Lord Patten’s entry on Wikipedia reads like a history of pivotal political moments of the last 30 years. Starting out as a researcher for the Conservative party before being promoted to the director of the Conservative Research Department, Lord Patten’s meteoric rise through the political hierarchy began in the same sort of role as some of the interns have held this year.
Lord Patten has come a long way since then. Between 1979 - 1992 he was the MP for Bath, serving as Minister for Overseas Development from 1986 - 1989. He was then appointed to the Cabinet as Secretary f State for the Environment and became responsible for the unpopular Community Charge (aka Poll Tax).
Under John Major Lord Patten was made Chairman of the Conservative Party before being asked to fulfill the role of Governor of Hong Kong, during which time he oversaw the return of the island to China from the British Government.
|Stephen, Lord Patten, Dom, Marie, Lucy, Daniel and Matthew|
We met with Lord Patten on a humid Tuesday afternoon in his office in No 1 Millbank, which also gave us the opportunity to see where Matthew has been hiding all year (a room with a solitary desk, computer and TV, it seemed about right).
Fresh from discussing the quality and impartiality of BBC News with their main political correspondent, Nick Robinson, in his latest incarnation as Commissioner of the BBC Trust Lord Petten seemed somewhat weighed down by the many things that must be on his mind.
Nonetheless he was interested to learn about the Internship scheme and where each of us had come from, what we had been up to this year and where we were going next.
We then had the opportunity to ask him about his own experiences as a Catholic in public life. He was honest and open with us but said that, with very few exceptions, he had never found being a Catholic in parliament problematic or suffered because of prejudices. He had, however, found himself in some interesting situations such as advising the Prime Minister on appointing a new Archbishop of Canterbury in 1991.
One of the first things he did after becoming Chancellor of Oxford University was to commission a plaque commemorating Oxford alumni throughout the ages who had died for their faith. This was to be put up in St Mary’s church in Oxford, an Anglican church, despite commemorating Christian martyrs from any denomination.
Of his time in Hong Kong, Lord Patten said he had a very positive experience of the Catholic Church. When asked about how far the conversation on Climate Change has come since he was Secretary of State for the Environment in the late 80’s and on the topic of the continued viability of the Euro, he was far more sceptical.
This scepticism, he said, was a healthy attribute of any journalist especially those dealing with political stories and scenarios. This was in response to the line from the new Director General of the BBC about journalists waking up in the morning and making the government’s life hell. Lord Patten didn’t dismiss that notion outright.
He encourages us to pursue life in public service as he has found it to be so worthwhile and rewarding himself.