17th January 2018

I Can Be... a Minister

i can be meets caroline nokes mp, minister of state for immigration. 

caroline, last week you became minister of state for immigration in theresa may's reshuffle. How has the last week been?

caroline nokes.jpg

Interesting! Everything becomes this mad dash around, with everybody trying to put as much information into your head as quickly as they possibly can. I keep telling everybody I need somebody to find another couple of hours to add to each day. That would make my life much easier.

What did you do before you were an MP?

I was the Chief Executive of the National Pony Society. Everyone always gets it wrong and thinks it’s the Pony Club. I usually explain it to people like this - the Pony Club is about children and the National Pony Society is about ponies. We were focused on the preservation of British native ponies.

How did you make the transition from that role to becoming an MP?

It was a really long road actually. I did a degree in politics in 1994 and then I went to work with my dad, who was a Member of the European Parliament, for 10 years, so I guess there was always an interest in politics there.

I first stood for Parliament in 2001 and didn’t win. I stood again in 2005 and didn’t win. In 2010, eventually, I did win. Although I loved working for the National Pony Society and it was interesting and rewarding, I guess in many ways it was always a stop gap before pursuing a political career.

What advice would you give to young girls who were thinking about a career in politics?

Sometimes the advice I give is not always welcome. I usually tell young people to go off and do something different first. I think politics and Parliament really benefit from people who’ve had a wide range of experiences and, although many of us have spent our entire lives working in politics, actually some of the people that bring the most colour and interest to this place are those who’ve had different careers outside politics. We’ve got lots of doctors, lawyers, writers and academics and that’s part of the beauty of our political system – it really enables anybody to wind up as an MP.

My advice is always, as in any sphere in life, work hard. Don’t give up. That’s the biggest message I would give to young girls. I lost twice before I eventually won the third time I stood for election. Success takes a lot of determination.

What do you think it was that enabled you to take those two defeats and still keep coming back and keep trying?

I’d say I’m quite resilient, quite tough. I also like a challenge and the second time I lost it was only by 125 votes. I always say that if I had lost by 10 times that amount I’d have walked away. I’d have tried my hardest and it hadn’t come off. I think in 2005 though, I found the defeat hard to take because I thought I could have worked harder. If I had been able to look in the mirror and think that I couldn’t have done anything more I’d have been, not happy, but content. But I looked in the mirror and thought that there was more in me and I hadn’t given it. There's a real message in that about giving 100 percent to everything you do.

And you gave everything in 2010?

Yes. By election night in 2010, I could barely stand because I was so tired. That was my mission. We had to get to the end of that day with me feeling so exhausted that I knew I couldn’t possibly have done anything more.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

Mary Branson's sculpture celebrating the work of the suffrage movement in Westminster Hall

Mary Branson's sculpture celebrating the work of the suffrage movement in Westminster Hall

There are lots of highlights, so it’s quite difficult to pick out any one thing. However, sometimes it’s nice to leave tangibles, things that are going to be there for a long time, so I’m going to point to the night that we unveiled the women’s suffrage artwork in Westminster Hall in 2016. That was the culmination of years of work. I’d been on the Works of Art Committee for six years at that point and I was chairman. We were determined to have a piece of art in this place that remembered the suffrage struggle and so that was definitely a massive highlight.

Who was the artwork by?

A sculptor called Mary Branson. It’s a light installation. It has separate discs of glass that are backlit in the suffrage colours and the discs represent the scrolls that are all the Acts of Parliament. It ebbs and flows with the tide of the Thames River, because the suffrage movement used the tide in their symbolism. It's really worth going to see. 

Do you feel that being a woman has affected your career in any way, and if so, how?

I think Parliament is a tough place to be a woman, but I don’t think it’s affected my career. It certainly hasn’t harmed my career at all, but I’m lucky to have come into Parliament at a time when it’s much more enlightened than it has been previously, when there are many more women than there have been before.

When I was elected in 2010, for the whole of the previous five years there had been 17 female Conservative MPs. In 2010, about 45 of us were elected. That was a massive jump and all of the women that had been here in the previous parliament and were still here, and of course some of them stood down, said that it was the biggest change that they had ever experienced in Parliament. Suddenly, they had nearly 50 female Conservative colleagues and they were absolutely thrilled.

I never saw Parliament when it had tiny numbers of female MPs, but even now you still feel like a minority. You still, sadly, have to tolerate some outdated attitudes from some of our male colleagues. When I first arrived I just ignored them, but as time has gone on I’ve gotten angrier and angrier. Now they won’t get away with a sexist comment in my presence without me challenging them.

How do you get to work?

I drive up to London from my constituency at about 4.30am on a Monday morning. When I’m in London I walk from my flat to Parliament and, depending on circumstances, I either walk to the Home Office or get a ministerial car if it’s raining or I’m carrying something heavy.

What do you have for lunch at work?

That’s a really easy question to answer. I have soup and a packet of salt and vinegar crisps.

Every day?

Every day.

It sounds as though you have always been on the road towards politics. If you hadn’t been an MP, what would your plan B have been?

Plan B, which was probably Plan A originally, was being a journalist. I always wanted to be a journalist and now, ironically, I don’t like journalists very much. That was always what I wanted to do, and I didn’t even think about a career in politics until I was 25 or 26. At 26 I stood for the local council. My daughter was nine months old and it was on a bit of a whim, but that was where it all started.