Bim Afolami is the Tory MP for Hitchin and Harpenden, a Hertfordshire constituency north of London. He was first elected in 2017.
Mr Afolami bounds across the ground floor of Portcullis house with a childlike gait. He wears a white shirt and microspot lime tie, accompanied with a navy notch lapel suit. Above us, the glass roof floods the courtyard café with light. In his left hand is a black leather cased iPad and an orchid notepad, out of which hang some sheafs of A4 paper. He greets me with an enthusiastic handshake and apologises for his tardiness; I’m just happy this interview is taking place. Last night, 21 Tory MPs voted against the government, leading to a defeat. Today’s parliamentary business is just as controversial. While Mr Afolami talks about their talents, he also stresses the need for party discipline.
I ask first about social mobility, and he responds with a historical perspective. The success of ethnic minorities since he was my age (I’m 19) has been great, although I’m not sure we should be driving with reference to the rearview mirror. On the flip side, he adds, the post-war expansion led to a growth of the upper and middle classes. The availability of professional jobs grew the national elite. New members could join, without any leaving. Now, for someone to rise, another must fall; ‘that is tougher’.
I ask about a General Election, and he says ‘obviously this year’. Mr Afolami has three children, and he reckons in a GE campaign he may not see them for a month. Paraphrasing from The Godfather 2, his favourite film, he proclaims ‘this is the life we have chosen’. I’m suddenly tempted to turn this into one of those ‘what’s your favourite food?’ and ‘favourite TV show?’ interviews but I desist; limiting myself to one such question at the end. For those interested in such vapid facts; he’s an Arsenal and Northampton Saints fan.
I suggest the long hours put some people off politics, but he’s not too sure. ‘In every walk of life, you have to make sacrifices’. Others, however, are ‘unnecessary’; ‘intrusion on family life’ and ‘rudeness you get online’. ‘Campaigning is a fundamental part of life as a politician’. ‘You have to get people’s votes every so often, or we live in a dictatorship’. He’s not a fan of the ‘People’s Vote’ campaign, for a second referendum, so I stay away from that joke.
My next question latches onto his brief reference to the City, and his time there. He was a corporate lawyer and then worked in finance, so I ask; should more MPs have experience outside of Westminster? He says quite a few do, but the nature of their experience is ‘not as useful as it could be’. Perhaps he was also a diplomat before entering the Commons. Professionals, not PR, is the summary of his thoughts. The similarity of the political and public relations skill sets means that effort must be made, by political parties, to recruit those from more diverse occupations.
We get onto charitable initiatives; he’s a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, and Ditchley, but his eyes light up when we talk about a scheme he’s running in his constituency. Taking 12 ‘opportunity fellows’ for 3 days of leadership and advocacy training, one week’s work experience in Parliament, and one week in industry. It’s a new scheme, and still finding its feet, but I think it has potential.
I promised to reward myself with one unserious question at the end; I asked of the last text he received. After a quick glance, he tells me it was a local councillor, asking: ‘What’s going on?’. Most people, bar the man across from me, don’t know either.