Wales

Nigel Evans: Swansea-born Tory was 'God's little joke'

  • 10 April 2014
  • From the section Wales

In his own words, Nigel Evans MP was born to stand out.

Giving evidence at his trial before being cleared of a string sexual abuse charges including one of rape, he quipped: "I always thought it was God's little joke - he made me born in Swansea and born a Tory. There's not many Tories in Swansea."

A more obvious career path for the young Nigel Evans would have been at the family shop, continuing a legacy that started when his grandfather founded a grocer's in the 1930s.

As a child he helped out at the store in Townhill, a sprawling council estate overlooking Swansea Bay, and he told the jury he remembered it being like the shop in TV comedy Open All Hours.

Flicking through the shop's newspapers from a young age is, he believes, what sparked a growing fascination with current affairs and politics.

By the age of 17, the Dynevor School pupil had joined the Conservatives.

Unsurprisingly, he studied politics and graduated from Swansea University. In 1985, he was elected to the former West Glamorgan County Council, serving until 1991 and becoming deputy leader of the council's Conservative group.

By his early 30s, he had already fought, and lost, parliamentary elections in Pontypridd and Swansea West.

Nigel Evans in 1991
Nigel Evans lost to the Lib Dems in the 1991 Ribble Valley by-election

Undeterred, success as an MP finally came at the 1992 general election, when he won the Lancashire seat of Ribble Valley.

Despite representing constituents in north west England, he maintained links with Swansea, and the shop which his family ran until 2012.

That experience allowed him to boast as a politician: "At least I know what the price of a pint of milk is."

The combination of humour, combined (in the words of House of Commons speaker John Bercow) with the ability to be "quick on his feet," was evident during his trial.

Referring to two allegations in cross examination that Mr Evans had placed his hand in the trousers of men in public, prosecuting barrister Mark Heywood QC said: "There is evidence in each of these two incidents that what took place was without any eye contact.

"Was this you using hands where words were not available to you?"

Nigel Evans in 2003
Mr Evans opposed Tony Blair's move to axe the cabinet post of Welsh secretary

Mr Evans replied: "No. It is trying to make me out to be a cross between Alan Clark, Benny Hill and Oscar Wilde. It's ridiculous."

Considered humorous and hard-working, Mr Evans earned a rare reputation in politics.

Following his arrest last year, Cardiff North MP Jonathan Evans was quick to describe his friend as "friends really with everyone, and very unusually in politics warmly regarded by all political parties".

He has also showed himself to be a politician prepared to stand up for his beliefs.

After the 1997 general election - a year when the Conservatives won no Welsh seats - he was appointed to his party's opposition front bench as spokesman on Welsh affairs.

Four years later, Iain Duncan Smith made him shadow Welsh Secretary.

However, he resigned from the post in 2003 when Michael Howard took up the leadership and decided against including a Welsh affairs role in his top team.

Mr Evans criticised the decision and returned to the backbenches.

Quizzed about the episode during his trial, he said: "Michael Howard decided to have a reshuffle of the shadow cabinet."

He added: "I decided to return to the backbenches.

"When I knew the position was not going to remain, I was unhappy.

"I already had problems with the Welsh Assembly leader of the Conservatives there.

"I thought it was a demotion for Wales and I was not prepared to take that. Wales deserved better."

Nigel Evans
Mr Evans was described as a rare breed in politics - liked by all parties

After retaining his seat convincingly at the 2010 general election, Mr Evans abandoned any frontbench ambitions and was elected as one of speaker John Bercow's three deputies at the Commons. It was a role which meant he had to give up allegiance to his party.

Shortly after his election, he announced he was gay, saying he was tired of "living a lie".

He also revealed he discussed his sexuality with former Wales rugby captain Gareth Thomas, who came out a year before Mr Evans.

"It was hard enough being a Tory in Swansea, never mind coming out as gay," he explained at the time.

His sexuality was an open secret in Westminster, but he did not confirm it publicly until 2010, a year after his mother's death.

He told the jury: "I struggled with it over many years, whether I should come out or not.

"My mum was in her 80s, there was no right time. I just did not want to upset her. I didn't know how she would take it."

However, he also told the jury he now believed it would not have been a problem and he regrets not telling her.

Glyn Davies, Conservative MP for Montgomeryshire, said: "It's been an incredibly tough time for Nigel and all he can really do is focus on his work, and serving his constituents.

"I have known Nigel for probably 30 years. He's always been a well-liked person and was very well-liked as a deputy speaker."

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