Barrister and writer Tim Kevan talks to three political candidates about anything other than politics
Mention MPs’ passions and you might find an eyebrow being raised, particularly when you add that Crumpet is involved. All the more so when it comes to the former constituency of ex-Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe. But it’s often easy to forget the human side of an election battle and with this in mind I tracked down three of the general election candidates for North Devon.
Nick Harvey MP - Liberal Democrats
I first got the idea for the article when I saw a picture of sitting MP Nick Harvey with his six year old golden retriever Crumpet outside the Houses of Parliament. They’d just won third prize in the Westminster Dog of the Year competition and Nick’s comment was, “Crumpet and I are very pleased to be on the podium, but used to coming third in Westminster!” I mean, what’s not to like? Talking to Nick, it’s clear that Crumpet is an integral part of his family and not only keeps his wife Kate company during his four days a week away in Westminster but has also grown up alongside his two young children.
With such a busy life, it is a particular pleasure for Nick to get out into the beautiful North Devon countryside with Crumpet and the rest of the family. His favourite place is Instow which is only three miles from his home. Further afield, he enjoys Baggy Point and the area which runs from Lynton via Woody Bay over to Combe Martin with its breath-taking scenery of hills, cliffs and the ocean beyond. Then there are two other particular interests. The first is football and specifically Southampton who whilst not the club they were in the days of the great Lawrie McMenemy still keep him optimistic of great things to come for the future (which reminded me of the Lib Dems!) Then, best of all, there is a subject close to the heart of many of us in North Devon: beer. As vice-chairman of the all party group on beer he’s clearly living the dream and names Exmoor Gold as his favourite light ale and for a Winter’s evening a thicker, browner ale which is my own personal favourite, the legendary Doom Bar, named after the hazardous sand bank at the estuary of the river Camel in Cornwall.
Philip Milton – Conservatives
Philip Milton is a man who doesn’t need an introduction to many people in North Devon. Whether it’s through his financial advisory business, Doves Christian Bookshop, the Custom House Restaurant or the Trimstone Hotel. Then again, you might have known him whilst he was growing up in Georgeham or maybe even you saw him playing the Dame in the Croyde pantomime. The point is not only that he is North Devon through and through but also that he is a man whose interests are many and varied. But with all this going on there is also a very settled core based around his Christian faith, his wife Helen and their four children and a passionate love of the countryside.
His faith was inspired by Rev Dave Rudman, the former vicar of Georgeham who set up the Christian outdoor centre of St. George’s House. These days Philip is an active member of Croyde Baptist Church where he is a youth leader and also a lay preacher. He also has a deep fascination with nature. One particular interest within that is a specialist knowledge of moths and he can name numerous varieties you might find around the area. He also has a moth trap which on a reasonably warm night can collect over 120 moths. Though none of these compare to the Convolvulos Hawk Moth which once came to his office window in Georgeham which he describes as like a mouse. Philip also has a strong sense of history and connection with the past and has a specific interest in North Devon postal history, having over the years collected an extensive range of letters dating back as far as the late seventeenth century. It has to be said, with all that he does, Philip is the epitome of that saying that ‘If you need something doing, ask a busy man.’
Mark Cann - Labour
Mark Cann is an altogether different candidate again. He is the uncle of well-known local singer Amy Newton and he has retired to Braunton after a career teaching politics and government at The Blue School in Wells to live with Val who he first met in 1991. He’s been a political activist since his student days and it was his involvement with CND in the early 1980s which led to an association which in many ways would help to transform the live music scene throughout the country. Simply put, back in 1981, he met up with a farmer called Michael Eavis with whom he teamed up and helped to organize that year's Glastonbury Music Festival for the benefit of CND and by 1983 he was the production manager for the main stage. Since then, as the festival has grown into a global brand so has Mark’s role. So much so that by the 1990s Michael Eavis described him as his deputy although Mark is always keen to emphasise the work of others. It’s certainly led to some interesting times hanging out with the likes of Lou Reed, Peter Gabriel, the Happy Mondays and Robbie Williams though it’s the money raised for charities such as Oxfam, Greenpeace and Water Aid which has really satisfied him, something which can only be enhanced with the 40th anniversary festival this year and U2 headlining.
Beyond Glastonbury, Mark is a supporter of Crystal Palace, goes scuba diving most years and is also a regular in the choir every Tuesday at the White Lion in Braunton. Oh, and don’t let me forget, Mark likes his golf and is a proud member of Saunton Golf Club which he describes as the “most beautiful course in the world”. He also says that it is the best course not to have held the British Open and would love to see that happen some time.
So, with the reputation of politicians at an all time low, it’s refreshing to meet candidates with such a colourful and varied hinterland as these.
Sadly, when I conducted the interview with Nick Harvey, Crumpet was extremely ill and my thoughts and prayers go out to him and his family in the hope that Crumpet will recover.
Tim Kevan is the author of the comic novel ‘BabyBarista and the Art of War’ (Bloomsbury) and the co-author of ‘Why Lawyers Should Surf’ (with Dr Michelle Tempest). http://www.timkevan.com/.