SPEAKING TO STEVE, by Tom Hulme
Our Deputy Comms Lead Tom Hulme sat down with Steve Baker MP to talk everything from the RAF, financial crisis, being a rebel and denationalising money.
Hi Steve, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us!
Tell me a bit about where you grew up, did you enjoy your childhood on the Cornish coast? Dare we ask whether you do cream first or jam first?
I had a great childhood in Cornwall, often sailing or fishing from small boats in my teens. I was a quiet and bookish child who did well academically but terribly at ball sports, hence my tendency to adventurous pursuits.
I do cream first, which is the Devon way, and may I be forgiven!
You have a degree Aerospace Engineering. Was this an interest of yours from a young age and did you think it would end up being your career?
When I studied Aerospace Systems Engineering at Southampton as an RAF University Cadet, I certainly thought I would have a lifelong RAF career. Alas, while I wanted to do aerosystems, weapons, trials and intelligence work, the RAF needed an engineering authority for the Adour gas turbine fitted to Jaguar, Hawk and Red Arrows Hawk.
I did it for a year before concluding if I was to spend my working life in a large open plan office, I would be better off going into the dot-com boom. It promptly ended while I was doing my MSc in computer science at Oxford, prompting me to discover the monetary theory of the trade cycle.
In 1989 you joined the Royal Air Force as an Engineering Officer, serving for a decade and receiving a number of promotions. Tell me a bit about your experiences in the armed forces.
My first tour was at RAF Leeming in North Yorkshire where I met my wife, Beth. I commanded Mechanical Components Flight, which included the photography and visiting aircraft sections, as well as maintenance of Tornado fuel tanks, wheels, oxygen, canopies, structures and hydraulic components. It was fascinating, not least when I was responsible for aircraft emergencies on the ground for not only RAF but international visitors.
I went on to serve as an engineer officer with the Jaguar tactical reconnaissance unit 41(Fighter) Squadron, with typically 9-12 aircraft and about 120 people. We travelled internationally, notably to north Norway, the middle east and Italy to support air operations over the former Yugoslavia. It was a tremendous period of service which I enjoyed immensely.
Serving as the Engineering Authority for Adour was a privilege and I enjoyed it but ultimately, I did not have the enthusiasm for aero engines necessary to sustain a lifelong career, so I moved on.
A few years later you joined Lehman Brothers as their Head of Global Financing and Asset Service Platforms until 2008. What was it like to work in banking while the financial crisis was brewing and what are your memories of the collapse of the firm?
Creating teams to build large, high value software systems and working on their requirements and architecture was a fascinating challenge amid complex legacy systems. The opportunities to save tens of millions of dollars were considerable but that was not of course enough to save the firm.
Observing record quarter after record quarter followed by collapse prompted me to return to the monetary theory of the trade cycle and to co-found The Cobden Centre to promote "social progress through honest money, free trade and peace". I am now not formally involved but I have given an extended interview for their documentary to come out later this year.
Despite all my campaigning on Brexit, Covid lockdowns and restrictions and now Net Zero, I still believe the problems of our monetary system are the biggest issue we face, though that is not yet readily apparent to everyone, or perhaps even to the central banks. In short, I expect a global crisis worse than 2007-8 because a failure caused fundamentally by excessive credit expansion has been papered over with yet more credit expansion and now quantitative easing. The distortions that will have been sown seem to me likely to unwind catastrophically.
In October 2009 you were selected as the Conservative candidate for Wycombe, the first seat you stood for selection in. Why did you decide to try and break into elected politics and when did you first get involved with the Conservative Party and, more importantly, why?
I was in favour of a federal Europe and even the Euro until I read the Constitution for Europe. "But at least I will be able to vote against it in a referendum," thought. Then the same substance was rammed through as the Lisbon Treaty positively against the expressed wishes of European electors and I wondered what on earth they thought they were doing.
After reading into the Project, I decided I could emigrate, moan or stand. With nowhere suitable to go and no desire to engage in the futility of despair, I decided to try to get into Parliament and obtain a referendum to either reject or establish the legitimacy of these new arrangements.
The rest is literally history.
Just 7 months later you were elected as the Member of Parliament for Wycombe, holding the seat for the Conservatives with an increased majority. Do you remember the moment you were told you’d won?
I don't especially, other than that the count was in the old sports centre.
One of the secrets of Parliamentary life is that the first time one is re-elected to Parliament is a better feeling than one's first election because by that time you have lived through various crises and torrents of furious email: to then win is an education.
Tell me a bit about your constituency, what’s it like to live and work in Wycombe and what should people see when they visit?
Wycombe is extremely diverse in every sense. People should visit the town centre, the Rye and West Wycombe, where I am blessed to live.
In recent years the Conservative majority in Wycombe has been on a downwards trend. Why do you think this might be and how do you plan to make sure the seat stays blue?
