Simon Hoare MP selects hisDorset Island Discs

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Sandwiches and Statesmanship: the North Dorset MP’s path from shy child to a voice for pragmatism and local community, via his favourite music

Simon Hoare MP

‘I was incredibly shy. I had quite bad speech defects as a child – I couldn’t say my R’s, my W’s, my th’s – that made me even shyer. It’s quite extraordinary that I now find myself doing a job which is mostly speaking, where an air of confidence is required!’
Simon Hoare MP proffers a sandwich before leaning back comfortably and sliding a sticky bun my way. ‘The cake is all yours, by the way. I’ve given them up for Lent.’
We have met in his Blandford office; Simon squeezing me in for a shared sandwich and a chat between appointments on his one day in Dorset this week. Elected as MP for North Dorset since May 2015, he has served as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Local Government since November 2023.
‘As I fast approach my 55th birthday I look back to little Simon and don’t really recognise myself. People say you become more dogmatic the older you get. But my experience is completely the reverse. I remember having a huge row with my religion teacher – I went to a catholic state school in Cardiff – about the merits of the death penalty. I told her I was so sure of, so proud of the death penalty, I would be the one pulling the lever. Now of course I am totally, totally opposed to it.
‘I’ve gone the other way – I’m much more liberal than teenage me, and far more convinced of the merits of compromise and pragmatism. Politics isn’t black and white, it’s various shades of grey, trying to accommodate competing views.
My wife comes from a very quiet family. When I took her home for the first time I remember her looking absolutely askance at all of us as we sat arguing over Sunday lunch. Not over, you know, whose turn it was to do the washing up –we would arguing vociferously over whatever the political issue of the day was. My father’s side of the family were originally Labour, my mother’s Liberal. When I was 15 or 16, I thought I was going to be a teacher – I loved (and love) history.’
A random selection of unconnected circumstances set Simon on a different path:
‘The school that I went to was very mixed. It was situated in a large, poor, post-war council estate, but also served some quite leafy, middle class suburbs of Cardiff. And I realised that there were life chances which were being missed by certain people. It was the early 80s, and the trade unions were on strike – I remember teaching a few lessons to some of the younger kids, and being accused of being a scab by one of my teachers. I said, “I can’t be a scab (I was very precocious) – I’m not a member of any union”. My grandmother had died during the winter of discontent, and we had a long wait for the gravediggers to come off strike in order to have her grave dug. It all helped to create some of my political attitudes.
‘Then one afternoon I got off the school bus, on a rather damp drizzly afternoon – Cardiff is damp and drizzly most afternoons – and saw this guy I thought I recognised. “I think you’re our MP”. He said yes, and then – and it’s either the best question I ever asked, or the worst – I said, “is there’s anything I can do to help?”
‘He gave me a bundle of increasingly soggy leaflets, and we leapfrogged down the road delivering them while having a conversation over fences and hedges and gates. By the end of it, he’d managed to find a dog-eared Tory party membership application form in his pocket, and I managed to find about £3.70 in change in a trouser pocket and handed that over as my membership fee. And I was in – and I was hooked.’
‘Brideshead Revisited was on the telly at the time, and me being a humble, modest, mild-mannered sort of chap, I set my sights on going to Oxford.
It was totally unexpected at home – I was the first of my family to even go to university. I had an incredibly horrible relationship with my French teacher – he loathed me, but not as much as I loathed him. I deliberately failed my French O level, just to put his stats out – I was terrible, when I look back.
‘One parents evening, he told my parents: “He’s quite bright, but not Oxford. He could maybe try for Aberystwyth.”
‘Instead of depressing me, it fired me up – come hell or high water, I was going to get ot Oxford. And I did! Once there, I got really involved in politics, and also made some good and long lasting friends. Friendships which have continued – many of which are in the House of Commons with me now, representing the full range of opinion, and across the parties. I would argue with Meg Hillier late into the evening – she’s now one of the Labour MPs for Hackney. We were both catholics, and she could never understand how you could be a catholic and Tory and I could never understand how you could be a catholic and a socialist. Everybody has this idea of Oxford being really elitist and snooty, but it’s like anything in life – it’s whatever you make of it, and I totally enjoyed it.’

