New Conservative chairman Brandon Lewis’ ‘honour’ at landing top job
PUBLISHED: 00:00 13 January 2018
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Great Yarmouth MP Brandon Lewis is now one of the most powerful people in the Conservative Party.
And he considers his elevation from grassroots activist to chairman as “an honour I can’t really describe”.
Mr Lewis overturned a Labour majority of 3,055 to triumph in Great Yarmouth in 2010. In the following two general elections he added more votes and now commands an impressive 7,973 cushion over his nearest rival.
But perhaps the most impressive element of his political story is the way he has landed on every rung of the ladder – from knocking on doors and delivering leaflets, to becoming a councillor and finally entering parliament. He knows the Tories from the ground up.
Brandon Kenneth Lewis was born in 1971 in Harold Wood, just inside the M25, and he still speaks with a distinctive east London drawl similar to folk singer and left-wing agitator Billy Bragg. But that is where the similarities abruptly end.
Mr Lewis went to independent Forest School before studying economics at the University of Buckingham. He then went on to study law at King’s College London before being called to the bar by the Inner Temple.
But by his mid-20s his focus had turned to politics and in 1998 he won his first election gaining a seat on Brentwood Borough Council. Within four years, at the tender age of just 31, Mr Lewis was the leader of the Conservative Group and just two years later he was the leader of the council.
But his route to the hallowed green benches of the House of Commons was not quite as gilded. In 2001 he fought and lost in the constituency of Sherwood.
His effort impressed the Tory top brass though, and in 2006 he was selected to stand in Great Yarmouth. He spent the next four years building a profile in the area and getting to know the intricacies of his new patch. As the 2010 result proved, his hard work paid off.
His promotion to chairman has long been whispered in Westminster. And a glimpse at some of the people that have preceded him in the role prove how highly rated he is by Number 10: Cecil Parkinson, John Gummer, Sir Norman Fowler, David Davis and even current prime minister Theresa May.
And alongside the chairmanship Mr Lewis also becomes minister without portfolio which will enable him to attend cabinet meetings.
But what exactly does his new the role entail?
“Having been a branch officer and then a branch chairman this is a phenomenal honour,” Mr Lewis said. “The chairman makes sure the structure is there so we can campaign properly on the traditional side of things as well as looking at the modern ways of doing things – social media for example.
“My job now is how we continue to build the party. At last year’s election we did not get as many seats as we would have liked but we did win more than 42% of the votes – that is the highest total for a very long time. We need to build on that. We need to make sure we are appealing to people by making it clear that we are doing the right things for the country.
“We have a fantastic voluntary party and a huge range of people who knock on doors and spread our message and I want to expand that.”
And Mr Lewis believes the key to winning future elections is young people – a demographic the Tories have long struggled to capture.
“Young people are a big focus,” he added. “You can’t deny the fact that we have to do better to appeal to younger people. I think one of the key things to reach those voters is creating an economy with exciting opportunities for everybody and for them particularly.”
Another element of Mr Lewis’ role will be to rally support for his embattled leader.
Is he planning for Mrs May to fight the next election? “She will have a really strong platform to stand on. Definitely.”
The success of Mrs May’s Conservatives is largely in Mr Lewis’ hands. He will be hoping the next general election is some time away yet – but the current political climate means it could happen at any time. Because of this he faces the difficult challenge of having to be ready to mobilise the troops at short notice even though a lot of work needs to be done behind then scenes to improve on the 2017 campaign.
This is a not only a huge role for Mr Lewis to take on – but a fabulous opportunity for him to become a fixture on the Conservative front bench for years to come.