Interview with The House Magazine

I was born in Cambridge in 1963. My father worked for Shell, as did my late grandfather who was managing director of Shell Oil, president of the Royal Institute of Chemistry and a founder of Bath University. He was a serious industrialist.

They were not political people, but funnily enough I remember my grandfather, when he retired in the 1970s, declaring that the country was finished economically. Inflation was rampant, the unions had taken control and, like a lot of people in business, he despaired of the future of Britain.

He also said that he was not at all sure about the new leader of the opposition, one Margaret Thatcher. Fortunately he lived long enough to be able to see that she was a phenomenon, and he became a great supporter.

Politics has always interested me and I just about remember asking my father about one of the 1974 elections. Despite that I didn't get actively involved in politics at university, although my first job was in the Conservative Research Department. The late Lord Beloff interviewed me for the job and asked what I understood of the medium-term financial strategy. I had to reply: "Lord Beloff, I'm very sorry but I don't know what the medium-term financial strategy is." He said: "Don't worry, nor does anybody else." Fortunately he was so amused by his own joke that he gave me the position, and my life in politics started.

In the run-up to the 1987 election we worked on a couple of by-elections. We held West Derbyshire by something like 100 votes and on the same day saw a huge Conservative majority overturned in Ryedale. Mrs Thatcher came to Conservative Central Office in Smith Square to steady the ship and give an impromptu speech. I vividly remember her saying not to worry about winning the election because she was sure we would win it, and probably the one after that too.

She said her mission was to destroy socialism so that Labour was replaced with a party that fundamentally believed in the same essential things as we did, rather like the Republicans and the Democrats in the United States. Given the way things have turned out, it was an extraordinarily prescient speech.

After the Conservative Research Department, I worked briefly for a public affairs company before working for myself and for the British Field Sports Society. It got me heavily involved in forming the Countryside Movement which became the Countryside Alliance. Farming has less influence than it used to because the industry employs so many fewer people than it did. However, it remains incredibly important - not just in maintaining the landscape, but also as a primary industry. It's very important that we as a country do not lose our links with the land. It is important for the environment, it is important for food security, and I sense there is a growing interest in local production. It is very positive.

Having stood unsuccessfully in 1997 in Berwick-upon-Tweed, I was then asked to become chairman of a fledgling organisation called Business for Sterling which was formed by a group of businessmen who opposed Britain joining the single currency. From that I launched the ‘No' campaign, which is in some senses the successor to organisations like Vote No, Open Europe and I Want a Referendum. After that I co-founded the Reform think-tank with Andrew Haldenby.

On Europe the settled view in the Conservative Party now, with very few exceptions, is one of scepticism about the euro and of allowing more powers to be transferred to the European Union.

After my election in 2005, I got involved in David Davis' leadership campaign. He's a very good friend. David Cameron's leadership has been a huge success and I think the evidence for that is clear in the opinion polls. One of the things that struck me was that as soon as he became leader he invited everybody who had been working on the other campaigns to his party. He stood up and said that this was no longer about this team or the other, but about our team, and that we would work together.

That ecumenical note of unity is reflected in the team he has formed and the spirit in the party. We are not a party that is split. You now see the splits and the internal criticism happening within the Labour Party and the Labour government - it is clearly very damaging to them.

It is not just a question of Labour being in power for too long. We have a prime minister who doesn't know what he wants to do; we don't know what Gordon Brown stands for. His management of the economy and his accumulation of debt and the way he has left the economy more vulnerable to the challenges we now face because of the downturn is also damaging him.

David appointed me as shadow policing minister and subsequently shadow justice secretary. Obviously crime is always going to be an important issue, particularly when violent crime is rising. It has doubled under Labour. These issues have a huge salience and what is significant is that it is the Conservatives who have been leading the debate on these issues.

We are the ones who have been talking about locally accountable policing, about reducing red tape for police officers; we have been the ones advancing the radical ideas for directly elected police commissioners and on prison reform.

Just as we have been in the vanguard in relation to welfare reform and schools reform, we are now in the vanguard of policing and prison reform.

Not only is the government seen as incompetent and its record is being questioned, but it also seems to be without direction or purpose. By contrast, the Conservative Party is advancing, has positive solutions and is showing we have the ideas and energy to make public services better.

When I have the time I particularly enjoy going to the theatre, the cinema and reading, so I guess you would say I am into the arts. At heart I'm a country boy and participate in country sports - so far as it is possible to do so now.

I'm privileged to represent a South Downs constituency and live in Arundel, which the Telegraph just said was the best town in the UK. I feel very lucky.

Christopher N Howarth