My father was in the Navy all his life so I travelled around the country a lot when I was younger. We lived in Scotland, in Devon and in Surrey – near to the area where I now represent. He has always been incredibly enthusiastic about my political aspirations – he’s the kind of person who always wants people to reach for the stars.I got interested in politics when I was at school and was secretary of the debating society. We had a mock election debate for the 1983 general election. Because of a shortage of speakers I ended up speaking for the Communist Party, albeit rather tongue in cheek. I didn’t win the debate – I don’t think I wanted to either. I studied PPE at Oxford, where I was president of the Conservative Association. It was a very competitive election for the presidency, and I think that taught me about some of the dastardly side of politics. I have been pleased since I got here that there appears to be much less of that side of things than I had feared.David Cameron was at Oxford at exactly the same time as me, but – probably very sensibly – he wasn’t involved in student politics at all. Mark Field and Michael Gove were there too, and Boris Johnson was a few years ahead of me. I took a complete break when I left university and set up my own publishing business. That’s taken up nearly all my energy over the last 11 years. I suspect some of the Thatcherite idealism of the 1980’s made me want to start something from scratch. But before I set up my company I learnt the ropes of business by doing a short spell at a management consultancy in London. I also spent just under two years in Japan because I always wanted to learn a non-European language. I loved living abroad and I love Japan. Its one of the few countries in the world to never have been colonised, so Japanese culture has remained relatively undiluted despite the huge changes of becoming a leading capitalist economy. I taught English out there, but my main purpose was to learn the language. I struggled every day to master the writing system – you need to learn 3000 characters to read a Japanese newspaper. It’s definitely a comparable challenge to getting elected. When I got back I started my business. I think it was Churchill who said: “Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.” When I started out, nearly everything I tried was a total failure. My business partner and I tried exporting marmalade to Japan – which flopped. We tried building children’s playgrounds – that failed. We tried to run a business setting up guides for foreign tourists – that folded too. Eventually we hit on something that worked – we started publishing student guides to help people find the right college or university. In the last few years I have also set up a charity associated with my business – it helps fund education for Aids orphans in Africa.A lot of people who start their own business do so because they think it’s a good way to make a lot of money, but when you start it becomes simply a matter of survival. It’s a daily struggle, which is why small business people tend to be very down to earth and practical. Perhaps because they are used to running their own show, they rarely go back to working for someone else. MPs too are independent operators – though you have to remember that we all stood on a party ticket and owe it loyalty as a result. When I was 36 I decided if I was ever going to be an MP I should do something about it. I got on the approved candidates list and about the same time Virginia Bottomley announced she was retiring. I was shaking like a leaf in the first interview, so much so that the lectern I was using visibly swayed as well. I remember telling a corny joke that I wouldn’t dare repeat – at the end there was huge round of laughter when I got to the punchline, I think out of relief more than anything else. I was absolutely astonished when I won at the final selection. I was already putting on my coat preparing to leave when the chairman came through to let us know the result.South West Surrey was a very marginal seat and I was up against an experienced Lib Dem candidate. I had to learn the tricks of the trade very quickly. Local campaigning should not just be about self-publicity – it should be about understanding and articulating issues of concern to the community you are seeking to represent. It definitely helped to be standing in an area I grew up in. One of the major concerns in the area is housing over-development, and if you have known the area since being a child it is much easier to identify with people’s concerns about the way it is changing. Virginia Bottomley was an immensely difficult act to follow – but I was very lucky as she was so supportive towards me at every stage. You have to become a very good juggler to be an MP. Whatever happens at a national level, in the end your constituents want you to be a local champion. MPs who forget that come a cropper very quickly. The first few days here were more sink than swim. It’s pretty overwhelming. Suddenly people you haven’t seen for 20 years write to congratulate you, as well all constituents, friends and family. Everyone is looking to see how efficiently you can respond, and of course that’s the hardest time, when you have no staff and no office. It has been a positive time to enter parliament. Having a leadership contest meant we could have an honest debate in the party without having to worry that anything we said was disloyal to the leader. The existing MPs were extremely welcoming and have seemed to recognise that the new MPs had their own viewpoints.It’s a huge privilege to be given the disabilities portfolio. I have had some knowledge of the area through my charity, and I am looking forward to getting stuck in. I don’t particularly attribute any significance to the fact that I have been given this responsibility so early. Everyone gets crack at the whip in politics at some stage – it just happens to be now for me. I’ve also always had an interest in the developing world, and am on the international development select committee. A few years ago I sponsored an Aids orphan in Kenya – it really opened my eyes to the terrible tragedy of the children in Africa who are born with HIV Aids and don’t have access to the medicines they need, medicines that exist and could be distributed so easily to save lives. We’ve had tremendous progress this year with the government announcing a target of 2010 to ensure that all HIV Aids sufferers have access to antiretroviral treatment, but that’s a long time away, and I would like to see some intermediate targets. I want to know what the government is going to do in 2006, 2007 and 2008. Unless we have some milestones we are likely to miss the 2010 target, just as we missed the current “3 by 5” target for 2005.Finally and most importantly I want to play my part in making the Conservative Party electable. I think the country has decided it’s time for a change, but we have to be credible before we will be trusted as an alternative. I know that is David Cameron’s objective and I want to help him succeed..Everyone needs something that keeps them normal when they’re not in this place. Since coming here it has been a shame to feel you should listen to the Today Programme rather than Classic FM in the mornings, as you normally arrive at work in a much filthier mood. But I still manage to unwind by indulging in my passion for Latin America and Brazilian music and dance. Sometimes after the vote on a Monday night I have been known to pop out to a salsa club. I’m not a great dancer, but it keeps me sane.