Where Are They Now? Mark Prisk
Mark Prisk (Credit: Tracy Worrall)
The simple answer to why Mark Prisk decided to get into politics, he says, is James Bond.
“In my teenage years I was fascinated by the Ian Fleming books of East and West… and of the West and the Soviet Union. Those spy novels sparked an interest in the wider world.”
But growing up in the 1970s – a decade famed for its three-day week and power strikes – was, he says, a more obvious catalyst. “The lights would be switched off about eight o’clock at night. You were very aware that there was a bigger world out there,” he says. “My actual desire to go into Parliament was really driven by the belief that you can either stand on the side-lines, and forever comment, or you get on the pitch and play.”
Mark Hoban and I were sacked on the same day so we had a very good lunch!
Prisk first ran as Newham North West’s Conservative candidate in 1992. He ran again for Wansdyke in 1997 – a year in which even “the Dalai Lama wouldn’t have won a seat with the majority [Labour] had”. He was finally elected as Hertford and Stortford’s MP in 2001.
How were his first few weeks in Parliament?
“It can go to your head,” he says, “because you arrive very buoyed up and the policeman salutes and says, ‘nice to see you, Mr Prisk’.”
However, Prisk says the run up to the 2001 Conservative Party leadership election taught him that it takes time to make genuine friendships in Westminster. “As new boys and girls, we were suddenly very popular with some of the old timers, because they were scouting to see who might vote for their candidate,” he says.
But the day after the leadership election, “some of those old lags who I thought were being very nice and very chummy, suddenly didn’t catch my eye when walking past,” he says. “I realised then that a lot of the relationships here can be transactional.”
When the Conservatives came to power in 2010, Prisk was made minister of state for business and enterprise, where he felt proud to have made reforms to the private rented sector, supported homelessness charities and helped the affordable housing sector. He was made minister of state for housing and local government in 2012, helping establish “a good foundation” for local enterprise partnerships and enterprise zones.
However, being in coalition was a challenge. He mentions how the “quad” – consisting of former prime minister David Cameron, chancellor George Osborne, chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg – would resolve problems between themselves without telling more junior ministers. “It was not always clear where policy lay,” he says.
Despite feeling like he had more to give, Prisk “got chopped” from the front bench in 2013. “At the time you feel rejected; you feel a bit angry and sore. But [then employment minister] Mark Hoban and I were both sacked on the same day from different roles – so we had a very good lunch!”
Prisk found himself at a crossroads in 2019: with one road leading to a new career and the other rooting him in Westminster. Eventually, the lure of a new adventure led him to Henley Business School, where he trained to become a non-exec director, strategic adviser and executive coach.
While he misses “the buzz” of a major event in Parliament, he returns to the estate every Monday to sing in Parliament’s choir. “The opportunity to continue that link with the Parliament choir is lovely,” he says, adding, “there are not many people who have stood and sung with the then-Black Rod [David Leakey] on one side and former Clerk of the House [Robert Rogers] on the other!”
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