The British tabloids had a story on their hands when, a few months ago, a Member of Parliament (MP) arrived at Westminster limping. What happened? "I was boxing," says Jonathan Djanogly who represents the Huntingdon constituency (centrally located in the United Kingdom). "I was boxing with another MP, tripped and sprained my calf muscle. Have you ever seen anyone being knocked out in the calf!?" While only two newspapers report on Mr. Djanogly's district, the London press had the fight covered.
Jonathan Djanogly, 42, joined the Conservative Party at the age of 19 and "never looked back." He says, "I think I have done something political every day of my life since I have joined the party."
After graduating from law school in 1988, Djanogly became a partner in a commercial law firm which specialized in trade and business for companies. Djanogly moved to London and became a partner in the firm while simultaneously climbing the political ladder. In 2001 he was elected to represent the Huntingdon constituency in Parliament, and was re-elected in 2005. Oliver Cromwell once held his seat.
The constituency is 80 percent farmland and he says it is the equivalent of "good-old-boy country in the states -- not too much happens too quickly out there, but there are good people."
Still a practicing attorney, Djanogly is now the Shadow Solicitor General and a shadow minister to the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (DBERR). Both positions allow him to use his law experience as well as his corporate and business background (he and his wife previously ran a mail order retail business). As MPs go, he is relatively well known as a frontbencher in Parliament and a leading voice on business issues.
"I thought then, and would still like to think now, I can make a difference in the society that I live," he said. "I do believe in politics and that politics can change things for the better." Idealistic and serious, Djanogly certainly has a dry British sense of humor: "It has not quite been beaten out of me, yet. Although sometimes, when you are sitting in a committee at three in the morning, your idealism can be stretched."
Wednesday morning, I arrive at 1 Parliament Street to spend the day with Mr. Djanogly. The MPs and their staff are in a nondescript office building, located across the street from Big Ben and Westminster Palace, and a two-minute walk to 10 Downing Street. I check in with security and am escorted by Djanogly's intern to the office. The intern's accent sounds very much like mine. He is from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and is in London for his junior year abroad.
We exchange information (for Facebook purposes) while ascending a few flights of stairs into an office with three desks. I am greeted by Penelope Tay, the Personal Assistant to Jonathan Djanogly. Two other MP assistants share the room. She offers me tea before walking me down the hall to Djanogly's office.
It is a small office with two desks and little room for chairs or legs. At the larger desk sits Djanogly's research assistant Sarah Oliver, who is doing a three-month stint away from the MP's law office. At the smaller desk sits the intern whose job is to answer constituent mail. Having already spent the morning working at the law firm, the MP arrives at his parliamentary office by 11:45 in the morning. Stand by for musical chairs: The research assistant gets up and moves to the intern's desk. The intern stands in the corner of the room as Ms. Tay comes in to greet the MP. I am right next to his desk and he shakes my hand. With his entire London staff and me in the office, there is no other room to walk.
Djanogly's first order of business is complaining about a large filing cabinet sitting outside his office, which he noticed on the way in. Tay explains that the MP across the hall was interviewing people for a job and needed more room in the office. She assures her boss it will be removed by tomorrow.
Djanogly is well dressed with a fitted dark blue sit, a blue shirt and red tie. He sits at his desk for a few seconds putting things in order before he leaves for Prime Minister's Questions (what Americans normally see on CSPAN every Wednesday night). We watch from a small closed circuit television screen in the office.
Today, questions focus on the UK government taking over Northern Rock. Djanogly is adamantly opposed to the deal and attacked the government for state interference. "It is totally unjustified," he told me after the morning's debate. "The idea that the Chancellor is going to be handing out cheap mortgages and competing with retail banks is just unsustainable." The day before he put out a press release saying, "I fully support my party's opposition to this ridiculous nationalization."
Slightly before 1 p.m., I make my way underground, across the street, to Westminster Palace. I am meeting Djanogly in a small Committee Room where the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) is talking with lobbyists regarding temporary workers and how they should be treated in terms of benefits and payment. There is a general consensus in the room that temporary workers (such as those in construction) have a financially harder time than full-time workers. The MPs believe it is damaging to the overall British economy and also affects companies. Since 1980, 80 percent of large businesses have grown from small businesses in the United States, compared to the United Kingdom where 80 percent of large businesses have grown as a result of mergers.
As a national solicitor, Djanogly concentrates on business, corporate policy and legal issues; as the shadow minister for corporate governance he spends a lot of time comparing the United Sates with the United Kingdom. "That means I do quite a lot of bill work that people think might be boring, but it is important stuff to have a framework for corporations to succeed without government interference," he explains.
Djanogly views laws such as Sarbanes-Oxley and organizations such as the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) as things Britain should stay far away from. He boasts that Britain has come a long way in the last 20 years to producing a vibrant, competitive economy, which attracts foreign investors: "People feel comfortable here. For all of the U.S. claims to having a free market, there is a protectionist line that runs through it."
"I love America and it always fascinates me, in the corporate sense," he says pointing to America's entrepreneurial spirit designed to help business succeed. "On the other hand, there is a protectionist side of America and I think the two can sometimes clash. You see that in something like Sarbanes-Oxley."
At 2 p.m. Djanogly heads to a debate, in a room near Westminster Hall, regarding police funding in Cambridgeshire (part of his district). Westminster Hall is the oldest part of the Parliament, initially built in 1097 (the United States Capital Building only began construction in 1793). Almost 1,000 years old, the echoes of history and politics reverberate strongly.
This particular debate chamber is used for issues which will never be debated in front of the entire Parliament. It is a room where MPs make statements so they can tell their constituents that the issue received attention in London. This is politics, don't forget.
The British Prime Minister did not call for a general election when he took office from Tony Blair and thus, for now, Djanogly can enjoy his time in Parliament without having to worry about an election. The conversation turns to the American presidential election.
Djanogly likes John McCain and calls him an "attractive personality who has done a lot in his life, has experience and has a balance of policy that in some ways is quite compatible with British Conservative party views." Those views include being ready to defend the homeland in the face of terrorists, and a belief in free markets. Djanogly believes the next five to ten years will be economically rough in the global economy and believes McCain offers "a center right consensus and a willingness to reach out to people."
As a politician, the MP sees why Senator Barack Obama is an attractive figure with his message of change, but has many hesitations. "Does anyone know what his policies are?" Djanogly asks. "I just hope he is well advised. But he does say nothing very well. So did Tony Blair before he came into power."
Djanogly believes the average Brit does not follow the American Election day-by-day, blow-by-blow. People are more worried about Heather Mills, the Princess Diana inquest, and even Britney Spears. He thinks it is bizarre about the celebrity obsession, on both sides of the pond. When asked why he thinks people are obsessed with those topics, he responds, "I am a politician - not a psychologist. For me, current events are so much more important."
After having tea with constituents, who had won the opportunity in an auction, at 5 p.m. Djanogly and I are back at 1 Parliament Street. Framed on the office walls are early 20th century political cartoons. Since they are very English, he tells me, "You would get some of them but not all of them." Clearly our humor is slightly different.
I ask the MP what issues keep him up at night and he finds my colloquial an interesting question. "Nothing keeps me up at night when I hit the pillow!" Certainly, working two jobs is tiring and he has no problem falling asleep. But Djanogly sees I am not satisfied with the answer. "What keeps me up at night?" he ponders. "The House of Commons food." Maybe, again, we are lost in translation, so I ask more simply if there is any specific issue that keeps him up. Djanogly smiles and puts his hand on his stomach: "That is a pretty bad issue."
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