Kevin Hollinrake: A true blue who wants a fairer society

Kevin Hollinrake: A true blue who wants a fairer society

Kevin Hollinrake, the prosepective MP for Thirsk, Malton and Filey.

Kevin Hollinrake at Crayke Castle

Business Personality of the Year, Kevin Hollinrake (right), managing director of Hunters Property Group, receives his award from York Racecourse Chief Executive William Derby. The Press Business Awards 2010.

Kevin Hollinrake in the Hunters office

Anne McIntosh MP arrives at the Conservative Central Headquarters in Milbank, central London, to find out if she was to be ousted from her seat by her local party members

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The man chosen to replace  Ryedale MP Anne McIntosh as Conservative candidate for Malton and Thirsk at the next election is a local estate agent who had to sell his own house following the credit crunch. STEPHEN LEWIS spoke to Kevin Hollinrake

ASK most would-beTory MPs who their heroes are, and you'll get a fairly predictable answer: Margaret Thatcher or Sir Winston Churchill most likely.

Not Kevin Hollinrake. His hero? "Mahatma Gandhi," he says. He then proceeds to quote the great man. "Be the change that you would like to see in the world."

It's not the only time he manages to surprise. On the face of it, the man who will replace Anne McIntosh as Conservative candidate for Malton and Thirsk at the next general election is a typical Tory: white, male, middle-aged, wealthy.

But a few minutes in conversation with him shatters the stereotype. The boss of York-based estate agency Hunters may be wealthy: but his four children have all gone to state school - Easingwold School, where he went himself as a boy.

His dad was an Easingwold milkman and town councillor; he dropped out of Polytechnic, where he was studying physics, to cut his entrepreneurial teeth by flogging army surplus clothing in Easingwold town hall; he reads books like Graham Greene's The Quiet American and Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner; and he's got a deadpan, self-deprecating sense of humour.

It's an interesting time to be getting into politics, I point out, given that many politicians are held in such low esteem.

He comes back at me with a great quip. "My background as an estate agent is the perfect preparation..."

Then comes the biggest surprise of all.

We've been talking about his recent family holiday to Vietnam, Cambodia and Singapore. He himself, his wife Nikky and their four children - Charlie, 17; Maddie, 15; Bella, 11 and Gaby, six - travelled quite widely, visiting Hanoi, the Mekong delta, and the killing fields of Cambodia. He was hugely impressed by the sheer resilience of people who had been through so much trauma, he says.

"They are just amazing people. If you see the war museum in Ho Chi Minh city, you'd think the Vietnamese would never allow Americans into their country again. But they have moved on."

Then they flew to Singapore, where he was impressed by the cleanliness, the modernity, the efficiency. "There's no poverty at all."

But that's when he drops his bombshell. One thing about Singaporean society is that it can be quite elitist, he says. Its clear from the way he says it that he doesn't approve.

A Tory who is against elitism? "That isn't the way things should be," he says, talking about Britain now. "I would like to see a much fairer society. The gap between the haves and have nots is too wide."

Hold on... is he sure he's in the right party?

"I am in the right party. A lot of the party's policies have to do with fairness, and with narrowing the gap."

He clarifies his position. He would like to see a society in which everybody has a chance - in which you start on a level playing field. That doesn't mean everyone will achieve the same, or get the same reward, he says: but everyone should have opportunity.

That belief in fairness is a very British quality, he says. "I think we are very fair people. I don't think we like elitism. We like to see everybody has a chance."

He puts what success he has made of his life down to a few major influences: a couple of inspirational teachers at Easingwold School - and his own father.

His father, Geoffrey, was a West Yorkshire sheep farmer who moved to Easingwold and bought the local milk round. "As kids we used to deliver milk up and down the street in milk barrels." His father became an Easingwold town councillor - and talk around the kitchen table was always of politics.

"We were encouraged to have our say and our view, right from early on."

His dad gave him the confidence to believe he could do anything he put his mind to. Ken Hudson, a physics teacher at Easingwold School, meanwhile, inspired him to do a degree in physics at Sheffield Polytechnic.

It didn't go well, however, and he dropped out after the first year. "I wanted to earn some money."

Those were the days when wearing army surplus clothes was fashionable. He teamed up with a friend from his schooldays, Graeme Willis. The pair bought some army surplus clothes, and arranged a sale at Easingwold town hall. "We advertised around easingwold, and all our friends came. Soon they were selling army surplus goods on stalls from Hemel Hempstead to Dumfries.

The young Kevin branched out on his own, and moved into selling telephones. He could have made good money, he says - except that he wasn't disciplined enough. "I was too distracted." What by? "The usual thing. Having a good time."

His dad told him it was about time he got a real job - and who suggested there was money in property.

So, in his mid twenties, he became a trainee valuer with a small independent estate agent - Claude Elmer - in York's Bishopthorpe Road. Before long, he had moved on to join what was to become the Prudential, managing their office in Burnley.

Then in 1992 he left and, in partnership with John Waterhouse, set up Hunters.

Their first office was in Goodramgate. They opened a second branch in 1994, a third in 1996 and, by the mid 2000s, Hunters had grown into a business with 25 branches (15 of them franchises) and 220 employees.

By this time, he had it all: wife Nikky, three young children, nice car, huge house - Crayke Castle in Crayke.

Then came the crash. He admits he didn't see it coming. The house and the car went - he and his family moved into rented accommodation for three years - and he and his colleagues at Hunters found themselves struggling to save the business.

They laid off all but 65 staff - "that was terrible: they were friends, people we knew" - drew their horns in, and concentrated on doing only what Hunters did best: buying and selling houses, and training franchisees.

They survived - thanks largely to the commitment of his management team, he says.

Today, he has a new house in Husthwaite, and Hunters is expanding again. "We have 114 branches now, 103 of them franchises." The aim is to keep expanding. "We would like to have 500 offices around the UK. We're not aiming to stay where we are."

Provided he gets elected next May, however, he'll no longer be in charge. Instead, he'll be the new Tory MP for Thirsk and Malton.

He doesn't know whether he will make a good MP. "But I'm determined to try." There are too many politicians who have gone straight into politics with no experience of life beforehand. "It would be better if there were more people who had a background of doing other things: business, perhaps, or medicine or education."

Parliament also needs to be more diverse, he says. "The Commons should reflect the make-up of society, our gender mix, our ethnic mix. We've got to find ways of attracting more women, for example."

That said, how does he feel about replacing the only woman Tory MP in Yorkshire and the Humber, Anne McIntosh - especially given the controversial way she was deselected by Tory constituency activists following a 'clash of personalities'?

It's not ideal, he admits. He wasn't involved in that, and he's always got on with her very well. "I have voted for her in the past, and would have voted for her again had she been the candidate."

He's actually had a nice letter from her, he says. "We're both Conservatives through and through and I hope that we can work together in the future.

"I feel for Anne. Her heart is in the right place. But I have lived in this constituency all my life. I was brought up here, and to have the chance to represent it - I don't in way want to be insensitive towards Anne, but it is a dream come true."

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