Biography: Andrew George MP
MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT FOR THE WEST CORNWALL AND THE ISLES OF SCILLY CONSTITUENCY OF ST IVES SINCE MAY 1997 - MAJORITY 11,609
- Born December 1958, Mullion, Cornwall. Third of eight sons and daughters of small holding horticulturist and farmer father and musician/teacher mother (Hugh and Diana (née Petherick) George).
- Schooled at Mullion CP, Cury C of E, Helston Grammar (later to become Helston (Comprehensive) School).
- Studied at Sussex University, 1977-1980 (Cultural and Community Studies) and at Oxford University (University College), MSc. (Agricultural Economics)
- Worked for different charities in Nottinghamshire, Devon and Cornwall specialising in affordable housing, anti-poverty work, economic and environmental development and community facilities work. Also in research and writing. Campaigner on international development issues.
For more details see below.
PARLIAMENTARY CAREER & COMMITTEES
Shadow Fisheries Minister, 1997-2005; Shadow Disabilities Minister, 2000-2001; Shadow Rural Affairs Secretary, 2002-2005; PPS to Charles Kennedy, 2001-2003; Regional Affairs Select Committee, 2001-2005; Agriculture Select Committee, 1997-2000; Shadow Secretary for International Development, 2005-2006; Communities and Local Government Select Committee, 2008 -; Speaker's Conference, 2009 -.
An enthusiastic sportsman, plays for the House of Commons football (also Crowntown), cricket (also for Leedstown) and rugby teams. Cycling, walking, poetry, art, poultry keeping and singing.
A View from the Bottom Left-Hand Corner (Penzance: Patten Press, 2002) ; A Vision of Cornwall (1995); with Bernard Deacon et al: Cornwall At The Crossroads (Redruth: CoSERG, 1989); and The Natives are Revolting Down in the Cornwall Theme Park (1986).
Andrew George describes himself as "in many ways an anti-politician of a politician". Unencumbered by burning personal ambition, nor desperate to promote his profile at any cost, Andrew has demonstrated a determined commitment to the people and political causes he has consistently championed through the years.
He is keenly committed to fight injustice in all of its many manifestations; passionately opposed to discrimination and a natural champion for the underdog. He is unafraid of challenging cosy, established and popular assumptions and is a committed internationalist. Andrew George was a green campaigner in the days when environmentalists were deeply unfashionable. He is renowned for his tenacity and perseverance against the odds.
He says, "I am a deeply ambitious politician; ambitious for political rather than personal success. I don't need to compromise or 'ingratiate'. But will do what I have to do to achieve the change needed to secure a better world for the poor, the downtrodden, those who suffer injustice or prejudice. I don't judge my success on how far I have shinned my way up the transient greasy pole of politics. In the unseemly scramble for attention and profile amongst the many sharp elbows in politics, I generally prefer to stand back and observe from a respectable distance."
In spite of not being a Government supporting MP nor spending all of his Parliamentary time since his election in 1997 on the front bench for his Party, Andrew has notched up a number of notable achievements. He persuaded the Government to remove the 50% council tax discount for second homes which provided a taxpayers subsidy for the wealthy when so many hundreds of thousands of families in desperate housing need could not afford their first home. He has been the primary Parliamentarian championing - with an alliance of international and national charities and interest groups - the successful campaign to persuade the Competition Commission to introduce a Grocery Regulator or Ombudsman to protect smaller and relatively weak food suppliers from the over powerful and exploitative practices of powerful supermarkets.
Locally, he successfully led the campaign to protect the threatened rail sleeper service from Penzance in his constituency to London; contributed to the policy of introducing regional management into the European Fisheries Policy, giving fishermen and other stakeholders a far greater say in the management of their own fish stocks. He made a significant contribution to the successful campaign to get the highest level of European Regional Aid for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly - the poorest region in the UK - and led the successful Parliamentary campaign to have the Cornish Language officially recognised for the first time. Along with his colleagues, he has successful campaigned for a review of the Funding Formula which has left many poorer regions of the UK, like his own, with lower than average health funding and which has contributed to an overstretched health service and major financial challenges. He has also contributed to many other campaign successes: in the international development sphere; on behalf of small farmers; the poorest within his West Cornwall constituency; the rights of victims in the court system; and on many other issues.
And what is the secret of success? "Well," he says, "you don't persuade a Minister to agree with your point of view if you start beating him/her around the head with a rolled up Hansard!" Gentle diplomacy is generally more successful…
Although Andrew is renowned for his pride in his Cornishness, he admits that it has been one aspect of his personality which has probably contributed most to holding both his personal career and his Parliamentary campaigns back. He says, "if you are born Cornish and care about the place, it's a life sentence as well as a life’s joy." Shortly after he was elected, he wrote: "Although I know I am the living embodiment of all of the worst type of stereotypes and prejudice the Cornish often have to endure, in fact, they are the same as any other group of people the world over - considerate, able, resourceful, talented and capable of outstanding achievement if given the opportunity."
Commenting more recently, he says, "Overcoming the routine and, in Westminster, more genteel prejudice - even amongst one's closer colleagues - has in fact proven to be a much more significant hurdle than even I had anticipated or understood. It won't hold me back but it does mean I have to try even harder."
