It is too easy to pigeonhole Michael Fabricant as an eccentric.
His glowing follicly ‘enhanced’ golden mop, mischievous if not risqué antics on Twitter, and perpetual self-mockery are just a few of the splatters that make his personality a Monet’s pallete of colour.
Yet appearances can be deceiving.
Broadcaster, medical student, chartered engineer, international businessman, Tory grandee, and even spy, could be tags for the flamboyant Lichfield MP.
Combine his sacking as party vice-chairman by David Cameron for tweeting ‘about time’ in reference to the resignation of Culture Secretary Maria Miller plus an appearance on Have I Got News For You, and a 16,000-strong Twitter following – his public profile has never been higher in his 22 years in Westminster.
He may ultimately be known for his wacky persona and escapades, and there are many, but beneath the floppy fringe is a man of perception and influence who holds an elusive quality for a politician – he is incredibly likeable.
Speaking from his constituency home in the shadows of the cathedral’s three spires he today reveals:
- How the ‘stubborn’ Prime Minister ignored his warnings over the threat of Ukip
- The truth behind his ‘pact’ with Nigel Farage
- The ‘horrendous’ attitudes of Tory MPs during John Major’s Government
- How he was asked to join Tony Blair’s New Labour
- And why there won’t be another Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition
It is a month since the 63-year-old lost his job as vice-chairman of the Conservative Party in charge of elections and campaigning.
But his life is far from quiet.
“I bought this ukulele rather cheaply on Amazon thinking I would learn to play it now I am free,” he laughs.
“But I’ve not had time to pick it up.”
Reflecting on his sacking he said: “I have nothing against Maria Miller but I used to run our by-elections and campaigning and I am very conscious we shouldn’t have anything distracting ‘the message’.
“The previous weekend we had our spring conference and all the good news we were announcing on the economy and new policies none of it got any publicity from what I could see because it was all drowned out by the clamour of getting Maria Miller to resign and she was clinging on.
“What happened was she finally resigned and I hadn’t tweeted anything about it before even though I had lots of backbenchers – absolutely lots of them – furious saying can’t you have any influence? I knew she had been in conversation with the PM and chief whip and I thought I’m not going to have any influence.
“But when she did finally go I said ‘about time’. DC had got a bit of a mauling for once from Ed Miliband at Prime Minister’s Questions over this because it was a pretty indefensible position. So he was quite raw from it all and at a 4pm meeting at Number 10 DC was anticipating a rough ride at the 1922 committee which he was going to at 5pm and someone came in with my tweet so DC said ‘all right, enough is enough’.
“I like David Cameron – he is a bit stubborn at times such as with HS2 but his heart is in the right place.” One of his acts that prompted fury from within the Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ) was when he announced proposals for an electoral pact with Nigel Farage’s Ukip.
He revealed this was a calculated manoeuvre to provoke the Tories into taking Ukip seriously as an electoral threat after being repeatedly rebuffed by the Prime Minister.
Fast forward a year with Ukip riding high in opinion polls it is evident how not just the Conservatives but all three parties are fearful of Nigel Farage and his party.
“A year ago DC would not dare talk about Ukip. It was the word that dare not cross anybody’s mouth. And now he’s talking about it extensively. So if I have achieved one thing I have got the debate going a year ago about Ukip – lots of MPs said ‘Michael was right, we do need to take Ukip seriously’. Now the Conservative Party is taking Ukip seriously.”
So ingrained are our polar black and white prejudices of politics that on the face of it much of the make-up of Mickey Fab, as he is known in some quarters, does not add up.
A Conservative but liberal. Eurosceptic but globally cultured. Loyal and rebellious at the same time.
“One of my regrets in politics in the past is that I haven’t always stuck by my guns because when I was a new MP I thought they’re experienced politicians – they must be right and I must be wrong,” he said.
“I remember when I was elected in 1992 – I came from a broadcasting background in Brighton and the Conservative members there came from a broad spectrum of people. They were normal people as in fact they are in Lichfield.
