Conservative Party chairman Amanda Milling: 'It's our time to make a difference'
New Conservative Party Chair Cannock Chase MP Amanda Milling talks Boris Johnson, her political journey and the future for the Tory Government.
Amanda Milling believes she saw something in Boris Johnson that few others did long before he announced his intention to run for high office.
"He’s always had the energy, the vision and the enthusiasm… he connects with people," she said, reflecting on the qualities in Mr Johnson that she noticed during a visit he made to Staffordshire in 2014.
After being elected as the MP for Cannock Chase the following year, Mrs Milling backed him in his aborted bid for Tory leadership in 2016, and then again for his successful run to Number 10 last year.
"He takes people with him, and if you turn back the clock I could see that he had got that ability to connect with the public that was always going to be important when it came to a general election," she added.
Mrs Milling's faith in the Prime Minister has been rewarded with a promotion to Conservative Party chair, replacing James Cleverly.
In doing so the 44-year-old became the first MP from a Staffordshire constituency to hold the prestigious position, although Cannock-born Patrick McLaughlin held it from 2016 to 2018.
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She said she was "immensely honoured" to accept the role, particularly at a time when the Tories are in such as strong position following December's landslide general election victory.
It is a stark contract from the past 12 months, when Mrs Milling served as an assistant chief whip tasked with keeping order in a Conservative Party that was anything but orderly.
"Since the election result everyone is smiling. We have happy members of Parliament," she says. "But last year was uber tough, particularly in the whips office.
"The uncertainty that the country felt… we had that day in, day out and nobody really knew what was going to happen next.
"I was having to cancel constituency events because another vote or another challenge came up in Westminster. There was a point where we just couldn’t get legislation through because the numbers were not there."
"It was a tough time, but we are now in a happier place and can actually deliver," she added, citing the smooth passage of Brexit legislation as a first marker for the Government to build on.
Mrs Milling was brought up in Burton where she attended private school. She joined the Conservative Party shortly after she had left university, having started delivering leaflets for a local councillor.
She says the party’s core values are “in her blood”, and after a career in market research she decided she wanted to influence policy and was elected as a local councillor in Lancashire.
Mrs Milling was first elected to parliament in Cannock Chase in 2015, an area she says she knew well because her late father’s firm had links with local toolmakers Elliott-Lucas.
She recalled: "After I was elected my mother said to me that my late father had said to her, 'she will end up being an MP one day'.
"He was right, I’m just sad that he never got chance to see me in the Commons."
She describes the last five years as "a bit of a journey", saying the last thing she expected to do was to have to fight three general elections over that period.
In that time she has extended her majority from just under 5,000 to almost 20,000 in a constituency that was Labour until 2010.
According to Mrs Milling, that experience will prove vital in her new role, which involves working closely with new Tory MPs whose constituents ditched Labour in December.
They include parts of the Black Country and Staffordshire, where there are now 22 Tory MPs in 25 constituencies – the highest number in history.
"I feel that having been in a seat where I have had to fight, and where I’ve had to work hard in the local community on a lot of issues, it gives me a lot to draw on when I go out to the so-called red wall seats," she said.
"I’ve been there and fought those tight elections so I understand what it’s like.
"One of my key priorities is keeping hold of those seats, turning them from light blue into dark blue."
She says the elections in May – including local authority, mayoral and crime commissioner polls – will serve as a first test of progress.
"They have lent us their votes and now they want to see what they can get with a Conservative government," she said.
Mrs Milling has embarked on a whistlestop tour of the country since being appointed to her new role, which she sees as "listening to what people have got to say and finding out what their priorities are".
Over two days last week she visited nine constituencies, met with four newly elected MPs and three PCC candidates, as well as West Midlands Mayor Andy Street.
She admits she was surprised by the magnitude of the Conservatives election victory, saying she had scoffed at a pre-election poll predicting – accurately as it turned out – that she would get 69 per cent of the vote in Cannock Chase.
"I think what we saw in the election was that the country had had enough and wanted to move on," she said. "It was the public telling us they can’t cope with this uncertainty any longer.
"We know from 2017 that these elections are a gamble, but this one paid off and as I've seen in my own patch, there’s been a huge sign of relief and the clouds have lifted.
"This is a real opportunity for us to make a difference in the country and push on."