Conservative Simon Marcus: ‘Privatising the NHS would be a betrayal of my heritage’

Simon Marcus. Picture: Polly Hancock.

Simon Marcus. Picture: Polly Hancock. - Credit: Archant

In May, voters will go to the polls in Hampstead and Kilburn to decide their new MP. As part of a series of interviews with the candidates, Tim Lamden talks to the Conservative hopeful

As a former captain of Hampstead Rugby Club and fast bowler for Brondesbury Cricket Club, Simon Marcus has taken on many battles as a sportsman but no sporting contest will have required as much will and determination as the fight to become Hampstead and Kilburn’s next MP.

It’s late afternoon when we meet at the Wet Fish Café in West End Lane, West Hampstead, and the 42-year-old sits down to eat his first meal of the day.

As a Hampstead Town councillor, he is still committed to residents’ case work and paired with his activity on the doorsteps of Hampstead and Kilburn’s constituents, it leaves little time for anything else.

Cllr Marcus also has a young family to fend for, having become a father twice since being selected as the Conservative parliamentary candidate.

By the time this election is decided on May 7, he may feel like sleeping for a week. So why is he putting himself through it?

“I began to feel this need, this calling,” he remembers from the latter part of his three years working in Brussels for the British Chamber of Commerce.

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“It was reading the British papers in Brussels every day and seeing what was happening to the country.

“Whether it was education or welfare or the economy, I could see things were going wrong. It was a huge desire and energy to come back and try to change things in the way I believed was right.”

Cllr Marcus returned from Belgium in 2006 and co-founded the Boxing Academy, an educational charity in Tottenham, which supported teenagers expelled from schools.

He said: “Most of the kids that came to us were involved in gangs, their future looked bleak and the whole point of the boxing academy was that it turned their life around.

“Ninety per cent of our students went back into training, education or employment.”

He stood as the Conservative candidate for Barking in the 2010 general election, losing out to Labour stalwart Margaret Hodge but beating Nick Griffin, then leader of the British National Party (BNP), into third place.

But Conservative politics was not always Cllr Marcus’s thing.

He was born at University College Hospital (UCH) in 1972 to left-leaning parents and often refers proudly to his communist grandparents.

He describes his “left-wing credentials” as “extraordinary”.

Cllr Marcus moved with his family to Greenaway Gardens, Hampstead, from Golders Green in around 1980 and attended independent Hampstead schools North Bridge House and St Anthony’s before moving on to independent secondary, the City of London School.

“My parents were Labour voters who wanted me to go to state school,” he said. “They went to the local comprehensive in Barnet and it was in the grip of the hard-left.

“They (the hard-left) didn’t believe in competitive sport, didn’t believe in traditional teaching. They were highly politicised and they didn’t seem to talk about the values that my parents wanted, which were discipline, hard work and teaching young people to be reasonable.

“In a strange way this was part of their journey away from the Labour Party.”

In Hampstead circles, Cllr Marcus is probably best known as the son of Helen Marcus, 71, a former opera singer and ex-chairman of the Heath and Hampstead Society.

His father, Dr Bram Marcus, is a 95-year-old who worked as a doctor in the early years of the NHS before setting up medical journal Update, which he sold in 1982.

Responding to accusations that the Tories plan to privatise the NHS, Cllr Marcus said: “I have to use a word that I don’t like using in politics, they are lies.

“We are not privatising the NHS. It would be a betrayal of my heritage and a betrayal of what my father fought for.

“The NHS has become more and more expensive but there is too much bureaucracy in some places. There appears to be a problem with values and getting the basics right.

“But overall it’s still a wonderful achievement and I don’t know what we’d do without it.”

As a student, Cllr Marcus began his time as “a socialist” at the University of Sussex, where he studied politics.

“It was there for the first time in my life I met left-wing activists,” he said.

“I realised you weren’t allowed to speak freely and that began my journey away from socialism because freedom of speech is a foundation of our democracy.”

In later years, Cllr Marcus flirted again with left-wing politics, joining the Green Party in the late ‘90s, before rescinding his lifetime membership in 2006 to become a Tory member.

“I realised utopia and perfection weren’t going to happen,” he said. “I realised the Green Party was probably to the left of Labour. I saw in Tottenham what Labour has done – building a culture of dependency and blame.”

When asked about his faith, Cllr Marcus, whose parents are both Jewish, said: “I have faith but it is not as strong as I would like.

“Culturally, I’m highly influenced by Judaism but I have prayed in mosques, synagogues and Hindu temples. I’ve always had an interest in theology.”

He objected to the House of Commons motion to recognise a Palestinian state in October and insists he would have voted against it, describing Palestinian group Hamas as a “terrorist organisation”.

With just 42 votes separating the Tories and Labour at the last election, Cllr Marcus believes his party’s record in power will help him overcome Labour contender Tulip Siddiq.

“Most people agree with our welfare reforms,” he said. “Local schools are really improving and real wages are just starting to catch up.”