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Generation Next: The Anthony Mangnall interview

7 min read

Anthony Mangnall is spoken of with enthusiasm among senior Conservatives, as one of the most promising MPs of the 2019 intake. But, he tells Georgina Bailey, just don't call him a 'rising star'.

Anthony Mangnall fizzes with energy. “I like adventures. I like being able to go out and do different things and learn new experiences,” he says. Mangnall prefers to do meetings while walking, and takes delight in describing a recent day out on a fishing trawler in Brixham in his Totnes constituency in South Devon, gutting fish. His hobbies include swimming (“all year round, no wetsuits of course", he says), fishing, and he is currently in the process of getting his motorcycle licence for a Christmas break kite-surfing in the Western Sahara. 

Just two years into the job, he is already making a splash in Westminster too. Although he shies away from talking about it, senior figures in the party are marking the 32-year-old out as a future star. 

“I’ve probably rebelled too much for that,” Mangnall insists. His first vote against the whip was just four months into his time as an MP, when he opposed Huawei’s involvement in UK 5G infrastructure; he went on to rebel on Covid restrictions – twice – and over international aid cuts. Mangnall says he didn’t consider his future career prospects before rebelling. 

No government of any colour, regardless of who their MPs are and how many they have, has the right to be able to run things through unchallenged, and unquestioned, and undebated.

“Why was it relevant?” he asks, with genuine passion. “It was important that we weren’t going to let the Chinese build our f*cking telecommunications network. I had senior members of Parliament saying, ‘What do you think you know that the security services don’t?’ and all of this stuff, but we are ludicrous to be gamed on it. It’s not about my career. It’s about doing the right thing. 

“It’s the same on foreign aid,” he continues, becoming even more animated. “We’ve cut it and it’s great that it’s going back. But the damage that we are doing, having done it, and the consequences of not dealing at source with some of the most difficult things and some of the poorest parts of the world, are always going to have a knock-on impact on our shores.”

Anthony Mangnall with Labour MP Alex Davies-Jones, The House Youth Edition cover stars

The whips didn’t have the excuse of Mangnall being away from Westminster during Covid to blame for his rebellions: he never voted by proxy and never appeared virtually in the Commons, preferring to be in as much as possible. “This place thrives on us being able to pass good legislation, and we rushed a lot of things through, some of which I vehemently disagree with: pushing for tiered systems, curfews. I think I was proven right, eventually.”

He also doesn’t engage much with social media, and rolls his eyes dramatically when the subject of WhatsApp comes up, both of which have been blamed for a loss of party discipline within his intake.  

“I believe in the power of Parliament. No government of any colour, regardless of who their MPs are and how many they have, has the right to be able to run things through unchallenged, and unquestioned, and undebated. It’s the duty of every backbencher to be able to hold them to account and no one’s going to be able to disabuse me of that view.”

Asked about a dream cabinet role, he dances around the question, mentioning international development, trade, defence, and the environment and rural affairs. “I have no idea. The value of being a young backbencher is you get the time to spend on the back benches, honing your skill in the chamber, speaking in committees, and becoming expert in different areas.” 

I had this amazing English teacher who said, ‘You’ve got to find the things you’re really good at. And you should debate

Although Mangnall is young by parliamentary standards, he had to mature at an early age. An “army brat", he lived “all over the shop” including four formative years in Zimbabwe from ages seven to 11. He was sent to boarding school in England at six, travelling to wherever his parents were for holidays before they divorced when Mangnall was 11. When he was 13, one of his two older brothers was stabbed in the head at age 16, an injury he was “very, very lucky to survive”. “We’re quite stiff upper lip, my family, but it was quite touch and go with him. These sort of things make you grow up quite quickly.”

Mangnall is also dyslexic and dyspraxic. “I had this amazing English teacher who said, ‘You’ve got to find the things you’re really good at. And you should debate’. She may be responsible for me being in Westminster.”

Although his maternal grandfather was the Yeoman Usher of the Black Rod, his wasn’t a political upbringing. Upon leaving school, Mangnall worked with William (now Lord) Hague, then foreign secretary, for six months. He credits Hague’s special advisers Arminka (now Baroness) Helić and Chloe Dalton with furthering his interest in politics: “These two extraordinary foreign policy experts completely took me under their wing. They took a probably rather entitled public school boy, broke him down, and made him work bloody hard. They’re still mentors to me.”

After graduating from the University of Exeter in 2012, he moved to Singapore on a one-way ticket to look for a job in shipbroking. He later worked for Hague again on the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative, working with the “very nice and incredibly intelligent” Hollywood star Angelina Jolie. Sexual abuse during war is a topic he remains passionate about, chairing the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the subject. 

Prior to being selected as a candidate in 2019, Mangnall was a special adviser to Alun Cairns as Wales Secretary for seven months; however he doesn’t class himself as being part of the SpAd to MP pipeline. He doesn’t think there is much wrong with young people working in politics then moving into Parliament themselves, and he dismisses criticism of those who become MPs in their early 20s.  “This isn’t new. Throughout history, we’ve always had people who came into Parliament at young ages. If they go on to do great things, everyone says, ‘fantastic’. If they make an error, it’s 'oh, they’re too young.'”

He points to tuition fees as an issue where young voices in Parliament bring value, particularly with the recent proposals for tuition fees to be paid back at a lower salary threshold. “This is a crazy idea, and one that I’ll happily oppose,” Mangnall says. “You’re [saddling graduates] with huge debt for degrees that increasingly become worthless and then asking them to try and afford a house in housing markets that are totally unaffordable.

“If you can get the skills right, and you can get the housing markets right and address foreign ownership and how we deal with second homes in places like mine, then you can start to improve things. You can start decentralising from cities and providing the opportunities in rural areas, like the south west.”

Politically, Mangnall describes himself as “somewhere in between a Cameroon and Thatcherism”. A free-marketeer, he doesn’t see the campaigning of Red Wall MPs for more spending as a problem. “We all want to keep those seats,” he says. 

And while he agrees the Prime Minster has had “a rocky few weeks", Mangnall’s rebellious streak hasn’t extended to a no confidence letter to the 1922. Instead, he believes the hiccups are  primarily an issue of communication, and getting the right advisers into Downing Street. “There have been lots of successes [too] and the Prime Minister rightly deserves credit for that. Like all things, politics comes [with] up and down.”

A self-described “positive guy,” he is full of warm words for cross-party colleagues like his cover co-star Alex Davies-Jones – they often end up called after each other in the chamber, he says, and get on very well – as well as Sarah Champion, chair of the International Development Committee.

Being highly personable and energetic, with an independent streak and a healthy 12,724 majority, is not a bad combination for any young MP. While he may feel a little embarrassed about the plaudits he receives, Mangnall is certainly one to watch. 

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