Meet the new Leader of the Opposition Roy Clinton – who was born in the same week as the 1967 referendum

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HE has a particularly poignant reason to be celebrating National Day this year.

For Leader of the Opposition Roy Clinton was born in the very same week of the famous 1967 referendum, some 50 years ago this September.

“I arrived five days later so I was in the polling booth in my mother’s tummy at the time of the vote,” he explains. “So it is understandably very close to my heart.”

The celebrated referendum, which cemented Gibraltar’s close alliance to the UK, led to the closure of the border and shaped the current generation of politicians in power.

Clinton, 49, who took over the leadership of the Gibraltar Social Democrats (GSD) party earlier this summer, was certainly one of those, and as a result suffered great hardship.

“The referendum was an act of defiance and an expression of our right for determination. It was our right, but it led to tough times that is for sure,” he explains over lunch at historic eatery Sacarellos, on Irish Town.

“Just two years later the frontier closed, which led to our defining years. And none of us who lived through that time will ever forget it.”

While now a successful chartered accountant by trade, Clinton himself is quick to point out how un-illustrious was his family in Gibraltar and what a humble upbringing he had.
Born into a poor family, half Irish, half French, he grew up in one of the ‘Upper Town slums’ with a small patio and ‘an outside bathroom and loo’.

His father was a carpenter, who became a ‘self-taught’ bookkeeper and he and his brother were the first in the Clinton family to attend university, both later becoming accountants, ‘despite both of us vowing to never do that’.

“The Chief Minister may well like to call me a toff, because of my time in banking, but I had the simplest of upbringings and live the same today with just one home here in Gibraltar,” he insists. “Meanwhile Fabian has two houses in Sotogrande and his wife drives a Porsche… and he’s meant to be a socialist.”

But truth be told, the rather-ordinary looking Roy is slightly vague, even a touch evasive, about his exact long term roots.

He insists his family have done ‘nothing remarkable’ on the Rock despite being here for over 150 years… and it is fair to say, even by his own admittance, that he’s a man of relatively few words.

“After a radio interview recently, the journalist admonished me for too many short replies,” he jokes. “She tried to do the Jeremy Paxman on me, but I wasn’t having it.”

It is this wry sense of humour that is actually quite endearing. And there is none of the usual spin, bluster and witty soundbites one has got so used to in politics these days.

As he explains over a long, three-hour lunch (with not a sniff of alcohol, just still water), much of this is to do with his background as an accountant and he claims he is the first number cruncher to get into politics in Gibraltar.

GRADUATION: Roy was the first in his family to go to university

“I was also always trained to be ‘concise, precise and truthful.’ Unfortunately that probably does not make me a very good politician. I like to say it how it is.”

Indeed, he explains his main reason to get into politics in November 2015 was because he was ‘tired of hearing all the two-a-penny lawyers talking incorrectly about finance’.

“Accountants are generally problem solvers and the last thing they want is confrontation…they are normally peacemakers and far too sensible to get into politics.

“But I think that is a good thing as I am able to see all the financial flaws in all the government’s arguments.

“I see it less of a popularity contest and more of an issue of work ethic. I try not to put too much spin on things, but would rather explain to the electorate what I have found and what I think rather than dressing it up in a particular way.

“I want to give people the facts and they make up their own minds. The electorate are more sophisticated than some people might think.”

Fortunately he has grown to enjoy his role in parliament, now as Leader of the Opposition, after Daniel Feetham controversially resigned in July.

It is a subject he is not keen to dwell on, albeit to say that he doesn’t feel Feetham had been treated well by the government.

“This is a guy who has literally taken a knife for Gib. And you would think he would have more traction, which is a shame. Ultimately he worked bloody hard and genuinely wanted the best for Gib… but it was a thankless task and the personal sacrifices went way beyond what any normal person would be expected to put up with,” he says.

He himself will not be drawn into, what he calls ‘playground politics’.

“I am pretty clear of the rules of debate we should be following… it should prohibit casting aspersions at people and not getting too personal. That is not right.

“Fabian will miss Daniel because I will simply not rise to his personal attacks. I will raise objections when the Chief Minister is going off piste.

“I will stop the debate and tell him he can join a debating society.”

It is this frank approach, that is set to bring a new style to Gibraltar politics.

But that is not to say that Roy is a slouch when it comes to the job.

He reads the Chronicle and other newspapers every day, follows the Olive Press on Twitter, checking the feed up to three times a day. And also regularly checks Facebook as well.

It is also clear he doesn’t need the money (indeed he made the decision to give 25,000 pounds of his salary to his party each year) and luckily his wife, May, is also supportive.
“She is very happy for me and supportive and really helps to keep me sane… but I know exactly where I am in the pecking order,” he explains.

“First come her kids, 17 and 15, then it is the two dogs, then the terrapin. I am actually back behind the Dragon Fruit Cactus. I know where I stand.”

He had actually met the primary school teacher from Hong Kong, four years ago, and they married last year, taking a cruise between Greece and Venice for their honeymoon.

The pair are both big fans of travel and are currently planning a forthcoming trip to Japan and China.

“I have also taken her on quite a few shopping trips back to the UK. I particularly love Portobello Road and my passion is searching for antique books and maps, particularly ones of Gibraltar. I love the hunt and over the years I have built up quite a good collection,” he says.

He has also long been a fan of opera, as well as theatre, which started when he regularly visited Stratford-upon-Avon, home of Shakespeare, as a student.

“We used to get the train from Birmingham and paid just five pounds for tickets at The Swan, then camp in a nearby field,” he recalls.

As for his chance of getting into power and leading Gibraltar, he is pragmatic.

“I know I am still learning the tools of the trade and how to do it, but one thing for sure we need to be more transparent here… there is no reason not to be.”

CLINTON: At a youth event

He continues: “Ultimately I understand budgets and money… and the money belongs to the people. We are custodians of their money. We need to spend it wisely and properly.”

He continues: My rationale to get into politics was not to prove anything to anyone but that something needed to be done on finance. I am not doing it for my own ego and I don’t want any accolades.”

And he concludes: “I feel the time is right. The time is now and I have ended up getting into politics at the right time. I just hope the executive agrees to give me a chance.”

 



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