“There’s a theory that you ought to choose your constituency on some deeply rational and systematic basis,” he says. “But actually, it was memories of happy times spent in Dorset that largely influenced me to apply. And in those early years it was always touch and go whether I’d be re-elected. There was a very strong Liberal show and little Labour to dilute the vote.”
As a child, many of Sir Oliver’s holidays were spent on Purbeck, while his wife, Isabel (currently the Legal Director of the Ministery of Defence) spent equally happy times in Lyme Regis. The couple married in 1984 and, together with their two children, lived for their first five years in Dorset in a small cottage in Kingcombe.
“I certainly feel that after 22 years I’ve mixed my blood with the place and we’re here to stay,” he tells me. “But it’s a love affair rather than an origin. Shortly after we arrived, I met a lady with whom I found myself slightly lost for conversation. So I asked how long she’d been in Dorset, she drew herself up to her full height, and answered, ‘700 years’.”
Sir Oliver retired from being an MP in 2019 and the emotional cost of pitting himself against much of his party through his Letwin Amendment is obviously still deeply felt. “The whole year was just very difficult and unfortunate,” he admits. “I loved Parliament. At its best it’s a good place to talk things through seriously, and it’s generally a courteous and sensible place. When a really profound dispute occurs it’s like a civil war, and finding yourself in opposition to people you’ve been working with for years and years is very difficult.”
He’s also aware of the real anger felt within his West Dorset constituency. “It was divided on Brexit, and also whether we should leave without a transitional deal. What was particularly difficult was that those who were angriest were some of those who’d been most supportive. But if you’re in Parliament and something is happening that you think is going to be really bad for your country, you have a duty to try and stop it.”
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