Andrew clearly feels it a privilege to represent the constituency in which he was born and brought up. He comes from Mullion - on the Lizard peninsula in the south of the St Ives constituency. As far as he knows, his forebears go back locally beyond recorded time.
He was the third of the eight sons and daughters of a small holding horticulturist father and a musician/teacher mother. Though his paternal grandparents - whom Andrew never knew - left Andrew’s father their small building and farming enterprise, his father's life was severely limited. In his early 20s, shortly after leaving national service, he was left badly crippled by a near-fatal motorbike accident. His father’s ability to succeed was limited and the very small holding was never really enough to sustain the family, although supplemented with a fishing boat and forays into tourism.
A close and happy family
But Andrew remembers a happy, free childhood, when everyone worked in the fields. His memories of those times are mainly happy ones, though meal times provided the material for many cautionary tales about the survival of the fittest!
The Georges were - and are - a close family. Andrew's eldest brother, Mark, was the toughest and probably the most able. Thoughtful of others and with a wicked sense of humour, Mark was born with a debilitating, congenital heart abnormality. His disability, already limiting, was punctuated with periods of severe illness and open heart surgery. He bore it all with outstanding bravery and stoicism and, above all, an unquenchable optimism.
Mark was living with Andrew and his wife Jill, when after a period of slow decline he passed away at the age of 45, shortly after the 2001 general election was called. "I went through the motions," says Andrew. "I had little real appetite for the campaign."
Life in Mullion was dominated by Chapel, the cobbling together of pushbikes from second-hand parts, football on any patch of ground with jumpers for goalposts - and striving for a job.
Schools at Mullion and Helston provided mainly happy experiences and memories. Although sociable and confident on the sports field, Andrew was well known for having a stammer which almost completely suffocated his ability to communicate - his peers and teachers at school would have thought him the very last person to forge an eventual career which depends on public speaking. Some of Andrew's constituents, who knew him until well into his 20s, have privately conveyed to him their surprise at how different his speech is now.
He complains that the stammer still grips him, occasionally, at inconvenient moments. But he has learned to live with and adapt to it. Andrew makes no claims to be a great orator - far from it - but declares that by his own standards he is satisfied that he has largely mastered (or at least masked) his disability and never holds back from communicating when he has something to say.
University: In and out of politics
Andrew went on to study at both Sussex and Oxford Universities. He found the contrast fascinating. Sussex was good academically but set in, he felt at the time, a surreal environment of what he described as "inverted snobbery". He was put off party politics at the time. Politics at Sussex then struck him as synthetic and transient; subject to the vagaries of fashion. He became less convinced that he should adopt political loyalties and more that he should react against the herd instinct. With others Andrew set up a previously absent university debating society and he became its President.
As a keen sportsman Andrew was often frustrated by debilitating pains and occasional immobility of his legs and back. The condition, undiagnosed for six years, put a halt to his sporting ambitions. It was diagnosed as ankylosing spondylitis. Andrew has learned to live with it and later restarted some of the sport he had missed out on in his late teens, early twenties.
Bucking the trend
After leaving Sussex, Andrew studied at Oxford University where he was drawn into party politics and he joined the Liberal Party.
Andrew was always interested in breaking down big political structures. His Cornish background led him to support those more human-scale structures which offer communities a real say in their futures. However, unimpressed by David Owen's style of politics, he admits that he quietly left the party in 1981 at the formation of the SDP.
During those years, as far as his political views and actions were concerned, Andrew became involved in single issue campaigning, mainly on the environment, world poverty and social justice. In Nottinghamshire in the mid-80s he helped set up a striking miners support group because he felt that (although poorly led) the miners in that county, especially, had gone on strike for the most unselfish of motives.
Andrew returned to Cornwall in time for the 1987 general election. His spare time campaigns kept running up against the unforgiving brick wall of Thatcherism and he became increasingly determined. He went around saying "someone ought to do something". His friends replied that "since you've got such a big mouth you ought to do it." Owen had thrown in the towel. Andrew rejoined the Liberals.
Survival of the fittest?
Andrew would like to be able to say that "the rest is history" but it was in fact extremely hard work; especially at a time when, as Andrew puts it "an unfortunate woman (Jill), who didn't deserve to be lumbered with a husband like me, and my two wonderful children (Morvah and Davy) had to put up with the energy and financial drain that the effort required."
Andrew claims that he doesn't really know what his parents really think of his efforts and the public profile required to succeed in politics. "My family members view Franciscan monks as outrageously flamboyant and attention-seeking. So imagine how low they must feel their son has fallen!" He attracted enough public attention for a credible chance of winning a general election in a seat where the MP has a high local recognition factor.
In 1992 Andrew reduced the Tory majority from 8,000 to 1,600; he won the seat by 7,000 in 1997; increased his majority to 10,000 in 2001 and, against the national trend, increased it again in 2005 to 11,600; outside Scotland the largest Liberal Democrat majority in the country. No mean feat for an MP who has not had the opportunity to develop a national profile as many of his colleagues have.
He enjoys writing - especially about the humorous side of his work - and in 2002 published a book 'A View from the Bottom Left-Hand Corner' (partly a reference to where his constituency is on the map). It still sells!
He is pleased to take part, when he can, in Commons rugby, football and cricket team games and can boast that he won a recent MPs' fitness contest on Radio Five Live. And he declares, of course, "If I am the 'fittest MP', it doesn't say much for the rest."