Unparliamentary Language: Nicky Morgan
Agnes Chambre sits down with parliamentarians to find out more about the human side of politics. This week, former education secretary Nicky Morgan on the worst piece of advice she’s ever been given.
What’s your earliest memory?
My younger brother being brought home from the hospital. Having had three and a half years of undivided parental attention, I was then going to have to share it with a small brother. It’s always been that way ever since.
What were you like at school?
I was pretty serious, I had a nice circle of friends, I was into drama and public speaking. One of my primary school reports said: “If Nicky spent less time worrying about what other people are up to, and more time focused on what she’s doing, she’d probably get further in life.” That probably still applies even in 2017.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to run a restaurant. Given my cooking skills I think it’s probably better that I didn’t.
Have you had any culinary disasters?
Not disasters but I look at the picture in a recipe book and it’s really hit and miss as to whether it turns out looking like that. The trouble with being an MP is I’m not at home three nights of the week so I don’t do any cooking. My son was asked a few years ago: “What’s your favourite dish that your mum cooks?” He said: “No, Mum doesn’t cook, Dad does all the cooking.”
What’s an unusual talent you have that people may not know about?
I haven’t done much choral singing since I got here. I never seem to be able to do anything on a regular basis so joining the parliament choir has eluded me. I was a choral singer at school, through university and my legal career. I loved it. It’s great, you can’t think about anything else while you’re doing it, you’ve just got to concentrate on the notes and not letting the rest of your Altos down.
What’s something your colleagues don’t know about you?
I was head girl of my school. Some might guess I suspect. But it’s certainly not on my CV.
What habit really annoys you?
Arrogance. People treating other people badly or with rudeness. People not showing respect to others – they somehow think they’ve got a right to be speaking their opinion but other people’s opinions don’t matter.
Does that happen a lot in here?
I think there’s a danger. Parliament is an extraordinary atmosphere and I think it’s very good that we all have people outside here who remind us very firmly that having the letters ‘MP’ after your name does not mean you have a god given right to have your opinions unchallenged.
Do you have people that do that for you?
Oh yes. My family do that absolutely, they regard it as their duty to do that frequently from Thursday to Monday morning.
When you’re feeling stressed or angry, what’s one thing that’s guaranteed to cheer you up?
A long hot bath, lots of bubble bath.
What is the worst trash TV you watch?
I do love Loose Women, I’m not sure that’s trash TV though. But I have to say, if I ever got to be at home at midday, would I watch Loose Women or the Daily Politics? I’d watch Loose Women.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
Create more time in the day. I’d like to think I’d spend it on some worthy activity, whether it was something healthy or spending more time with my family, but actually I’d probably spend it on my emails.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
When I used to do school exams, my mum would say to me ‘always read the question’. Obviously that’s good advice for exams but actually, it’s wider. Take your time to understand a situation and take control of it rather than just leaping in feet first and just reacting, and then thinking ‘I wish I’d just stood and thought about that for a moment’.
What’s the worst piece of advice you’ve been given?
Probably advice to have a perm when I was younger.
Do you have any pictures?
Absolutely not. I think my generation is very lucky that social media hadn’t been invented.
What mistakes did you make when you were younger?
So many, where do I start? I suspect being far too interested in what other people were up to, rather than being confident in myself and being more self-contained. Usually saying the first thing that comes into my brain or being too worried what other people are up to. Being too outspoken in the wrong situation or worrying about the wrong things.
What is your greatest fear?
Something happening to family. The job of being an MP is you share highs with your constituents and local communities but you also share in their lows. You don’t want to dwell on the bad stuff in life but you become very aware in this job that bad things happen. You become aware of everyone’s vulnerabilities. Things you take for granted in life can change in a split second. So I think that’s probably my greatest fear, everything else is copeable with.
Do you have any regrets?
I wish I had become a mum sooner. We were married for seven years before I had my son. We had great fun and everything else, but that’s one of the things, you always think ‘I’ll leave it for a bit’. But one of my philosophies in life is to learn from things you’ve done wrong. That’s the sort of thing that eats away at you and it’s better to learn what went wrong and resolve to make the most of every day going forward.
How would your friends describe you in three words?
Bossy, humorous – well, I’m not ‘cracking jokes’ kind of funny, but I’ve got a sense of humour – and loyal.
If you could have three dinner party guests, who would they be?
I’m sure people come up with all sorts of erudite, worthy examples, but I want to have fun at this dinner party! Winston Churchill, George Clooney. I need a strong woman too – Margaret Thatcher is obvious but I’m not sure what kind of dinner guest company she would be. I suppose I want somebody outrageous really who’s going to really motor things along. In order to pep the conversation along, I’d have Louise Mensch, who I know from university, as that would certainly liven things up.
What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve done?
In 2011 I went to Bangladesh with a group of MPs. We were off to an awards ceremony, but we were affected by an earthquake. I had to get dressed and grab the nearest clothes to me. But then Tobias Ellwood wouldn’t let us back into the hotel so I ended up going to the award ceremony in my pyjamas.
Were they nice pyjamas?
They were Primark pyjamas. I thought I would just hide at the back of the room, but suddenly they started calling all of us up on stage to receive an award. By that time everybody knew because I’d said ‘I just want to hide at the back and not see anybody.’ Then they started calling us all forward.
What would the title of your autobiography be?
She Never Gave Up.
When was the last time you made someone laugh?
My son, yesterday. We’ve got two cats which always make us laugh and I was telling him about something one of them did. We had a big spider in the kitchen and it was so big that the cat decided it wasn’t going to tackle it. So my husband and I were running around the kitchen while the cat just watched the two of us.
Have you ever broken the law?
If I have, I’m not disclosing it.
When was the last time you cried?
Listening to the testimonies of the Manchester attacks and the Grenfell tower.
What’s been your lowest point in politics?
July 2016, being fired from being education secretary was a pretty low point.
Have you ever considered giving up?
I haven’t considered giving up because I think being an MP there’s such a variety of things to do. When something like that happens it’s right that you take some time to think about what you’re going to do next and that’s why I’ve announced I’m going to stand to be chair of the Treasury Select Committee.