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Where Are They Now? Nick Palmer

Nick Palmer (Illustration by Tracy Worrall)

3 min read

Labour MP for Broxtowe, 1997 – 2010

Nick Palmer was an IT manager in Switzerland when he was first selected as a parliamentary candidate ahead of the 1997 election. “I thought, as I was 46, if I'm going to do it, I better get on with it. So I applied all over the place.”

Palmer eventually struck gold after ringing veteran Labour MP Dennis Skinner’s sister, secretary of the Broxtowe local party. “Where is Broxtowe?” he asked her. “That’s a good start, duck,” she replied. “We’re west of Nottingham.” London-born and educated in international schools across Europe, he’d never stepped foot in the Midlands city but put in an application anyway – and was successful.

“If I could be an MP again, I would be, but that’s not very practical”

He flew in from the Swiss city of Basel every weekend to campaign, and moved into the constituency when he won it. “I was there 13 years, and by the end of it I really felt that I'd grown roots in Broxtowe and Nottingham in a way I hadn't anywhere else. To some extent I still think of it as home.”

Palmer became known for his dedication to local issues. He was loyal, and also ambitious, thuogh his goals were swiftly curbed. “Quite early on, the chief whip said to me: ‘We don't see you as a natural front bencher... We think you're more of a details person suited to select committees’,” Palmer recalls. “Oh, that's disappointing, I want to be prime minister,” he thought at the time. “But she was probably right,” he says now.

He never held ministerial office, instead serving as a parliamentary private secretary and a member of several committees, which he enjoyed hugely. Does he have any regrets? “I was so surprised to get elected, and so excited, that I just wanted to do everything,” he says. “The way to make progress is to specialise and become the only MP who really understands the issue.”

And Palmer did make progress, crafting influential reports and securing wins, from opposing open-cast mines to making bicycle bells compulsory. When then-chancellor Gordon Brown was being pressured to give free TV licences to all pensioners, but feared the cost was too high, Palmer stepped in with a suggestion, stopping him as they passed in a corridor. “Why don't we split the difference and make it only for the over-75s?” “Hmm,” Brown responded thoughtfully. “A few weeks later, that's what he did. Did I influence it? Who knows? I claimed I did, and perhaps I did,” Palmer says with a smile.

The MP tried and failed to win back his seat in 2015, with successor Anna Soubry increasing her majority. Nonetheless, he is still involved in the Labour Party, recently celebrating 50 years as a member and receiving an award from the party – “for endurance,” he suggests.

The ex-MP is not only a councillor and Labour group leader in Godalming, Surrey, where he now lives, but even does the thankless voluntary job of chairing his local party. “I've always thought it’s a noble cause and wanted to help in any way that I can. If I could be an MP again, I would be, but that’s not very practical.”

His approach to Labour politics is distinctly non-factional: he generally voted with the whip under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, yet backed Jeremy Corbyn for the leadership in 2015; he thinks the Iraq war was a mistake, though doesn’t believe it should overshadow New Labour’s achievements. He admires idealism and prefers “serious” politicians to “the shouty kind”.

While Palmer is still political, he has time for other pursuits. As head of Compassion in World Farming UK, he continues his concern for animal welfare; outside of the day job, he still goes to conventions to feed his board and video game habit. “It's nice if your life isn't all about politics.”

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