Eric Pickles

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The Right Honourable
Eric Pickles
Eric Pickles Official.jpg
Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government
Assumed office
12 May 2010
Prime Minister David Cameron
Preceded by John Denham
Minister of State for Faith
Assumed office
6 August 2014
Prime Minister David Cameron
Preceded by The Baroness Warsi
Chairman of the Conservative Party
In office
19 January 2009 – 12 May 2010
Leader David Cameron
Preceded by Caroline Spelman
Succeeded by Andrew Feldman
The Baroness Warsi
Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government
In office
27 June 2007 – 19 January 2009
Leader David Cameron
Preceded by Caroline Spelman
Succeeded by Caroline Spelman
Member of Parliament
for Brentwood and Ongar
Assumed office
9 April 1992
Preceded by Robert McCrindle
Majority 16,920 (33.4%)
Personal details
Born (1952-04-20) 20 April 1952 (age 62)
Keighley, West Riding of Yorkshire, England
Political party Conservative
Spouse(s) Irene Coates
Alma mater Leeds Metropolitan University
Website Official website
from the BBC programme Desert Island Discs, 9 December 2012[1]

Problems playing this file? See media help.

Eric Jack Pickles (born 20 April 1952) is a Conservative Party politician who has been the Member of Parliament for Brentwood and Ongar since 1992 and is the current Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. He was previously the Chairman of the Conservative Party from 2009 to 2010.

Early life[edit]

Born in Keighley, West Riding of Yorkshire, he attended Greenhead Grammar School (which became Greenhead High School and is now University Academy Keighley) on Greenhead Road in Utley, north Keighley, then studied at Leeds Polytechnic. He was born into a Labour-supporting family – his great grandfather was one of the founders of the Independent Labour Party, and Pickles described himself as "massively inclined" towards communism as a boy.[2] Pickles is a longtime friend of libertarian bioethicist Jacob Appel.[3] He is the basis for Larry Bloom's employer in the allegorical novel, The Biology of Luck.[3][4]

Young Conservatives[edit]

After the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia, he joined the local Keighley Branch of the Young Conservatives in 1968 in disgust at communist ideology. "I joined because of the invasion of Czechoslovakia. I was so shocked by the tanks. It was not the best way of fighting Brezhnev, but it made me feel better".[5][6]

Pickles soon became the chairman of the local Young Conservatives association.[6] During his time in the Young Conservatives he became a member of the Joint Committee Against Racism from 1982 to 1987 and later became its Chairman.[7] His period as National Young Conservative Chairman saw growing factionalism with challenges from a southern-based right wing to Pickles' moderate leadership.[8] Pickles also moved against right-wingers in Bradford, expelling the Young Conservative, Yorkshire Chairman of the Monday Club who had stood for the Bradford Wyke Ward on an anti-immigrant platform from the Bradford area constituencies.[9][10][11][12]

Bradford councillor[edit]

Pickles was first elected to Bradford Council in 1979.[6] From 1982 to 1984, he chaired that Council's Social Services Committee, and then, from 1984 to 1986, he chaired the Education Committee.[13] Between 1988 and 1990, he served as leader of the Conservative group on the council. In September 1988 the Conservative Party gained control by using the Conservative mayor's casting vote to become the only inner-city council to be controlled by the Conservatives.

When Bradford Council was hung, Pickles opted to break the agreement that the position of Lord Mayor is rotated between the parties, when he put a Conservative mayor in place again.[14] This effectively gave the Conservatives a majority due to the Lord Mayor's casting vote. To do this, they also broke the tradition that the Lord Mayor kept the status quo.

Whilst at Bradford, Pickles announced a five-year plan to cut the council's budget by £50m, reduce the workforce by a third, privatise services and undertake council departmental restructures, many of which proved controversial.[14] A book, The Pickles Papers by Tony Grogan, was written about this period in Pickles' life.[15]

Parliamentary career[edit]

Pickles has been Member of Parliament for Brentwood and Ongar since 1992. He is currently the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government in the coalition government headed by Prime Minister David Cameron, following his appointment to the role on 12 May 2010. Previously he has served as Chairman of the Conservative Party from January 2009 to May 2010 and Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, having held that post since June 2007. Prior to this he served as Shadow Minister for Local Government from June 2002. Before that Pickles was Shadow Minister for Transport (September 2001 – June 2002) and Shadow Minister for London.

