I was appointed in 2012 by Boris after four years as deputy mayor for policing. While I’m not in the pharma industry I did decide to put life sciences front and centre of our economic development strategy for the capital. I’ve been a science enthusiast since I was a kid, but was just better at arts subjects and drifted that way instead, so now I have the chance to do my bit for British science. History tells us that scientists will solve all our problems in the end, so why not give them all the help we can to do it quickly?
My day is usually kickstarted by a pair of small human alarm clocks who make sure we are up between 5am and 6am, and it’s all systems go from the moment our eyes flutter open. I don’t generally eat first thing, but lots of coffee accompanies feeding time, potties, toothbrushes, stories, playdoh, the usual wrestling match to get them dressed – my wife Juliana and I tag-team it. Then it’s a quick scan of my overnight inbox, Twitter and The Times website before heading out.
I travel by electric bicycle, which means I can get some exercise in a suit without getting overheated but, at the end of the day when I’m knackered, I can set it to just take me home. It’s a glorious way to travel on a sunny morning and enormously satisfying to power uphill past all those puffing lycra-guys.
My ride to work is about 30 minutes to City Hall, but I often have a meeting or event first thing. Some days I criss-cross the city from meeting to meeting – my record is 30 miles in a day – hence the need for power assistance.
One of the things I love about politics is that no two days are ever the same. Most are pretty frantic – a jumble of internal and external meetings, some to persuade people to help me, some to just say hello and make friends, some with people who want something and, (not very often), some to lay down the law. I probably give four or five speeches a week too, from a synthetic biology conference audience of 300 to a local small business association with 12 members, then about the same number of cutting ribbons, opening new labs or offices, or touring a campus.
Lunch is normally on the run: I’m going through an Itsu phase at the moment, which works well as I generally avoid wheat in all its forms. I do spend a fair amount of time sitting on our internal teams making sure that delivery of our strategy is on track and I’m lucky in having a great team. Joe Mitton, my chief of staff, does the hard graft of telling the civil servants what I really meant to say and then making them deliver it, and Roxanne keeps the diary sane and makes sure I get to every meeting properly prepared. Also, as an elected Assembly member, I represent a constituency of 600,000 residents and have a brilliant case worker, Maura, who helps me sort out the many and various problems they bring as well.
In theory I try to get home to see the kids before bed three nights a week – the other two nights it’s drinks, dinners, launches, meetings and receptions. If I’m at home, Juliana and I will have dinner and just talk. It’s the only time we really get alone and is incredibly valuable. We try to do a ‘date night’ every week or two, whether it’s to see dance at Sadlers Wells where we’re patrons or a concert at the Royal Festival Hall. Or we just have dinner in a restaurant. At the weekends we might watch a film on iTunes. We haven’t watched live TV for three years. I love my garden and on summer evenings mowing the lawn or weeding is my meditation.
How did you get where you are today?
A series of random events, bad decisions and dodged bullets, although I do feel like I’ve been working flat-out since I was 14.
Did you ever imagine you would be where you are today?
No. I was a firmly northern boy, brought up in Liverpool, who wanted to be a farmer of all things!
And if you had to swap jobs?
There is surely no higher form of existence than the life of a poet. If I could make a living at it, I would swap in a heartbeat.
Who is your role model?
I like radicals and, for me, the last truly radical conservative politician was Nigel Lawson. He completely restructured the UK economy in six years. He wasn’t always right and still isn’t, but he never accepted conventional thinking and was suspicious of consensus. We could do with more of that.
What is the best career advice you have ever been given?
“Just pick up the f*****g phone!”
What is the worst career advice you’ve received?
“Just keep your head down and don’t make a fuss.”
What is your tip for good work/life balance or meeting your career goals?
Get life in perspective – more often than not 80% will do, and always put your family first. No-one on their deathbed wishes they had worked harder. Oh and be decent – as George Eliot wrote: “Our deeds still travel with us from afar / And what we have been makes us what we are.”