A Dorset blow in
Simon began a public relations career in the 1990s: he worked at global PR firm Ketchum and the PPS Group before becoming external affairs director at the Environmental Services Association.
He than began his own public relations and lobbying company. He stood as a Tory candidate in Cardiff West in 1997 and again in Cardiff South and Penarth in 2010, after which he was a director at a major PR agency.
‘My wife was from Oxfordshire, so when we married in 2000 we moved there, coming to Dorset in 2015 when I stood for the North Dorset seat.
‘There’s not a drop of Dorset blood in my veins, but we had lived in a rural area not far from the Gloucestershire border. I was brought up on the outskirts of Cardiff – not in the countryside at all. But I feel more at home in the country than anywhere else. And there’s some sort of magnetic pull when I go to London. Much as I enjoy Westminster, when I see that ‘ Welcome to Dorset’ sign near Shaftesbury, I feel myself relaxing. It’s home – I’m back to family and friends, and to the people that I like and admire and respect and work alongside and try to emulate.
‘Most Dorset people are just trying to get on with their lives – they look to officialdom to just not get in the way.
‘They are kindly to a fault, and have common sense written through them like ‘Blackpool’ through a stick of rock. It’s a very rare commodity.’
As a ‘blow in’, Simon needed to work fast to understand his new county – but felt he was already well on the way thanks to his experience in Oxfordshire.
‘I had been a rural district county councillor, and a lot of the issues were very, very similar. Housing – the provision of, siting of and lack of. It was trying to get broadband to the rural areas. The importance of agriculture to the economy, the importance of our village schools, pubs, shops … those were all issues which came with me. And then the best thing to do is ask. When I wasn’t certain about an issue, I’d go and talk to a parish or district councillor, knock on a few doors and say, “Look, I’m hearing about this, can you tell me about it?”
You just have to roll up your sleeves.

Getting out of bed
‘I’m naturally a nosy person. One of the great things about being an MP is that you can bowl into anywhere and ask all sorts of questions. When they would say bugger off to most people, they’ll tell you – how much they’re earning, how much something costs, what their profit margins are, what’s keeping them awake at night, how next door’s cat is digging up their begonias … Politics is very personal, it’s about people, and that’s what motivates me, what gets me out of bed in the morning.
I admit I’m a slightly romantic Tory. There are some – in all parties – who will view their constituency as the launchpad to be a member of parliament.
‘But I think it’s a rather transactional relationship – you’ve got to invest. And you have to feel some heartstring relationship to the area, so that when you’re trying to do your best – and we all try to do our best – you’re doing it for a purpose. Because you should be, I think, romantically attached to your constituency, and emotionally attached to your constituents.
‘And I think if you have that, the days when it’s frustrating, when you’ve been hitting your head against a brick wall, if you can draw on that connection, it’s an extra push: “I haven’t been successful going that way, but I’m not going to give up. We’re going to go around, and try and find another way.”
‘You have to really care about your constituency. If I were to lose North Dorset, it would feel like a bereavement. It would feel like some sort of terrible amputation had taken place. Because this is home. These are not constituents. These are friends. There was a wonderful advert, I think it was a Croft Original sherry – yes, yes, other sherrys are available! – back in the 90s, which said “strangers are the friends you’ve never met before”. And that’s how I feel about my constituents. An elderly couple came to see me not long after I’d first been elected. They had no family, they were frail in health. And they told me they were contemplating suicide. They were terribly proud – they thought it was a total personal failure to ask for help. But they were finding life such a struggle. So I said “Look, can you give me a fortnight? Please?”
‘We made all sorts of calls, went to see so many people. When I spoke to them again, I told them “You’re going to have to lose the pride, you’re going to have to accept some help.” And we got Meals on Wheels, and somebody to come in and tidy up the house and somebody to come in and do the garden. They invited me back for a cup of tea a couple of months afterwards, and they were a transformed couple.
You never know who’s going to come through the door, with what sort of problem, with what sort of life story – and sometimes in the most extreme desperation. If you can just do that little bit of something, to sometimes kick open the door – the potency of those two letters, of ‘MP’ after your name, to get officialdom to listen, instead of “your call is important to us” or “Fred will email when he’s back from lunch” … to me, that’s the best part of the job.

A life in music
And so to Simon Hoare’s music choices, in no particular order, along with how and why they have stuck in his life:

Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer – Cwm Rhondda
It’s a great Welsh hymn. I had it at my wedding, and we had it at the baptisms of our three daughters. It’s a sort of national hymn, if you will, speaking back to my Welsh roots, but it’s also very much a family hymn as well.

Rondeau from Abdelazer
Henry Purcell
This is an incredibly powerful piece of music. Actually, it’s another we had at our wedding – my wife came in to it and my brother, who is a musician, said he thought it very strange that you would start a wedding service in a minor key. I said don’t worry, the recessional is very much of a major key.
So that was fine!
It’s a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful piece of music.
I like Baroque music, there’s a pulse and a beat to it. It is like a heartbeat, it feels like part of your life essence in a way.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
The Sherman Brothers
We bought this on a CD when the girls were quite small, and we played it all summer, particularly when we were on holiday. I have the strongest memories of heading to the beach and dropping down this hill. We had all the windows open, and we had the song on full blast, singing it at the tops of our voices.
It’s just this joyous memory of family time and seaside and fun and relaxation.

