Interview: George Eustice

George Eustice is the Conservative MP for Camborne and Redruth
George Eustice is the Conservative MP for Camborne and Redruth

The press secretary for David Cameron during his Tory leadership campaign has just won himself his very own seat in parliament. But going from media guru to local agony aunt, George Eustice should feel right at home in his new constituency role.

By Rebecca Burns

He is MP for an area that his family have inhabited for over 400 years. They've lived in the same property for the last 150 years, with the same community-based family business.

Unsurprisingly, the new Conservative MP for Camborne and Redruth represents a party that traditionally protects the interests of the land-owning classes. Equally unsurprisingly, he does not cite his own family legacy as the reason for his Conservative beliefs. As we sit with coffee in Portcullis he tells me the euro is to blame.

"My family are in the farming business and we used to produce lots of strawberries. We were very badly hit by the ERM [Exchange Rate Mechanism] in 1992," Eustice explains.

The ERM paved the way for a European single currency. Following the market crash of Black Wednesday and damaging speculation over the strength of the pound, the UK withdrew in 1992. "Interest rates really, really damaged our business and caused us a lot of problems, so the European debate is what politicised me."

This "painful experience" had such a profound affect that Eustice's first experience of politics was as a candidate for the staunchly eurosceptic Ukip in the European parliament elections of 1999. Unsuccessful but by no means put off, the horticultural college student and strawberry farmer went on to be director of the anti-euro campaign. He is reported to have called the European Union "an alien impostor which has attached itself to Europe".

For someone who went on to become head of press for the Conservatives in 2005, this turned out to be an unfortunate start. Eustice's Ukip flirtation came back to haunt him when Michael Howard, Tory leader at the time, labelled it a party of 'extremists', prompting a statement from Eustice denouncing his earlier allegiance. "Although there are quite a lot of well-meaning people in Ukip," he wheeled out dutifully, "they are quite seriously deluded."

His more 'extreme' background did nothing to halt his career as Eustice went on to serve as David Cameron's press secretary from 2005 to 2007.

Eustice says his time with the current prime minister left him with "a sense of somebody who really weighed up both sides of the coin and had a view of his own". When I ask for stories from this period of his life, Eustice contrasts the PM's good judgement with a bad day as Cameron's press secretary during the leadership contest.

Against advice, Eustice agreed to squeeze an extra media interview in after the second ballot for the leadership contest. It ended up being "a very, very aggressive interview that just talked about whether or not [Cameron] had taken drugs". Eustice says he was "mortified".

I can't help but feel this is a disappointingly tame anecdote for a man who had the inside track on our new prime minister during a crucial period. I wonder silently whether, from press guru to backbencher, he is actually dreaming of the days when he had the power to set up a bad interview for our current PM. Possibly sensing my thoughts, Eustice insists this is not the case. "I was ready to move on, I was determined that I would stand myself at some stage and for me this was the right time to stand."

But when I ask Eustice about his new role, he cites the most dominant part of it with the least enthusiasm: casework. "You get a lot from your predecessor and with boundary changes [Camborne and Redruth is a new constituency] you get passed stuff from the old constituency and then you get new stuff as well."

He says it takes a 'particular type of person' to enjoy running a marathon (of which he has completed two) and that type is, I suspect, the type who enjoys demanding tasks if there is enough of a feeling of personal achievement. Accordingly, he seems more driven by stoicism than enthusiasm in his new role as community social worker. "I suppose the biggest frustration is when you get something and you try to help them and it requires massive changes to make a difference." The "mountain of casework" seems to be the marathon equivalent in his new role - no pain, no gain.

Camborne and Redruth might have a conscientious character as their new MP but he seems more at home discussing the media strategies of the Labour leadership contest than the health problems of a tin miner in his constituency. The jump from the cut-throat professions of business, media or lobbying to the local campaigning constituency MP is a huge leap that many of parliament's recent intake will be negotiating. With such strong roots (excuse the farming pun) in his constituency, Eustice seems well placed to settle down in his new role. Just don't mention he used to be with Ukip.


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