In 2008 I made the winning bid at a charity auction in aid of the Watford Peace Hospice – tea or coffee for two at the House of Commons with David Gauke, at the time serving his first term as our local MP, now Lord Chancellor, if you please. My fourteen year old daughter was starting to take an interest in politics, so she was happy to come as my plus one.
We cleared the heavy security, and were taken in to meet Mr Gauke. A relaxed but slightly awkward conversation ensued, typical, I imagine, of the occasions when a politician is fulfilling his charitable commitments. He sought confirmation that the Peace Hospice was a worthy charity to support, and I agreed – my mother had been a satisfied customer the previous year.
David Cameron had become Conservative leader early in the parliament, promising an end to “Punch and Judy politics” but within a few weeks PMQs had descended into the usual juvenile knockabout. I asked about this: he replied that if politics was too civilised and consensual, the public might lose interest. I thought I’d be willing to give it a try.
I raised the issue I felt most strongly about: the Iraq war. His predecessor as our MP, also a Conservative, had voted against it, and I asked Gauke for his views. He said given the information available at the time, he would have voted for the invasion. I wasn’t sure whether he was being bravely honest or misguided: by now, in the messy aftermath, the consensus view was that the war had been a dreadful mistake. It would have been easy for him to adopt a safer opinion retrospectively.
At this point the waiter managed to spill a decent quantity of coffee into my lap. Fortunately it wasn’t scalding, but I still wonder whether this was in response to a prearranged signal.
As we were coming away, my daughter pointed out that what was available at the time of the Iraq war wasn’t information, it was misinformation and outright lies. Good point. I wish she’d said that to him, but she was a little overawed by the occasion.
We requested gallery tickets for the afternoon session in the Commons, and he came to get them for us. He looked deflated when the official behind the counter had to ask for his name, the new kid in class.
We watched David Cameron score points with ominous ease against Gordon Brown in a routine debate, then I attempted to reward my daughter after a slightly heavy day with a trip to the London Aquarium, but we were the first people turned away at closing time. My souvenir of the day was a miniature House of Commons wine bottle, which adorned our mantelpiece for years, festooned with drunken Kermit.
I have the gift of a memorable face, and Gauke recognised me on the Common a few weeks later. We noted that we would have to agree to differ on the matter of Iraq.
Sathi’s Indian Restaurant in Chorleywood decided a few years ago to address the problem of takeaway customers hovering over their dining clientele by adding a separate waiting room where they could present customers with a lager to ease the boredom of their wait.
After the Brexit vote, in a gesture of defiance I purchased an EU tee shirt with the yellow stars on a blue field, and wore it when I went to pick up our meal. And there he was with his son, collecting a takeaway like a normal person. He nodded and raised his eyebrows when he saw my shirt. I said I was unsure about wearing it, but he assured me that I should be all right in Chorleywood, maybe not to wear it in South Oxhey. “So”, I said, “are you guys going to sort this out?” He smiled ruefully. He was fully aware how horribly Cameron’s gamble had backfired.
As I write he is one of the few (relatively) moderate and pragmatic politicians who might help save Britain from a disastrous no-deal Brexit. Or better still, cancel the whole stupid idea. Cometh the hour, cometh the man, they say. And who knows, before long St James’s Park might be reborn as Gaukey Park in his honour. I can hope.