Torn
Natalie Imbruglia
I think we have to have a reasonably modern one in the list. Natalie Imbruglia was an actress in Neighbours, and I think she really only had this one hit. My wife always laughs at me, she says I have an eclectic taste in music. But I just like it. There’s a wonderful musicality to it. I think I’d enjoy it on my island.

Eternal Father Strong to Save
William Whiting
I think I have to have this for my late father, who had a very dry sense of humour. We used to holiday a lot in Pembrokeshire, and we’d always go over to Caldey Island on the boat. Every time he’d start singing Eternal Father Strong to Save – it’s the great Naval hymn. He’d never been in the Navy, he’d been in the army, but that didn’t matter. And I would sort of sit there: “Dad, please, don’t, it’s really embarrassing,” and all the rest of it. But I cannot hear that hymn without thinking of him in a boat. And if I ever take the girls out, even on a little boat, I must confess I do precisely the same thing in homage to him. And also because it amuses me to embarrass my children.

Umbrella
Rhianna
This came out during a particularly wet weather period so there was an ironic humour to it. My daughters and I play it in the car on the school run and sing along with some considerable verve. It’s become a sort of family anthem – a powerful melody.
Given recent weather we’ve been playing it a lot!

Bach’s Goldberg Variations
It’s a sublime piece of music which, oddly, was made even more sublime when it was used in one of the really violent scenes in Silence of the Lambs. The juxtaposition of musical heaven with human horror was a fantastic piece of cinematic inspiration. It’s a glorious piece of music and so typical of Bach’s wit and cleverness in composition. There is a timelessness to it.

Queen of the Night aria from The Magic Flute – Mozart
This wonderful aria … again, it’s the musicality of Mozart. For the time this was as groundbreaking as punk was in the 70s. But I think his musicality is even bettered, if you will, by the range of the sopranos voice. There’s such a power to it, it is incredible.
One of the joys of being a government minister is that occasionally you’ll get access to a car from the government car service. And if possible I get Archie, one of the department’s drivers. He’s a lovely, lovely man, he’s been driving government ministers around for 30 years. He’s a devotee of Classic FM, and we have a continuous game of Name That Tune. But whenever this aria comes on I make him turn the volume up to the absolute top. Obviously I try and sing along – not particularly well. We have a great time.

The Book
I’m going to take Jude the Obscure with me. Obviously Hardy is one of our premier English writers, and a figurehead for Dorset – and I suppose that feels a bit of a cliché choice.
But I think of all of Hardy’s writing – and I love all of his writing – I think it’s Jude that speaks most to the human condition. I usually end up crying at least four times. You’ve got this poor guy, with a perpetual desire to improve and do better. He was a classic meritocratic Tory in a way. He said “Look, it doesn’t really matter I’ve been born into poverty in a little village in Dorset. I’m going to achieve something.”
He’s laughed at when he wants to go to university, and he makes his way there anyway. He gets duped into thinking he’s fathered a child, and then there’s that terrible scene when the kids hang themselves in that grotty little room because the eldest son has overheard the parents say they can’t afford to feed the children and he thinks he’s doing the best job of all by killing his siblings and then himself.
It’s life. It’s hope. It’s despair. There’s aspiration, there’s frustration. I think it’s the most acute social commentary of the time, but it’s still so relevant today. I mean, I say it so often I end up boring myself about the importance of education. All the doors that I have been able to open in life, whether that was going to university, setting up a business, standing for parliament, serving in parliament, being a minister, chairing a select committee … whatever it may be, ALL of those doors were opened by the keys of education.
You could write Jude the obscure today, and I don’t think it would feel an ancient novel.

Luxury
I can’t take my family, can I?
In that case, can I take some seeds? I’m a keen gardener, it’s something that ties me to my grandfather, my parents … and my children like gardening, whether they like it or not.
DIY, as far as I’m concerned is ‘Don’t Involve Yourself’ – I couldn’t build myself a useful shack or a canoe to escape or anything. So I’m stuck on this island.
But I can grow plants. I don’t really need to know what the plants are, just some for decoration and some to eat.
But I would like it on record that you’re being very cruel not to let me take my wife and children with me.

And if you can only save one disc from a freak tidal wave?
I think I’m going to take Guide Me, Oh Thou Great Redeemer. This hymn was at my wedding, the baptism of my three children, my father’s funeral … listening to it would pull all my emotional family threads together in one piece of music.

Click to listen to Simon’s playlist on YouTube

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