Tory ready to bring No 10 experience to the green belt


Oliver Dowden is in a rare position for an election candidate - standing on the verge of entering Parliament, yet preparing to see his political influence decrease at the same time.

In his former role as deputy chief of staff for the prime minister, he was one of David Cameron's leading advisers, helping to develop policy, organising briefings and monitoring domestic issues.

He is now standing for the Conservatives in one of the country's safest Tory seats - Hertsmere - where incumbent MP, James Clappison, is retiring after 23 years of five-figure majorities.

The constituency has the third largest proportion of Jewish voters in the country - around 14 per cent of the electorate.

Mr Dowden is relishing the opportunity to take over. "It's a case of going from a backroom adviser to actually standing for my own beliefs and values and representing the party," he said.

I will be vigilant in protecting faith practices like religious slaughter

"I want to take my national experience and make it count in Hertsmere and give people there a strong voice in Westminster."

Despite the likelihood of success, Mr Dowden is taking nothing for granted and has been campaigning hard around Borehamwood, Elstree and Radlett since being selected to stand last October.

He said that "getting out and meeting people, and seeing the achievements of this government on the ground" had been highlights of his preparation for parliamentary life.

Born in Hertfordshire, Mr Dowden studied at Cambridge before working as a lawyer. He began his political ascent in the party's research unit under Michael Howard's leadership ahead of the 2005 election.

Part of his work included preparing Mr Howard to tackle Tony Blair at Prime Minister's Questions. The job involved him working alongside Mr Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson.

It would be all too easy for him to start dreaming of holding similarly high offices as those three political heavyweights, but for now he is determined to focus on local issues.

He cited protecting the future of the greenbelt, improving transport links into the capital, and promoting education as three main priorities if he is elected.

"I'm determined that ordinary kids like I was get the best possible start in life. We have some great schools like Yavneh College in the constituency," Mr Dowden said.

The size of the Jewish vote in Hertsmere means the candidates cannot ignore key issues relating to the community. Mr Dowden said: "The security needed to get into our Jewish schools is sad to see, but it's so important and I'm determined to do everything it takes as an MP to protect our community.

"I will be very vigilant in that. Just as I will be for protecting faith practices such as religious slaughter."

Mr Clappison has been a vice-chair of Conservative Friends of Israel, and his potential successor is keen to continue that work. "I've been a strong supporter of CFI for a long time," Mr Dowden said. "I went to Israel for the first time in November and saw the security situation, I saw the challenges in Sderot.

"Nothing beats being on the ground and seeing the situation. I will continue to be a strong supporter of Israel, just as I was as an adviser, and to be against sanctions."

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