP on family life. Mention of William Hague. [57:12] Comment about constituency representing a cross-section of society. Story of constituent, Rudi Petschi, from Cullompton, Devon, engineer for Granger Telecom taken hostage and beheaded with three others in Chechnya in 1998. General comments about using judgment and life skills to inform work as MP, and about dealing with casework. [01:00:33] Story about visiting constituents if they could not make it to surgery. Discussion about importance of meeting people face-to-face. Mention of fighting her last general election campaign in 2005. [cont. from 01:02:08] Comment about pressure from outside Parliament. Story about getting letters from vicars about voting for ordination of women priests; aside that the Church should have decided for itself. MPs should use judgment to represent constituents, rather than the most vocal. [01:03:53] Comments on democracy—people can vote MP out if they disagree. [01:04:28] Discussion of minimal help from Conservative party nationally—more a matter of what AB could do for her party. Mention of being deputy chairman and vice-chairman of Conservative party. Comment about receiving a lot of support from local party, although national party is more supportive now. [01:05:29] Description of relationship with Whips. Feeling that all-male Whips did not know how to deal with women and were too young to tell a 45-year-old woman what to do. Never had any problems, other than comments on single currency mentioned earlier. [01:06:31] Description of ploughing own furrow but working with colleagues from Devon and from other parties. Mention of not having been to school or university with other MPs. Comment about friendship with CG over mutual interest in autism. [cont. from 01:08:07] Description of role as deputy chairman of Conservative party. Involved when central office moved from Victoria Street to Millbank Tower. [01:09:47] Description of working relationship with Ben Bradshaw [BB]. Mention of Wonford hospital in Exeter, Devon. Anecdote about visiting BB’s constituency office. [01:11:03] Enjoyed being MP a great deal, with no regrets or dislikes—‘18 wonderful years’. Looked up to no one in particular, but one political hero was Winston Churchill. Description of traits of most effective Back Benchers. Admired Ministers who held the line under pressure. [cont. from 01:14:32] Description of transition to the House of Lords. Featured in Dissolution honours at end of 2010 Parliament. Worked on 2010 general election campaign, and involved in election-night discussion for BBC World Service at Bush House, chaired by Robin Lustig, who went to neighbouring boys grammar school—he and AB were in a play together. AB asked by David Cameron if she would like to become a Member of the House of Lords on day before election. Entered Lords in July, despite previously discussing retirement. Description of work in Lords. [01:17:40] Final comments on work as agriculture Minister under JM, dealing with BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) crisis.
Life story interview with Baroness Angela Browning (1946-), former Conservative Member of Parliament.