Swindon North MP Justin Tomlinson has just been appointed Minister for Disabled People. Here he talks to MICHAEL BENKE

WHEN most people are given a promotion at work they often have a good idea it is coming, and certainly have more than a few minutes to think about it.

This was not the case for Swindon North MP Justin Tomlinson, who last month was appointed the Minister for Disabled People by the Prime Minister.

He didn’t know he had the job until he was in front of David Cameron. In fact, so unexpected was the step-up that when he was first contacted by Number 10, he missed the call.

“I was literally brushing my teeth when I noticed I had a missed call on my phone,” said the MP, who was returned with a majority of almost 12,000 at last month’s election.

“I remember laughing to myself thinking wouldn’t it be funny if it was the Prime Minister but didn’t think anything of it.

“It wasn’t until later that I went back to my phone and saw I had a text message asking me to call the Prime Minister’s Office, so I phoned up and they said could I come along to Downing Street in 35 minutes.”

The previous day Justin had been asked to do another job for the party, so even as he approached the famous door he still did not know the exact reason he was there.

Justin said: “The excited part of me thought I might be offered something but the more realistic part of me thought I was going to be formally asked to do a review into our campaign.

“As you’re walking up you of course get all the media. The photo of me is looking a bit confused because at that moment I just thought I was going to be offered the other role formally. I thought ‘this is going to be a bit embarrassing. My mum is watching all excited thinking I’m going to be offered something and then I won’t be’.”

Even as he waited outside David Cameron’s office he was not certain but once he was called in by the Conservative leader he realised this was more than party business.

“It was all very formal and I had to go and sit on the other side of the table,” he said. “I thought, ‘here we go, I’m going to be offered something’.

“He said some nice things about me but because it’s all a whirlwind I can’t remember. He then asked if I would join his government as minister for disabled people and I was delighted to say yes.”

Although not in cabinet, the position is one of the most high-profile in government and instantly Justin’s profile increased. Messages soon came in via social media and a number of articles questionned his suitability for the role.“It was tough,” he admitted. “As a constituency people have been mostly supportive and very nice. While MPs are generally not well-liked people broadly speaking people like their own MP so it was a bit of an eye-opener.

“I gained a lot of Twitter followers and I was trending. A lot of the messages weren’t overly nice but what I had to remember was it wasn’t me as an individual they were targeting but me as the minister. It could literally have been anybody else in the role and the response would be the same.

“My job is to look at where people have genuine concern and are genuinely angry because that is something we have to deal with because no system is ever perfect and you have to respond.

“There are always people who will always hate us because we are the government or because we are the Conservatives and there are some who are unhappy at the election result.

“It comes with the territory but there has also been a lot of very nice stuff coming in, from people who are saying they are looking forward to working with me.

“I am never going to win everyone over, no politician ever will. That comes with the job.”

Despite the baptism of fire, Justin says he is proud to be given the job and is keen to make a difference. The first few weeks have been a whistle-stop tour of charities, finding out about the benefits system and finding out areas of the department which need improving.

Being the “champion” for disabled people there are lots of areas he covers, and in the coming years he will work across many government departments, seeking to improve the lot of disabled people.

Justin’s main aim though is to see more disabled people entering the work place, something he says can be achieved by increasing understanding on both sides.

He said: “A lot of that is about giving confidence to both the potential employee and employer so they can overcome any potential barriers because by and large there is huge amount of knowledge, talent and willingness to work among people with disabilities, and that goes from physical disabilities to mental health.

“I have previously employed someone with a mental health condition. We developed a system whereby we were able to work around this by making a few simple changes in the office.

“He worked for me for two-and-a-half years and it was fantastic. He was highly educated and a great member of the team.

“He got promoted and went to work for another organisation but they didn’t have that conversation we did at the beginning so those small things were not in place.

“Six months later the whole thing unravelled and he was back out of work.

“Had he had the confidence to talk to his new employer without worrying about talking himself out of a new job or the employer had asked at the beginning and changed the way things worked ever so slightly at the beginning he would still be there now.”

While he knows there are challenges ahead, he is looking forward to tackling them head-on.

He said: “I’m very lucky and am going to do everything I can to make the most of this chance.

“Every day I come home I think in a small way I am making a difference to people who really need it.”