13 March 2019

Meaningful volleys - who are the politicians who could wield a racket?

As parliament battles with the biggest political crisis of the decade, we wondered how the politicians would fare on the tennis court. Surprisingly perhaps we discovered a fair few MPs are better at backhands than backstops

Some years ago, before Local Tennis Leagues' Nigel helped set up our first league, he had the chance to take on the Houses of Parliament's tennis club in a game of doubles. "It was a fun encounter", he recalls, "a challenge organised by the tennis magazine I was working on and accepted by Baroness Billingham, the captain of the Parliamentary club and and a former Wimbledon junior. But perhaps the highlight was playing against David Cameron in a doubles match. He wasn't yet Prime Minister, but a fast-rising star of the Conservative party."

So did Nigel's team win? "I fear not," says Nigel, "but I do recall one particularly poorly placed volley that smacked the future prime minister squarely in the middle of his forhead. He was vey good about it and I'm sure it didn't impair his ability to run the country."

So who are our parliamentary players...

Boris Johnson

It's not just whifwaf (table tennis to those who don't speak Boris) that interests the former mayor of London. An eccentric tennis player, Boris has often been seen on the public courts at Highbury Fiels in north London, sometimes taking on political journo, Peter Oborne. You can always tell which one is Boris; he insists on using a wooden racket.

Tony Blair

The former Prime Minister is so keen on tennis that when on official business around the country, he would sometimes ring the local tourist board in hope that they might be able to find him a hit. In Cumbria at least, it was a strategy that worked. Blair also used tennis to help raise money for charity, on one occasion taking on chat-show host Jonathan Ross on the hallowed turf of Queen's Club in London.

Jeremy Corbyn

As far as we know, the Leader of the Opposition is not a tennis player, but when there was a suggestion that Labour fans might be singing the 'Oh Jeremy Corbyn' chant in the Wimbledon stands in 2017, the All England Lawn Tennis Club, which prohibits any objects or clothing bearing political statements, politely made its feelings clear. “We wouldn’t want people to use this kind of event as a platform for their specific views or causes," said a spokesperson at the time.

John Bercow

The House of Commons might have been deprived of its controversial Speaker had John Bercow not suffered a bout of bronchical asthma in his teens. Aged 12, the diminuitive politican was the number one ranked junior in Britain and by his own admission, was "ferociously competitive". A regular in the Wimbledon crowd, Bercow has written a book about some his favourite players, his best-loved being Roger Federer 

Theresa May

The fields-of-wheat-runner and podium dancer is not known to be a tennis player, but Prime Ministers do get invited to Wimbledon and in 2017 May was in the Royal Box to watch the Men's Finals. She was much criticised however for failing to stay to watch Brits Heather Watson and Jamie Murray in their match.

Above, Have I Got News For You pokes fun at Boris Johnson after it is reported a £160,000 donation was made to the Conservatives by a former Russian minister's wife in return for a tennis match with him

[Above, Davis Cameron at International Paralympic Day 2011 by Rob Howard on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons]