Mike Thornton had spent almost 15 years in the mortgage industry, working as a broker and lender, before being thrust into the media spotlight.
Thornton’s introduction to national politics was not a gentle one. In February he was chosen as Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for Eastleigh to succeed disgraced former cabinet minister Chris Huhne.
Huhne, previously a cabinet minister in the coalition government, quit as an MP after pleading guilty to perjury after transferring his speeding points to his wife, economist Vicky Pryce.
Huhne and Pryce both subsequently served time in prison and it was into this tough political environment Thornton was expected to defend his seat in a competitive by-election.
Moreover, the Liberal Democrats faced shocking national polling figures, allegations of sexual harassment against one of its senior politicians and a surge in support for Ukip.
Thornton also had to do battle with the party’s national coalition partners, the Conservatives, to win the seat.
He says: “We thought it [Huhne’s speeding points] had all gone away then bang. It was very strange but great fun and I really enjoyed it. It was really hard work, I was running around in the freezing cold and rain having photographs taken with an umbrella held over me.”
Thornton has enjoyed a colourful and eclectic career before this. After spending years working as a middle marketing manager for a newspaper and magazine wholesale firm he was made redundant.
He says: “When I was in my early 40s with no job I had to do what most unemployed people in the 1990s did and move into financial services.”
He joined Allied Dunbar and later Axa as an adviser but quickly left them because the working model did not suit him. He wanted his own leads and office so he joined Portsmouth estate agency Taylors as an IFA and mortgage adviser.
Later he moved to Northern Rock as a business development manager and, just before the crisis struck, he joined GMAC.
Mortgage brokers will remember the dark days of 2007 and 2008 when specialist lending spectacularly dried up and Thornton was one of the crunch’s many victims.
He only worked a few months at GMAC before it made mass redundancies and then stopped lending in the UK.
After the crash, Thornton found work again with Barclays as a regional bank manager selling products.
But he left the well-paid job because he felt uncomfortable with Barclays’ aggressive sales targets and he felt unable to meet the bank’s demands in an ethical manner.
Thornton gives an insight into the sales incentives’ culture at the bank, which has since been dropped in favour of staff customer service incentives.
He says: “I could not sell what they wanted me to sell and the figures they wanted me to get in an ethical way. Barclays’ attitude was that I was not a good seller. My attitude was that if it did not fit the customer then I would not sell it.
“Since then Barclays has totally changed their culture. A friend who nearly lost her job for not meeting sales targets has now been promoted for her customer service.”
He then moved to south-coast brokerage Simply Finance before his life change forever in February when he became the LibDem’s parliamentary candidate.
Huhne’s guilty plea was unexpected and Thornton had to quickly get up to speed with handling media questions and winning elections.
He says: “I had to learn very quickly how to talk to the press, which sometimes takes years but I had two days before I was in front of journalists. We had hustings and I had to learn how to answer unexpected questions.
“The training I had and the work I had done as a mortgage adviser, where you have to listen, was actually very useful.”
Thornton has enjoyed his six months in Parliament and has ambitions to join select committee and perhaps become a minister or shadow minister if re-elected in 2015.
At the LibDem’s annual conference this week. the party has faced criticism of its record in office but he believes they have to compromise to be in Government and has stern words for members who are unhappy with the party’s record.
He says: “I am a realist. We are the very junior partner of a coalition and we actually came third, we lost the election and yet our supporters do not seem to understand why we cannot put through all our policies.”
Last week Sarah Teather decided to step down as a LibDem MP in 2015, citing the party’s policies on immigration.
Thornton says he understands her position but says he believes the party is doing lots in Government and wants to support it.
For the next general election Thornton hopes the pensions triple lock will remain in his party’s manifesto and wants more LibDem focus on the RDR and the
advice gap. He says: “It is right that when people are investing large sums they pay a fee, not commission because I remember when Scottish Equitable had a 7.5 per cent commission rate.
“What concerns me is someone with £100 a month to invest who cannot afford the fee and no one has worked it out yet.”
Thornton welcomes a possible Treasury select committee inquiry into the RDR and says the LIberal Democrats need to think about financial advice more.
He suggests the possible re-introd-uction of commission for low amounts or the launch of a Government run service; the “NHS of financial services”.
He says: “People don’t understand how investment works and if we continue on this route we will have rich people with good investments and poor people living on 2 per cent returns from banks. We have to find some way of making it worthwhile for advisers to work with the lower paid.”
Born: Farnham, Surrey. 1952
Lives: Bishopstoke, Hampshire
Education: St Columb’s College, Derry
Career: 2013-present: Liberal Democrat MP for Eastleigh; 2013: property tax expert, Portal; 2011-2013: mortgage broker, Simply Finance; 2008-2011: regional bank manager, Barclays; 2007-2008: mortgage business development manager, GMAC; 2001-2007: mortgage business development manager, Northern Rock; 1992-2001: financial adviser and mortgage broker for various firms; 1987-1992: marketing manager at various newspaper wholesalers; 1979-1987: catering manager, Laird hotels; 1973-1979: various catering roles in the United States
Likes: Listening to Radio 4, tennis, squash, I used to play a lot of cricket
Dislikes: Litter, dog mess, people who do not listen to the details of an issue
Drives: Five-year-old Ford Focus
Book: Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
Film: The Shawshank Redemption
If I wasn’t doing this I would be: Working helping people recover property tax reliefs at Portal