At the 2001 general election, the independent candidate Martin Bell, who was the MP for Tatton, having run a campaign of "anti-sleaze", stood against Pickles due to accusations that the Peniel Pentecostal Church had infiltrated the local Conservative branch.[16] Pickles's majority was severely reduced, but he retained his seat by a margin of 2,821 votes (6.5%) becoming elected with only 38% of the votes against Martin Bell's 31.5%.

At the 2005 general election Pickles retained the seat with an increased majority of 11,612 (26.3%), nearly as many as the total votes cast for the second-place candidate, and making this the second-safest seat in Eastern England, and Pickles the MP with the third-highest share of the vote cast[17] in this region. Pickles polled a total of 23,609 votes (53.5%).

On 2 July 2007 David Cameron appointed Pickles to a reshuffled Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Communities and Local Government Secretary. On 30 December 2008, according to reports in The Times, Pickles unveiled plans to "purge town hall 'fat cats'". The Times reported that under the plans "dozens of council chiefs who earn more than Cabinet ministers would lose their jobs as clusters of councils merged their frontline services and backroom operations to provide better value for money."[18] Of the eight highest earning chief executives listed in The Times' report, six were employed by councils run by the Conservative party, one by Labour and one by the Liberal Democrats.

Pickles was the campaign manager for the successful Crewe and Nantwich by-election in May 2008. Following this, Pickles was promoted to Chairman of the Conservative Party in January 2009.

In early 2010, Pickles defended the first-past-the-post voting system as resulting in stable government. He attacked Prime Minister Gordon Brown saying he "... now wants to fiddle the electoral system" by wanting to look at a proportional voting system with a single transferable vote.[19]

Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government[edit]

Pickles was appointed as Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government as part of David Cameron's new coalition Government on 12 May 2010,[20] and sworn as a Privy Counsellor on 13 May 2010.[21]

Pickles delivers the keynote address at the Flag Institute Spring Meeting 2011 in Mayfair

In his role as Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, on 30 July 2010, Pickles announced plans to hand powers where ministers can cap unreasonable increases in council taxes to local people. A consultation begun in August 2010 and the powers, which will require legislation, should be in force by March 2012.[needs update] Pickles said he was determined to reverse the presumption that Whitehall knows best by making local councils directly accountable to the local taxpayer. He said: "If councils want to increase council tax further, they will have to prove the case to the electorate. Let the people decide". Residents would be asked to choose between accepting the rise or rejecting it and instead accepting a below inflation rise, but with reduced council services. The average council tax on a Band D property increased from £688 a year in 1997/98 to £1,439 for 2010.[22]

Pickles is a figure who doesn't shun controversy. In The Observer, Will Hutton appraised his role with regard to local government as follows: "Local government minister Eric Pickles has colluded cheerfully with George Osborne to knock local government back to being no more than rat catchers and managers of street lighting. Indeed, they scarcely give them the funds to carry out these activities."[23]
In December 2014, asked in Parliament if people who left their wheelie bins in the street after a collection should be punished, he said they should be flogged -though he also said flogging was too good for them and that leaving the bin in the middle of the road was poor behaviour.[24]

The Rotherham child sexual exploitation scandal was unearthed during Pickles' tenure, and in February 2015, he announced a strategy to implement commissioners at Rotherham Council in the wake of the Casey Report, which had been commissioned in 2014 to investigate child sex abuse in Rotherham. Seven councillors resigned as a result of the damming report, which revealed that the local authority was "wholly dysfunctional" and that the failure to protect 1,400 girls from sexual abuse was a result of "complacency, institutionalised political correctness" and "blatant failures of political and officer leadership". [25]

Localism Act[edit]

Pickles in 2009

Pickles was responsible for the Localism Act 2011 that changed the powers of local government in England. The measures affected by the Act include more elected mayors and referendums. The Localism Act opens with Part 1, Chapter 1(1), under the heading "Local authority's general power of competence", "A local council has power to do anything that individuals generally may do".[26]

The bill was introduced by Pickles, and given its first reading on 13 December 2010. The Bill completed the third reading in the House of Lords on 31 October 2011.[27] The bill received Royal Assent on 15 November 2011.

