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Once a physicist: Kevin Hollinrake

Kevin Hollinrake is the Member of Parliament for Thirsk and Malton, Yorkshire, UK.

Once a physicist: Kevin Hollinrake

What sparked your interest in physics? 
I had a fantastic, inspirational physics teacher, and he gave me confidence and the (perhaps deluded) impression that I would be good at physics. I enjoyed it partly because of the subject itself, but partly because I had a very good teacher.

Did you enjoy studying it at university? 
Y
es, but I wasn’t all that successful. The reason I took physics in higher education is that it was the only A-level I passed (I made a complete hash of my A-levels through my own efforts, or rather lack of efforts), so that was what got me onto the course at Sheffield Hallam University. I had some great times with my fellow students, and I passed my first year, but then when I was in my second year I did a placement at Hallamshire Hospital, and I just realized that physics wasn’t my future. I enjoyed it to a certain extent, and it sparked an intellectual interest, but it wasn’t something I could see myself doing for the rest of my career.

What did you do next? 
I decided to leave university and go off into the world of business, so at the early age of 19 I was setting up market stalls to sell various different things: army surplus clothing, ladies’ dresses and, later, electrical goods. After a few years I decided it was probably a little bit too early for me to run my own business, so I took a job as a trainee estate agent. Then, six or seven years later, I started my own estate agency and built a decent business out of it.

Why did you decide to get into politics? 
I always wanted to. My dad, a farmer turned local milkman, was a town councillor, and my mum was a social worker, looking after people who were coming out of prison or young people who’d gone down the wrong path in life, so there was a lot happening in our house that connected with wider society and our involvement in it. My older sister studied politics at the University of Manchester and she would come out with all kinds of different theories, and I remember having these – well, not heated discussions as such, but there were a lot of strongly held views around the dining-room table about how the world should be. I’ve had an interest in politics ever since, and I thought, well, I’ll go off and build something, prove a bit of a success in my life, and hopefully at some point I’ll get the opportunity to go into politics. I was lucky enough for that to happen in 2015 after my home seat came open and I was selected as the Conservative candidate.

What skills are required to succeed as a politician? 
I think the most important skill is communication. It’s a communication business: to be a good constituency MP you’ve got to talk to people so that they understand what you’re doing and see that you’ve got an empathy with the area and the people who live there. I don’t think that means you have to be a fantastic speaker – I wouldn’t regard myself as a fantastic speaker by any stretch of the imagination – but I think you’ve got to be approachable, somebody people can relate to. You’ve also got to be a very hard worker, because it’s a 24/7 existence, and you’ve got to be able to handle lots of different things at the same time. Finally, I think you’ve got to be in it for the right reasons, and to be fair I think most politicians are. What tends to hit the news is the ones who’ve made mistakes, but I think the vast majority of people in the Houses of Parliament are there to try and do a good job.

Has your physics background helped you in your career? 
I absolutely think it has, because there have been many times when having a technical understanding of things has been really important. Also, to break down an issue logically into its component parts, to understand it and really get to the heart of an argument, and finally to articulate that understanding in a very simple way – all of that is classic physics stuff.

What’s the biggest scientific challenge facing the UK at the moment? 
I think it’s getting more people involved in science. We need to explain to young people that the best opportunity for their future, and for their country’s future, is to get involved in some of the exciting things that are happening technically, whether that’s in computer science or 3D printers or energy or anything else. Also, there are so many things that we need to get right – climate change, for example – that require a fantastic breadth of scientific knowledge and the highest quality scientists. So making science an attractive thing to do, and making people feel it’s for them, is really important. There’s a real problem, especially, with getting enough girls and women into science: we all know they can do it, but it’s a question of whether people feel it’s the right fit for them. So science is something I very much encourage my children to get into – not that they always listen to me very much!