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Essex boy Brokenshire born to a life in politics pays tribute to his dad, Thatcher, Theresa May ... and Great British Bake Off

By Staff Reporter

Published 07/10/2016

PM Theresa May with First Minister Arlene Foster, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and James Brokenshire at Stormont
PM Theresa May with First Minister Arlene Foster, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and James Brokenshire at Stormont
Andrew Smyth

In a 75-minute wide-ranging discussion about Brexit, victims, career and family, James Brokenshire frequently used words like careful, thoughtful and measured.

And those adjectives describe perfectly his approach to politics. The 47-year-old father-of-three is not part of the public school "elite" that seemed to be in the ascendancy in the last Cabinet.

The Essex-born son of a council chief executive, he fell in love with politics at an early age. "My dad, Peter, was a public servant who worked his way up from close to poverty in rural Cornwall," said Mr Brokenshire. "I was an only child, going to events with my parents and meeting politicians, instilling in me an interest and curiosity in politics.

"Dad passed away last year, but his ethos - to be that person who could help others, service not self - that rubbed off on me quite clearly."

He revealed that he was a young fan of Margaret Thatcher, but not a fervent follower. "I was 11 and I remember the dynamic sense of change and opportunity," he said. I don't badge myself as a Thatcherite, or any sort of ism. I've got a sense of social justice.

"The Prime Minister and I have a similar outlook on this, on a meritocratic society, people getting on in life no matter what background they have been born into, their creed, colour, religion, sexuality or colour."

He worked with Theresa May for six years as a Home Office Minister when she was Home Secretary, and was one of the first to back her leadership campaign.

He laughs at media attempts to compare her to Margaret Thatcher or Edward Heath.

"She's absolutely her own person, with a great sense of humour, extremely hard working," Mr Brokenshire said. "She's very thoughtful, private, not showy, she knows her own mind. A pleasure to work with during my time at Home Office.

"There's a steely determination and that calm reassurance that she brings to her work."

Mr Brokenshire represents the Greater London area of Old Bexley and Sidcup. His first seat was Hornchurch, Essex, but when this constituency was scrapped in a boundary review, he had to apply to at least five other constituencies before he was selected.

"In politics you get a lot of knockbacks and you have to pick yourself up and carry on," he said. "If you work at things, apply yourself and don't give up, things that are unexpected will fall into place," he added, referring also to his seemingly impossible task of securing all-party agreement on Northern Ireland's legacy issues.

"My only focus is on doing the best job I can for Northern Ireland," he said. "I'm delighted to have been given that responsibility. And what a great job it is. I'm not going to give up on this."

He revealed that with wife Cathy and children Sophie (13), Jemma (11) and Ben (10), his hobby is baking. "We do watch Bake Off and it's great to see Andrew from Northern Ireland doing well. I'm rooting for him," he said. "I can't claim to be a Paul Hollywood type, but I did make a Victoria sponge for a fete recently."

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