Are MPs paid silly money? I don’t think so, says Tory grandee Norman Fowler

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Esteemed: The former Conservative MP served as Lord Speaker of the upper house from 2016-21

Norman, Lord Fowler was Health Secretary from 1981-87, during Margaret Thatcher’s premiership, and famously approved a series of hard-hitting adverts about the dangers of Aids, writes York Membery. 

A Conservative MP for 31 years, he went on to serve as party chairman from 1992-94, and Lord Speaker of the upper house from 2016-21. 

After graduating from Cambridge he worked as a journalist on the Oxford Mail, then The Times before becoming an MP. 

Father-of-three Fowler, 86, who has just published his diaries, and his second wife Fiona divide their time between London and the Isle of Wight.

What did your parents teach you about money?

I was an only child and grew up in Essex. My engineer father Norman, who died aged 63, and my teacher mother Kitty, who lived to 92, moved south in search of work in the 1930s. 

They were both careful and cautious with money and placed great importance on qualifications, although pre-Second World War Essex County Council had a scandalous rule forcing married women like my mother to give up their jobs if their husbands were in work too.

Have you ever struggled to make ends meet?

I’ve never really been on the edge financially but there have been occasions when money was tight. After I’d been selected as the Conservative PPC for Nottingham South in the late 1960s, I was still working as a journalist in London. 

I had to rent a cottage in Nottingham and travel up there a lot, thankfully my efforts paid off and I was elected MP in 1970.

Have you ever been paid silly money?

No. Are MPs paid silly money? I don’t think so, I think they work hard for their money, and in my day they worked even harder. I’ve been paid to make the odd speech, but nobody offered to pay me a vast sum to do so. Some politicians earn silly money after quitting parliament, but some jobs may conflict with political views.

What was the best year of your financial life?

Probably 1991 or 1992, when I was a backbench MP, and became chairman of a West Midlands newspaper group (publishers of the Birmingham Post) which later went public, netting me a tidy sum. That was the first time I didn’t have an overdraft.

 I declined to take a salary as Tory chairman, because the party was going bust. I spent the next two years working with John Major trying to mend its finances, to the detriment of my own

The most expensive thing you bought for fun?

The safaris I took in the 2000s with my wife Fiona, and Ken Clarke and Leon Brittan and their wives, to Kenya and other parts of Africa for three or four years in a row – it was like the Conservative Party on manoeuvres. 

Each trip cost a five-figure sum but they were wonderful holidays and we saw some amazing wildlife. I remember Ken Clarke – a great bird enthusiast – once saying: ‘Forget the hippos, look at those lovely little birds over there!’

What is your biggest money mistake?

It’s a toss up between buying an open-top Jag and agreeing to serve as Conservative Party chairman.

My wife refused to drive the car and my grandchildren couldn’t fit in the back. I declined to take a salary as Tory chairman, because the party was going bust – I spent the next two years working with John Major trying to mend its finances, to the detriment of my own. I doubt my book will make me much money either, but I enjoyed writing it.

Game driver: Former Tory party chairman Norman Fowler with his PM, Margaret Thatcher

Game driver: Former Tory party chairman Norman Fowler with his PM, Margaret Thatcher

Best money decision you have made?

Buying a flat on the Isle of Wight in the mid-1980s because I couldn’t afford to take my wife and children to France for the school holidays. I initially got a two-bed ground floor flat in Seaview for £30,000. We’ve since sold it and bought a house and we go there every summer for a couple of months.

Do you have a pension?

I get a parliamentary and a ministerial pension, courtesy of my years spent as an MP, minister, and later, as Lord Speaker. I also receive the state pension.

Do you own any property?

Yes, I’ve got a six-bedroom house in Seaview, Isle of Wight, which I bought around ten years ago. My wife owns the flat in Fulham where I live when I’m in London.

If you were Chancellor what would you do?

I’d spend more on defence. The Prime Minister has announced a boost of 2.5 per cent of GDP by 2030. I think it should be 3 per cent as soon as possible because if we lose Ukraine, we’ll be losing a very big war.

What is your number one financial priority?

Not to run out of money before I die, and so far, so good.

  • The Best Of Enemies: Diaries 1980-1997 by Norman Fowler (Biteback, £25)

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