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Sir Roger Gale

Many years ago, I knew a Conservative MP who was knighted one New Year. He was rather glum about it, believing (correctly, as it turned out) that this was his Party’s way of saying Thank you… and goodbye. It was not a signal that his effort had been recognised and rewarded, and that greater efforts were hoped for. No, it was the golden watch.

The article below (which reads rather like an obituary) notes that the then Mr Gale was disappointed not to have been elected as deputy speaker. From what I hear, “disappointment” is an understatement.

As well as having his eye on the woolsack, the then Mr Gale was also quietly hopeful of a seat in the Lords. Alas, it was not to be. Nonetheless his wife is now Lady Suzy, which will thrill her.

For 27 years the voters of Thanet North – taking in Birchington, Westgate, Margate and Herne Bay – have returned Roger Gale as their MP. He sits with an unassailable majority – polling 22,826 votes in last year’s general election winning more than a 50 per cent share. He has never been, and is not likely to be, seriously challenged in his constituency as it stands.

But, it has not been a career of unqualified success and triumph. It is a career of contrasts – much like the man himself.

His political work has taken him from his family’s large home in Preston (or from his barn conversion holiday home in France) to travel the world. He is a member of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly, overseeing Parliamentary elections in places such as Ghana, where his bravery in standing up for democracy is beyond doubt.

He also set up the All Party Group on Tunisia. He recently oversaw the run up to the country’s elections, missing a vote in Parliament on a referendum on Europe in the process to the anger of some electors.

He is also a regular visitor to Cyprus. He was there most recently in October when he paid a three-day visit to Nicosia to meet politicians and academics, according to the Register of Interests where the value of the visit is listed as £700.

He certainly sees his future in the sphere of international relations.

His role in scrutinising legislation as it passes through the House has been considerable but Sir Roger, as he now is, has never risen beyond the ranks of back-bencher although he was once a Parliamentary Private Secretary.

Friends say he was bitterly disappointed not to have become Deputy Speaker in the House of Commons last year. Insiders say that his abrupt manner with colleagues, which has earned him the nickname of Mr Angry, meant he could not win the popular support needed to clinch the role.

His knighthood then, announced in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours, will be a solace for that slight and is a cause for celebration to his supporters and loyal family, including his third wife Suzy, who sits as a magistrate as well as running her husband’s office. She becomes Lady Gale.

Mike Pearce, a former editor of the Isle of Thanet Gazette said:

“Although Sir Roger has been rewarded for his political efforts – which have been considerable, as hundreds of constituents can testify – I should like to think the honour also recognises his innumerable personal kindnesses. Beneath a tough political front, there is a man of immense compassion. Over the last 30 years, I have witnessed his generosity time and time again and, like so many others, have good reason to be grateful for his empathy and his friendship.”

It is a career that has perhaps taken Sir Roger far from that which he envisaged in his maiden speech to Parliament. He talked about Herne Bay and Margate as “two of the finest seaside resorts” and pledged to further their interests.

He highlighted the area as a retirement dream and exhorted “a return to some Victorian values”.

He looked forward to the day when Margate and Herne Bay “will have marinas that will attract money and visitors from the Continent” and a time when his constituency would be home to a science park “feeding on the University of Kent”.

These developments have so far failed to materialise – much like his hoped-for resolution of the summer seaweed crisis in Minnis Bay, which he pledged to tackle in 2008 – but one aspiration outlined in that first speech has come to fruition.

He pledged to improve the road into Thanet and he is clearly still proud of his role in developing the Thanet Way. His car still carries the personalised number plate A299 – the road’s number. That maiden speech was made under the auspices of a discussion on cable television and Sir Roger’s contribution is not surprising. He joined politics after a career in radio and television.

He was born in 1943 and educated at Southbourne Preparatory School, Hardye’s School, Dorchester and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. An online biography claims he is the only former pirate radio disc-jockey to become a Member of Parliament. He makes no secret of the fact he was with Radio Caroline, joining the pirate radio station in August 1964.

The following year he moved on, to become programme director at Radio Scotland and worked as the personal assistant to the general manager at Universal Films for nine years. He joined the BBC in 1972 as a reporter for Radio London. In 1976, he was appointed director of BBC children’s television.

He left the BBC in 1979 and joined Thames Television, also working in children’s programming, where he remained until his election to parliament. Despite nearly three decades in politics he still styles himself as a “qualified media expert”.

Sir Roger is a vigorous critic of the press admitting it is the zeal of a poacher turned gamekeeper. His attacks are not confined to newspapers, however. His website has long tracts on subjects as diverse as Southeastern’s franchise to run the county’s train services (he describes its management as “munchkins”) and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

During the MPs expenses scandal of 2008 Sir Roger and his wife vigorously defended MPs who employ their spouses. He and Lady Gale were vocal in their defence of the practice which was called into question in the furore surrounding the abuse by some MPs of the Parliamentary expenses system.

Lady Gale is praised by all quarters for her tireless work in the constituency office. Sir Roger made headlines during the inquiry into expenses when some of his returns were briefly, and wrongly, questioned. His website says that he took a two-thirds pay cut to become an MP and Lady Gale a 50 per cent reduction in employment package to work with him – the claim leads one to conclude that either his office manager was poorly paid, or the Conservative Party election agents must be on some pretty generous terms. This was Lady Gale’s career before she took over the running of her husband’s office.

Sir Roger is a man of contradictions, someone who cares for animals but believes in the death penalty; a journalist who refuses to engage with sections of the press – this newspaper included after an Isle of Thanet Gazette story he found unacceptable. Supporters hail him as an excellent constituency MP, pointing out that much of the good work he does for those in his patch, is done in secret.

If one of the main towns in his constituency, Margate, has undergone a dramatic and deep decline during his years in Parliament, perhaps the tide of change was just too strong to allow him to do much to stop it. He spoke passionately about the potential of Thanet at the launch of the East Kent Regional Growth Fund at Hornby Hobbies in November.

“I travelled to all corners of the United Kingdom in my previous job as a TV producer. I have to say, without any doubt, Thanet was the most underachieving region in the country.”

He asks remarkably few questions in the House that seem to relate directly to his constituency which now includes areas of deprivation the highest in the south east.

This honour is seen by some cynics as a sop for his having missed out on the big prizes, or perhaps a gentle nudge towards the door. There are significant changes to the political boundaries afoot and might a Conservative colleague who risks loosing their seat be parachuted in to Sir Roger’s seat? Only time will tell and there are many months to go before that decision needs to become public.

Sir Roger does not see it as a sop. He welcomed the honour enthusiastically in a release on the subject:

“I regard this as an enormous honour, particularly granted as it is, at the start of Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee Year. It is, though, an honour that belongs to my wife, Suzy, who has worked alongside me and supported me throughout every day that I have been a Member of Parliament and who, together with three long-suffering and wonderful children, continues to do so.

What now? Quite simply, we carry on! There are very many things that I still want to achieve on behalf of the people that I represent. Suzy and I will, of course, retain our very active work for animals through Suzy’s Animals Worldwide charity and my support for SPANA (Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad). I also intend to continue the effort that I have put into supporting developing democracies across the world. That ought to be enough to keep me and those around me busy for a few years yet!”

thisiskent 6th Jan 2012

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  1. Denis Cannon

    I would be interested in knowing how it's possible to ' loose ' a seat.Undo the bolts perhaps ?