When Damian Collins received his first Holy Communion in the 1980s at St Mary’s Catholic secondary school in rural Herefordshire, he was made an altar boy almost straight away. Seeing that he was a natural in his new role, one of the older parish ladies exclaimed: “Damian will be a bishop before he knows it.”
But despite being educated at Belmont Abbey – where he won a scholarship – and reading history at St Benet’s Hall in Oxford, he didn’t end up pursuing an ecclesiastical career. Instead, he chose politics and is now at the front of the pack of the Tory “new blood” talent that we can expect to see on the front benches in years to come.
Collins entered the Commons in 2010, in the same intake as Jacob Rees-Mogg, now widely talked about as a possible next Conservative leader. But it was Collins, not Rees-Mogg, who was first quickly promoted by David Cameron, being appointed in 2012 as parliamentary private secretary (PPS) to the then Northern Ireland secretary Theresa Villiers, and then PPS to the then foreign secretary Philip Hammond.
Last November, Collins was once again elected by his fellow MPs to the high-profile role of chairman of the digital, culture, media and sport select committee. He has led the committee’s inquiries into “fake news”, corruption, doping and homophobia in sport, as well as the “impact of Brexit on the creative industries and tourism”.
As chairman, he has to closely monitor BBC coverage, not the least in terms of religion. When I meet him I ask whether he feels the Beeb is dumbing down religion, given that it spent more than £1 million on an animated Christmas advert that made no reference to Christianity. “Christmas is not a winter retail festival,” he says. “It is first and foremost a religious festival, and the Christian faith is a central part of our story as a nation, and many of our laws, customs and practices are built around the fact that we are, at heart, a Christian country, albeit one that is open and tolerant and inclusive of other religions, too.”
Collins is one of more than 60 MPs who identify themselves as Catholic. He has not been as outspoken about his own beliefs as some. But while the convictions of Jacob Rees-Mogg, for example, are widely known after he came out very publicly in opposition to abortion, that doesn’t mean that Collins doesn’t hold his own strong beliefs or wrestle with his conscience as an MP.
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