A great friend of mine, who is a very senior minister and is flattering enough to admit to being a regular reader of these Columns, upbraids me for overstating my love for being a backbencher and constituency MP as opposed to having any kind of Ministerial ambition. Perhaps I never did, or possibly at some stage I came to realise that any such misplaced ambition was likely to be thwarted. And anyhow, of the 650 MPs, only a tiny handful become senior ministers like you, John. Most of we common folk are proud to have achieved our great ambition of simply being elected to Parliament and having the great responsibility and privilege of representing our people, and doing what we can to help them and the area in every possible way.

Perhaps for that reason I am also not terribly ‘political’. Some of my friends- on both sides of the House chant ritualistic ‘Tories good, Labour bad’ (or vice versa) rather like the pigs in Animal Farm “Four legs good, two legs bad.” Some of my very political new constituents in the South Cotswolds (and I was glad to attend the very enthusiastic AGM on Friday) may well be shocked to hear that some of my best friends are Labour. I’ve even been giving a little informal advice to one person who is trying to find a seat to fight as a Labour candidate.

The reality is that some of the stuff we Tories have done has been very good; some of it mediocre, some downright rubbish; and the same would apply to any possible Labour Government. Both lots believe that we are doing (or at least try our best to do) the right thing for the people in our areas. But of course, “You can’t please all of the people all of the time.” And the reality is that some people will always be ill or sadly die, some will be wicked, some will be stupid; the human condition cannot be gainsaid, nor overturned by politicians of whatever political hue.

So good people and true of any party coming together in Westminster to chew over the great issues of the day – long term care, the NHS, Law and order, immigration, education, Ukraine- and seeking to come to some kind of a consensus about what to do about these great and intractable problems seems to me to be a pretty good way to set about trying to solve them and generally run Britain.

So, John, I am not ashamed of the fact that I am an (adopted) Cotswold person; that I live and work and love North Wiltshire and the South Cotswolds. I take the Tory whip in Parliament, will be standing as the Tory Candidate for the South Cotswolds in the forthcoming General Election and subscribe to most Tory views and policies. But that does not stop me rebelling when my personal views or conscience, or when the Constituency interest trumps Central Office dogma. I am far too controversial and clear thinking to be a good politician (I can’t stand brown nosing, which seems to be a prerequisite of political success these days); but I would hope that my world view and interest might make me some kind of junior statesman, or perhaps at very least a shrewd observer of the great statesmanship around me.

It may be a failing in a politician, but I have clear views about things, I say what I think, I am beholden to no-one and seek no favours in public or in private live. I may not be great nor successful politician, but I sleep easy in my bed of a night.

This first week back after the Summer Recess has, as usual for this time of the year, been dominated by “Remaining Stages” of Bills.

In essence legislation is created by a long series of events- running from initial ideas, perhaps proposed by think tanks or the media; very often a ‘Green Paper’ which floats a general idea, a  ‘White Paper’ which lays out the Government’s intention to legislate in detail; then the Bill is drafted; and then finally after what may have been several years in gestation, the draft Bill is  presented to Parliament at its ‘First Reading.’ This is the formal presentation of the Bill to allow MPs to read it thoroughly before ‘Second Reading’ which is the full day’s debate on the principle of the Bill.

The Bill then “goes upstairs into Committee”- a group of perhaps 20 or so MPs selected by the Whips and with an inbuilt Government majority. Every word and phrase is then pored over, amended or deleted by the Government or Opposition, in a long series of debates which may last several months. The Bill Committee has two sessions on Tuesday and Thursday, each of which may well last for many hours. One of my duties as a member of the Speaker’s Panel of Chairmen is to act as a quasi-Speaker and ensure proper procedure and a fair debate in Committee. That also precludes me from voting on the Bill- as happened this week with the Energy Bill which I had chaired. I also chair the lesser Chamber, Westminster Hall, where this week I enjoyed hearing Jeremy Corbyn sympathising with Mexico; and had the satisfaction of telling Dominic Raab that he was not allowed to speak in the debate.

 The idea of ’Committee Stage’ is that irrespective of your view of the Bill, you try to make it sound, workmanlike law. Then the amended Bill comes back to the floor of the Commons for “Report Stage” and then finally “Third Reading” when the principle behind the Bill as amended is considered by the whole House. It then goes off to the Lords where it undergoes a similar procedure. They amend the Bill, and those amendments then come back for ‘Commons Consideration of Lords Amendments’. Parliamentary ‘ping-pong’ can then commence with the bill and its amendments bouncing back and forth between the two Houses, until eventually the Lords by convention concede to the Commons, who after all are the democratically elected House. 