“But a lot of the Conservative Parliamentary Party in ’92 were in my view horrendous. A lot of them were all retired colonel types, their attitudes were from the ’30s and ’40s and they hadn’t moved with society.
And while I think Tony Blair did the country a whole lot of damage, I remember him saying vividly during PMQs in opposition ‘the Conservative P arliamentary Party are made up of xenophobes, homophobes and misogynists’. I remember shouting out ‘well I’m not’ and he shouted back ‘well maybe not the Honourable Member for Lichfield but the rest of them are.
“Which was a little unfair by him because he was generalising but the parliamentary party was very different back them.”
In a reference to the young fresh-faced look of the Conservative Party today dubbed the Notting Hill Set he reminds people he was a ‘moderniser’ when Notting Hill was ‘still a dump’.
And his liberal tendencies did not go unnoticed by Blair who, Michael reveals today for the first time, tried to recruit him.
“Shortly after Labour won in ’97 – and I’m very proud of the fact I hung on to my seat in ’97 because I was defending a notional majority of 4,000 and Conservative MPs with a majority of 18,000 were losing their seats – I was invited to Number 10, and I won’t say the exact details, but someone said ‘Michael why don’t you join us as you’re obviously New Labour? You’re not like the Conservatives’.
“And I said I may not be like the parliamentary party was or is but I am a Conservative. I am a New Conservative. And he said is there even such a thing as New Conservative and I said ‘well maybe if I stay in the party there will be’.
“And you know the party has moved with the times – and quite rightly too because political parties should reflect society.”
Prior to his sacking he was tasked with leading the Tories to re-election next year.
He predicts there will not be a second Conservative and Liberal Democrat Coalition Government.
“I don’t think coalitions are bad per se but I do not think it has gone well for the Conservatives or the Lib Dems. We have got a lot through and made a lot of good changes but it has held the Conservatives back. What I do know is this – at the next election we will not get 150 new Conservative MPs that I can predict. And so the vast majority of MPs coming back in 2015 will be those who have experienced the Coalition. I am pretty sure they will not accept another coalition with the Liberal Democrats.”
He is Westminister’s most active Tweeter and maybe it was the espresso kicking in but he becomes even more animated when I raise the social network.
“I had never tweeted before apart from a tiny bit in 2010 election which was rather boring stuff such as ‘I will be here...’.
“What I find attractive is that it has let me communicate ideas more effectively than I have been able to do in the House of Commons. I have a hell of a lot of MPs following me and I don’t think they realised I was quite so Eurosceptic or economically sound but also socially liberal until I started on Twitter.
“I tease a lot and make camp comments but it’s part of the entertainment and not being straight laced.
“I love the banter and have great Twitter followers. The only time I had unpleasantness was when I said Russell Brand was a **** for saying people shouldn’t bother to vote.”
If you know Michael Fabricant for one thing only it has to be those blonde locks. Over the years he has repeatedly denied wearing a wig but last week he made one startling admission that was even considered as ‘breaking news’ by some news outlets.
There is ‘enhancement of the follicular area,’ he says. But he refuses to elaborate.
During our two-hour-long chat in his elegant sitting room with opposing paintings of the Houses of Parliament on the walls and a small collection of emerald green covered Hansards, I put to him he is clearly a bright guy so why the wackiness? “Before going to university I taught for a year and I got some advice from the head of department,” he recalls. “He said, ‘look Michael, to be an effective communicator teacher you have to entertain as well as come up with fact of figures’. I was teaching physics and chemistry and he said I needed to make it 20 per cent facts figures and eight per cent entertainer.
“It was extremely good advice and given that the House of Commons is even more unruly than a class I ever taught, I still do that.
“I think I am seen as being bright but people don’t always trust me because they think I’m going to say something wacky.
“And it annoys me actually that when I don’t have an official role such as leaving the Government Whips’ office there are people who are so dim that they can’t see that I can change and do change.”
He may have lost his job but it seems the true loser almost certainly is the Conservative Party.