If people look at the number of votes cast in each election since 2001, clear demographic trends emerge. My team and I have never taken the electors of Wycombe for granted and that will continue.
You gained an early reputation as a rebellious member of the 2010 intake; did you always plan to be a defiant MP or did it happen somewhat by accident? Do you remember your first big rebellion?
I always planned to obtain a referendum on the European Union and to oppose the advance of the project; that implied rebellions I’m afraid. I have not enjoyed them and I have never been a scattergun rebel.
It must be admitted I suppose that the scale of my rebellions has been notable.
You were a Minister in the Department for Exiting the European Union until you sensationally resigned alongside David Davis due to concerns about the Chequers agreement. Which of your memories from your time in government do you think best summarise the political atmosphere of that period?
I doubt anything will compare to the triumph of passing the European Union (Withdrawal) Act in working shape despite being in minority with a resistant Parliament. It was hard work which offers lessons in party management to governments with larger working majorities.
Chairing Government committees successfully and repeatedly to a conclusion on time as a Parliamentary Under Secretary when there were Cabinet members in attendance was a privilege I would like to repeat, though not as a PUSS.
In the days following Boris Johnson’s appointment as Prime Minister you turned down another ministerial job at DExEU. What led you to that decision and would you do the same thing again?
I turned it down for the reasons I gave at the time:
You’ve mentioned in the past that you’re a born-again evangelical Christian. Tell me about your journey to your faith and the role it plays in your life as a person and a politician.
I generally describe myself as a mere Christian but all Christians are regarded as born again and we are all supposed to be evangelical. I talk about my faith on demand but I am in politics not the priesthood. No policy should be justified on the grounds of faith but always on evidence and reason.
You’ve been a long term supporter of the Austrian School of Economics and were a founder member of the Cobden Centre. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, could you explain a bit about the core tenets of the Austrian School and how they can be applied to modern Britain?
Austrian School economics accepts the world as it is. That is, it begins with the acting individual in society. The importance of production time and the impossibility of resolving certain problems of knowledge are central.
I recommend a primer like this one, to which I contributed the foreword:
Your position on things like Covid regulations have resulted in you being branded a ‘libertarian’. Do you feel that’s an accurate adjective and do you think there’s a big libertarian caucus in the Conservative Party?
Philosophically, I am a Christian Libertarian, a term bound to alienate almost everyone. Practically, I am a free-market Conservative who must compromise every day. There is not a libertarian caucus in the Party.
You surprised some people last year during the European Championships when you said you’d ‘take the knee’ in the same way some footballers had done. Could you explain a bit more about your position on that and why you think some Conservatives were so dismissive of the act?
Please refer to what I have said and written, eg:
Back in 2013 you voted against equal marriage but I think I’m right in saying that your motivation was more to do with the state’s role in marriage rather than the specifics of gay people getting married? Could you explain a bit more about why you voted the way you did and if you’d do the same thing again?
I am relaxed about same-sex marriage and I have two married same-sex couples as friends. I was proud and humbled to be invited to one couple's wedding recently, which seemed to me a major gesture of forgiveness and reconciliation. The other couple took my wife and me to Vegas some years ago, which was hilarious!
However, many people in Wycombe are not relaxed in the same way. The episode was undoubtedly the most difficult and painful in my entire parliamentary career, without exception, because so many issues of identity, love and faith were engaged. We seem to have forgotten that to be tolerant is to agree to disagree, not to converge on one point of view. We only tolerate that with which we disagree. We ought to rediscover that idea.
That is why I wanted to denationalise marriage. Today when I am lobbied over humanist marriage, I remain convinced it would have been the better way.
The same question will not be put again, however. In hindsight, it would have been better politically to vote in favour. People will note that I did vote for various measures to make the Act work successfully.
In 2017 you attended Wycombe Pride, the first ever Pride event in your constituency. What made you want to attend and was it a turning point in your understanding of our community? We hope you got fully into the spirit and danced with a drag queen or two!
I attended because I was invited by gay friends and I was glad to accept. It was not really a turning point because I was relaxed about the community already. I enjoyed it but I was not popular and I am not a big dancer. Let a thousand flowers bloom!
For those of our members who may not be aware, at the start of each parliamentary session, 20 backbench MPs are selected by lottery to put forward a piece of legislation of their choice, known as a Private Member’s Bill. If you were picked out first in the next ballot for PMBs, what would you put forward?
I never apply in the ballot for various reasons, but if I did and I came out first I would denationalise money.
You’ve now been in the Commons for nearly 12 years. What’s been your proudest moment and what would you like to achieve before you leave?
I am proudest of my conciliatory speech on the occasion of our leaving the EU, for which I won the Civility in Politics award for Politician of the Year, jointly with Ken Clarke.
The speech may be found here:
Finally and most importantly, what’s your favourite biscuit?
Bourbon creams, of course.