You can take the soldier out of the Army, but you can’t take the Army out of a former serviceman… Meeting Tom Tugendhat, Conservative MP for Tonbridge and Malling, and a former lieutenant colonel who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, is quite the military operation.
As I follow his PA through the labyrinthine passages leading to his modest office off an anonymous corridor in the House of Commons, I reassure her that I will only need an hour of Tugendhat’s time. “Actually, you are scheduled for 45 minutes,” she says. And right on cue comes a knock on the door exactly three quarters of an hour after we meet.
I would have liked to have heard more of the thoughts of this friendly, youthful 42-year-old father of one (whose name is pronounced too-gen-hart). While for now he may be the least well-known member of a famous family – his father is the retired High Court judge Sir Michael Tugendhat and his uncle is fellow Conservative politician Christopher Tugendhat – his is a name to watch.
He won plaudits this July after a spellbinding performance on BBC’s Question Time during which he reflected on his time in Iraq. His testimony as someone who had actually fought on the ground gave his words heft. Tugendhat said the errors of the Blair administration highlighted in the Chilcot report had not surprised him. He went on to deliver a scathing critique of senior commanders of the Armed Forces and foreign diplomats.
At a time when Syria remains entrenched in civil war, ISIS continues to fight in Iraq, conflict threatens to spill over into Lebanon and Jordan, and thousands of migrants continue to flee to Europe from the failed state in Libya, the Middle East is likely to dominate British foreign policy during this parliament and beyond. A major voice in those debates is likely to be Tugendhat’s: in such an uncertain world he wants to see defence properly funded and is concerned about any more spending cuts.
Tugendhat was a pupil at St Paul’s and studied theology at Bristol University. He went on to do a Masters in Islamic Studies at Cambridge and learned Arabic in Yemen. A firm Remainer, what then are his thoughts on the current Foreign Secretary, fellow public schoolboy Boris Johnson? “He sold an extraordinary message to the British people,” Tugendhat says, before adding, simply, that Johnson has a very hard job.
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