There are times when a man born in a London council flat pinches himself and asks: “Is this really me?”
South Holland and The Deepings MP John Hayes has been at the heart of Government as an adviser to Prime Minister David Cameron, often meets The Queen and, as a Government minister, has steered complex legislation through the Mother of Parliaments.
He’s had a ring-side seat on history for 20 years.
Asked about the most electrifying moments in the House, he mentions two speeches from the Opposition, Robin Cook’s resignation over the Iraq War and Hilary Benn’s impassioned plea for air strikes against Isis in Syria.
John wanted to be an MP from the age of seven and is now celebrating 20 years in Parliament.
It was bitter sweet in 1997, with John taking the seat as Blair won an historic landslide, but being in a small pool of Tory MPs gave John a golden opportunity to shine through sheer hard work.
John says: “Parliament creates the impression of equality and the reality of hierarchy. It’s like being an 11-year-old new boy at school. You get the impression you are on exactly the same footing as the most senior members; gradually it emerges it is like school, there are prefects, 6th formers and then there are new boys.
He was a practised public speaker by the time he took his seat but speaking in the House is another level.
John says: “You would have to be a bit arrogant not to have a touch of nerves but you must not be frightened, that’s the key.”
He held six shadow ministerial posts before becoming a Government minister in 2010 and within three years was a special adviser to Prime Minister, David Cameron.
John said: “To have a chance to be in the inner circle of the prime minister is something rarely granted to anyone, most Government ministers never get that chance.”
His loyalty to Cameron was unswerving but John wanted the UK to leave the EU while his boss was on the other side of the fence, and in 2016 John had to break the news that he would campaign for Brexit.
John said: “I told him I had believed it all my life and I couldn’t change. He wasn’t surprised because he knew where I stood on it.
“The next day, he saw me in the House and said ‘it’s okay by me’ and put his hand on my shoulder on the front bench.”
John was made a CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) in Cameron’s resignation honours list, and received the honour from the Queen watched by his wife, Susan, and sons William and Edward.
John believes his old boss could have stayed in office.
“I wasn’t able to get to him with that advice,” said John. “He must have made that decision with a very tight group of people.”
Some of John’s proudest achievements as a Government minister are now the law of the land.
He said: “I have taken some big bills through the House, the Energy Bill, the Infrastructure Bill and the Investigatory Powers Bill. These are significant pieces of legislation.”
Nicknamed the “snooper’s charter”, the Investigatory Powers Act was necessarily a balancing act between the investigatory powers of the UK’s intelligence agencies to counteract terrorism and serious crime, to keep the public safe, while keeping in mind the rights of the individual.
It was difficult legislation but John navigated it through the House, along the way building very good relationships with Labour front benchers Sir Keir Starmer and Andy Burnham, and earning respect from Prime Minister Theresa May.
John isn’t a member of May’s inner circle but, at the Home Office, they worked well together.
He said: “I think we gained a lot of respect for each other through that process. When the bill got royal assent, she sent me a lovely handwritten letter from Downing Street thanking me for what I had done and that meant a lot to me.”
John is a member of the Privy Council, which has about 600 members and is presided over by the Queen.
He wasn’t on coffee drinking terms with Grantham-born Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, whom he describes as “one of the towering forces of modern political history”.
But there was one memorable encounter in the Palace of Westminster with Maggie, then Baroness Thatcher, who talked to his elder son, William, then aged four or five, in about her life in Lincolnshire.
At home John has helped thousands of people who asked for help.
He said: “It is these differences that you make to individuals and families that probably stand out most in my memory actually and give me the greatest pleasure. I always think my job is to bring influence and power to those who otherwise wouldn’t have it.
• John is determined the Government will deliver on Brexit.
He says: “If there was any prospect of us not doing so I would resign from the Government. We will not let people down.”
Much of John’s strength is rooted in family.
Twenty-four generations of John’s ancestors came from Woolwich, where he was born in a loving, working class home, which he describes as “a magical place to be”.
Home is in Moulton, where again there is a tight-knit, happy family unit and a wider family, John’s constituency office staff and the many members of the local Conservative Party.
After gaining his degree in politics, John trained to be a history teacher – with English as a subsidiary subject – and passed his PGCE (postgraduate certificate in education) with distinction.
He did his teaching practice at a Nottingham comprehensive and was applying for teaching jobs when he was invited to join an IT company, becoming its sales director, just as the computer industry mushroomed.
John twice contested North East Derbyshire before being selected for South Holland.