The Bill then goes off to the King for Royal Assent, after which it becomes law. That must happen every year before the House Prorogues prior to the King’s Speech announcing the following year’s business. This year the King’s Speech will be on 7th November, so the Government have to complete every stage of its Bills prior to that, which can mean some late-night sittings, and often a little acrimony between the two Houses.

Whether you like the law or not, this tried and tested system - the product of 500 years of precedent - works exceptionally well in producing good and workable law. Our practice and procedures for the scrutiny of legislation has been copied by other Parliaments round the world. It can all be hard work- long hours and sometimes pretty dreary debate over minutiae; but it’s the real business of Parliament.

So next time you turn on the Parliament Channel, rather than lamenting that the Chamber seems sparsely populated; spare a thought for the dozens of MPs beavering away in the 50 or so Committee rooms ‘upstairs’ doing their best to ensure that our laws are the best than can be hoped for.

There can be nothing finer- purer- sweeter than a new-born baby. Unspoiled physically or mentally in any way. A wholly clean piece of paper on which their life will be painted. I remember when my eldest son John was born, an old Ghurkha friend of the family, Colonel Gahan came rushing down and demanded to see the baby’s feet. “Why?” we asked. “One of my duties as an infantry officer was to inspect the men’s feet- calloused, blistered, trench foot, you name it. But a new-born baby’s feet are just the most perfect thing on this earth.”

John’s now got a baby of his own- and I went to meet Nina for the first time last week. Just perfect and a second grandchild to join two-year-old Fred. I once heard someone opine that all babies look like Churchill. But not Nina. A healthy head of hair and at 8 lbs a decent size too. I fell in love with her at first sight.

My warm happiness at my first grand-daughter was the background to the desperate, the appalling news about Nurse Letby and her callous, wicked, vile, murdering spree against new born babies. It cannot be excused in any way- background, mental health nor anything else. It is pure evil, and I am glad that she has been put away for the rest of her natural life. I have always been opposed to the death penalty, but sometimes wonder if it could be allowed for very extreme crimes such as this.

Like most people I was upset that she was not made to attend court for sentencing, thereby avoiding any kind of facing up to the realities of what she had done. Yet I understand the argument that forcing a prisoner into the dock, manacled, perhaps gagged for the occasion to prevent whatever outrage they might choose to commit in court, would be unseemly. Maybe the solution would be the one-way broadcast of the Judge’s final remarks and sentencing to the prisoner in the court cells.

The killing of Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin ‘in a fatal plane crash’ is no way to deal with a criminal either, if indeed he really was on board. (My own view is that there is more to this than meets the eye, and I would not be the least bit surprised if he turned up in a luxury dacha somewhere in the future). Yet if Putin really did assassinate him in the way it appears, it reiterates Putin’s reputation as a callous murderer. No matter how wicked Putin may think Prighozin, he deserves the right of a proper criminal trial.

What greater contrast in this World could there be than between the new-born baby, pure in every way, and foul toxic, wicked people like Putin, Prighozin, Letby or so many others. I suppose they too once had perfect baby feet before they were destroyed by wickedness.

My love and happiness for Nina Gray Hollows might have had the effect of redoubling my grief that evil barbarism exists in this world. But somehow I would rather just look on that tiny baby as proof of the wonder that exists in this world and as a beacon of the goodness and purity to which we should all aspire.  Colonel Gahan and the baby’s feet holds a lesson for us all.

There is something rather tragic about politicians (and people in other walks of life as well) who become so fixated by themselves, so convinced by their own publicity/spin, so certain of their own fame and greatness that they lose touch with reality. It’s an attitude personified by the pompous question “Don’t you know who I am? “ 

Poor Nadine Dorries is one such. Perhaps not the sharpest knife in the box, and the authoress of some of the worst novels I have ever had the misfortune to read, she laboured in quiet obscurity until Boris thought she would make a good cheerleader. Pompoms, frills and all. A disjointed nose when she was dumped as a Peer of the Realm, she is now, in her opinion,  one of the most important people in Westminster, nay the UK, very probably the world. There is no greater sin in my book in politics (and actually probably in most areas of human endeavour) than taking yourself too seriously. Ben Wallace by contrast was one of the most distinguished yet modest Cabinet Ministers of my generation and is stepping back without fanfare.

