Politics ‘governs the very air that we breathe’, says former property litigator hoping to topple Jacob Rees-Mogg MP

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By Polly Botsford on

Green Party candidate talks politics, her time studying law at Oxford, and her law firm being targeted by terrorists

In the final piece of our snap election series, we speak to Green Party candidate Sally Calverley. An Oxford law graduate and former Norton Rose lawyer, could she be the one to beat Jacob Rees-Mogg MP in his Somerset constituency this Thursday?

Sally Calverley, who now co-runs a consultancy to law firms, is phlegmatic about her chances against the incumbent MP, the ex-Etonian Jacob Rees-Mogg, in North East Somerset where she is standing.

In 2015, Rees-Mogg doubled his majority to around 13,000.

“This is about the long term,” she says. “[Rees-Mogg] has voted against climate change initiatives, he is in favour of fracking but not on his doorstep.” He also voted for the bedroom tax, for Brexit and against gay marriage.

Calverley was selected as the Greens’ candidate in January of this year, having joined the party in 2015. On becoming a member she says it was so refreshing to walk into a room where “everyone believes in the same things as me.” She continues:

In fact, there are quite a lot of lawyers in the Green Party because we are a facts-based, science-based party. If you have a policy to put forward at our conferences (where our policies are democratically decided), you need to be able to argue for it, you need to able to defend it.

Even with crowdfunding her campaign, Calverley’s chances of defeating Rees-Mogg are very low indeed. But, she argues, that is not the point: “He has had it his own way for a long time because he supposedly has a safe seat and no-one will stand up to him. That’s not what we want.”

After studying law at Keble College, Oxford, Calverley was not put off by the advice of one of her tutors, former trust and land law professor Jim Harris, who, when she decided to become a property litigator, commented: “But Sally! You don’t know anything about the law!”

Clearly, he was wrong.

Calverley secured her training contract at one of the most prestigious firms at the time, Norton Rose (long before it merged to create today’s Norton Rose Fulbright). There she was involved with some of the most high-profile “disaster” cases of the 1980s.

Both involved ships. The first was the car ferry, the MS Herald of Free Enterprise, which capsized outside a Belgian port, killing 193 passengers and crew, and the second was the Marchionness, a pleasure boat which collided with another vessel on the Thames resulting in 51 deaths.

At this stage in her career (incidentally, when there were no computers, only electric typewriters!), Calverley also got a bit too close to what it is like to be the subject of a terrorist attack; Norton Rose’s buildings were bombed by the IRA, not once but TWICE.

The first bomb went off in 1992 when Semtex mixed with fertiliser exploded at the Baltic Exchange striking part of Norton Rose’s office.

Calverley recalls: “The bomb went off on a Saturday. When we went back into work on the Monday, we were all wearing hard hats and stepping around the glass which was everywhere.”

One year later and Norton Rose’s Bishopsgate building was also caught in a blast costing an estimated £350 million to repair.

The firm suffered quite considerably financially after those attacks. So it was at Capsticks, a specialist firm with a public sector client base, that Calverley built up her own property litigation practice.

There she successfully helped local authorities combat fraud against the NHS by doctors, dentists and other practitioners through fraudulent prescriptions. Her work led to the creation of a fraud tsar within the NHS.

Fast forward to 2010 when Calverley made the decision to leave private practice and co-found a consultancy, Richmonte Wells. “All this stuff I had learnt at law firms over the years, I was interested in putting into practice for other firms.”

Consultancy work may well have to take a back seat while she concentrates on campaigning, however, as she attempts to chip away at Rees-Mogg’s whopping majority.

It is a temporary transition Calverley strongly recommends. She believes lawyers have a “huge amount of transferable skills” that are useful in politics:

It is partly about assimilating information, reading policy documents, and so on, not only yours but the other parties. Lawyers are good at that. Plus we are not overwhelmed by standing on our feet and speaking.

Most of all, however, Calverley sees politics as something which is just not an opt-in or opt-out: “It’s everywhere. Think about the education we get, the jobs which are available, the food which we eat, the very air that we breathe. It’s all governed by politics.”

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