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Speaker Series: Lord Barwell

Our spring term event with The Rt Hon the Lord Barwell provided fascinating insight into Britain’s political landscape – past, present and future.

Before becoming MP for Croydon Central in 2010, Gavin Barwell served as the Conservative Party’s Chief Operating Officer. After losing his seat in the 2017 General Election, he served as Chief of Staff to Prime Minister Theresa May during one of the most turbulent periods in British political history; he was made a life peer in 2019.

Lord Barwell met with A Level Politics students before the talk, discussing party politics, international relations, and his experience as a Government Whip. At the main event in Waterlow Hall, in conversation with Mrs Bingham, he explained how having childhood cancer, amid the nurses’ strikes in the 1980s, galvanised an early interest in politics and made him a strong advocate for the NHS.  He attributed his time at university, where he studied Natural Sciences and was President of the Cambridge Union, to developing skills that were helpful for a political career: “scientific literacy”, “debating” and “the ability to listen.”

He spoke with passion about being an MP in Croydon, where he grew up, and with pride in having helped to introduce new drug-driving legislation, after one of his 14-year-old constituents was killed by a driver under the influence of drugs.

Despite declaring that there’s “no such thing as a perfect politician”, his admiration for May’s work ethic, commitment to public service, and passion for her constituency role was apparent. As well as sharing humorous anecdotes from his early days in Number 10,  he reflected on the clear sexism Theresa May encountered as a female Prime Minister. “It’s so important we have more diversity in politics.” 

For nearly half an hour, he deftly fielded probing questions from the audience, sharing his views on depoliticising the NHS; the UK’s role in Ukraine; reforming the House of Lords; and the future challenges of an increasingly complicated and insecure world, where disinformation is rife. Whatever their political leanings, students in the audience were impressed by Barwell’s intellect, warmth and authenticity.

The Speaker Series has been running since 2017 and is generously funded by donors from our community, including the Friends of South Hampstead. Previous Speaker Series guests have included alumna and BBC Europe Editor, Katya Adler; comedian, David Baddiel; endurance sailor, Pip Hare; the philosopher A C Grayling; and Dame Stella Rimington, the former MI5 Director General.  

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