Realising your own frailty, your insignificance in the long sweep of history; recognising that in Andy Warhol’s words,  "Everyone is world-famous for 15 minutes”; or as Samuel Becket hath it “They give birth astride a grave, the light gleams an instant, then its night once more.”; if you realise those things, then you can put self-regard to one side, and enjoy and relish the things which are truly important in life.

As Parliament reconvenes, I am looking forward to my constituency work, getting to know the new Gloucestershire part of my patch; continuing my work on Defence and the Armed Forces; enjoying what I do on the Environment and North and South Polar Regions; and getting engaged with the running of Parliament through my role on the Speaker’s Panel of Chairmen. These and a hundred other ‘peripheral’ interests are what occupy my mind morning noon and night. How lucky I am to have them.

Now I suppose that you could say that I am a humble and obscure politico – probably obscure, if not humble. Its plain that I am not a Theresa May whose new book is out; nor a Boris, David Cameron or a hundred other stellar personalities. They soared to the heights enjoyed their moment of fame and good fortune and fell back to Earth Icarus-like. Perhaps it is because I have not had that ‘good fortune’, or perhaps because I genuinely love what I do- in Constituency and Parliament alike that I suspect that I am a great deal happier, much more comfortable in my own clothes, than the great grandees who have smelled real power.

After all, it is not Parliament who run Britain, it is the Government who are but a subset of Parliament. Our job as parliamentarians is to scrutinise what they do, hold them to account, and shout the corner for the people of our own constituency. Those are the truly worthwhile roles as a politician, and I love every minute of them.

So if I ever made the mistake of asking someone “Don’t you know who I am?” I would be perfectly content with the answer “Not the faintest idea, mate,” although I am not sure that I would go quite as far as my colleague Lee Anderson, who being doorstepped by a TV crew when we were going into No 10 together one day, turned to the cameras and famously replied “Don’t ask me, mate. I’m just the window cleaner.”

I offer my warmest congratulations and best wishes to those who have been getting their A level results. I hope that they were at least as good as, perhaps even better than, what you were expecting, and that they will lead you towards your career of choice.  My memory is that A Levels and GCSEs were the toughest part of your education, not least because you are studying a wide spread of subjects, in some of which you may, in retrospect, have less interest than others. The pressure is huge, and the relief when you get your results palpable. University seemed to me to be less stressful because you are at last focussing on something in which you are truly interested, and therefore perhaps more expert.

This year 79% (or some 200,000) of all 18 years olds have gained a place at their preferred University; nearly half a million all told will be heading off to Uni after the Summer. But if you have not got into university, or perhaps not the course you would have preferred, don’t be downhearted. There are a variety of appeals/pooling mechanisms which can help.

However, I was always uneasy about Tony Blair’s target of 50% of all young people going to university. It used to be 7% of the population - all of them highly academic, which was very probably too elitist. But the 50% target risks devaluing some degrees; it introduces a degree qualification where hands on training might well be more appropriate (nursing, for example); and it tends to reinforce the wrong message- that the other 50% who do not go to university have somehow or another ‘failed’ in life. Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth.

The fact is that there’s more to life than Uni - especially nowadays with modern apprenticeships and the like which may well suit your talents/ interests better than forcing yourself through some University course just for the sake of the resulting letters after your name. I am firmly of the view that every human being on the planet has talents and skills, and it should be the job of educationalists at all levels to find out what they are and then help the individual nurture and expand them.

Leadership - in education, business, the armed services, politics alike must be about helping every person of every academic or practical capability achieve their greatest potential. It should be about finding out what each student is good at, truly enjoys doing, and then opening doors for them to maximise their capability and achievements. Those who are academic should be encouraged to the highest academic qualifications. But those who may be less academic should in no sense be thought of as ‘failures’. They should on the contrary be given every possible encouragement and support, so that their lives are just as successful and fulfilled as those of us who may be of a more academic bent. Selectivity- and I am a product of the grammar schools system- and exams at every level help winnow out those who happen to have big brains; but it should also highlight those who have all of those (probably very many) skills which we graduates are missing.

So my warmest congratulations to those who have done so well in their A level results; my commiserations if you have achieved less than you hoped. But to both groups I would just say; “Get out there and do stuff; aim high and you will achieve more than you thought possible; whoever you are, whatever your skills, there’s a role for you in society - academia, manufacturing, the armed services and so much more- and these exam results are just what you need to point you in the right direction. So be of good cheer. There’s a wide world out there in great need of your personal skills  -  whatever they may happen to be.