The bill was quickly undermined, however, after it was published on 13 December. One of the claims made for it is that it would "give local communities real control over housing and planning decisions", but on the same day, Pickles issued a decision in a planning appeal. The National Grid had applied to Tewkesbury Borough Council to build a gas plant just outside Tirley in Gloucestershire. The installation would occupy more than 16 acres and the application had been opposed by more than 1,000 residents in a sparsely populated rural area, by 12 parish councils and by every member of the planning committee of the local planning authority. Rejecting the local opposition, Pickles chose to grant permission to build the gas plant.[28]

In April 2014, South Norfolk MP Richard Bacon welcomed the decision that Pickles and the DCLG[clarification needed] would have final say over the building of wind turbines.[29] By June 2014, Pickles had intervened on 12 windfarm projects and rejected 10 of them, against the recommendations from planning inspectors,[30] rising to 50 rejections by October 2014.[31]

Council prayers[edit]

On 10 February 2012, the National Secular Society obtained a High Court judicial review of the Christian prayers held during meetings in council chambers, which non-Christian councillors were forced to attend as prayers formed part of the formal agenda and councillors are obliged to attend for the duration of the formal agenda. Mr Justice Ouseley ruled: "The saying of prayers as part of the formal meeting of a Council is not lawful under s111 of the Local Government Act 1972, and there is no statutory power permitting the practice to continue. I do not think the 1972 Act should be interpreted as permitting the religious views of one group of councillors, however sincere or large in number, to exclude, or even to a modest extent, to impose burdens on or even to mark out those who do not share their views and do not wish to participate in their expression of them. They are all equally elected councillors".[32]

Although Mr Justice Ouseley said prayers were permitted to be held before the start of the formal agenda, Eric Pickles vowed to reverse the High Court decision, despite a recent Yougov poll showing 55% were against councils holding prayers with just 26% in favour.[33] Eric Pickles brought forward his Localism Act, due to become law in April 2012, and made it law on 17 February 2012 claiming he is 'effectively reversing' the High Court decision.[34]

Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society, commented "A number of senior lawyers have expressed doubt whether the Localism Act will, as Mr Pickles hopes, make prayers lawful, and the Act was clearly not passed with that express intention. His powers to pass legislation are not, as he implies, untrammelled. Council prayers increasingly look set to become a battle between the Government and the courts at ever higher levels".[35] The Localism Act permits local government councils to do anything that is not forbidden. Eric Pickles has written to all local government councils encouraging them to continue with prayers in council meetings.[36] In April 2013, referring to the issue of prayers in council meetings, Pickles said in a speech at the Conservative Spring Forum that "militant atheists" should accept that Britain is a Christian country.[37]


Eric Pickles hoisting the Essex flag above the Department for Communities and Local Government in 2010.

Pickles is a self-proclaimed flag enthusiast,[38] and has taken a personal interest in ensuring that English County flags are regularly flown from the Department for Communities and Local Government.[39][40] He has urged people to fly the St George Cross of England more widely for St. George's Day and encouraged public bodies to adopt a commonsense approach to flying the flag.[41] On 14 May 2011, at the Flag Institute spring meeting, Pickles announced a consultation aimed at "Making it easier for people to celebrate an identity or an organisation that means something to them".[42]

Second home[edit]

On 26 March 2009, Pickles appeared on the political debate programme Question Time in Newcastle upon Tyne. While discussing the controversy over Tony McNulty (who had recently admitted claiming expenses on a second home, occupied by his parents, only 8 miles away from his primary residence), Pickles admitted he claimed a second home allowance because he lived 37 miles from Westminster and needed to leave his constituency house in Brentwood at 5.30 am to get to Westminster for 9.30 am,[43][44] given that he tended to get home at midnight or 1 am, although the standard time for commuters from this region is usually ninety minutes.[45] He went on to say that it was "no fun" commuting into London from where he lived. In response to Pickles's comments that he "had to be there [the House of Commons] on time", Question Time host David Dimbleby, replied "Like a job, in other words?" prompting amusement amongst the audience. There were also remarks from the audience about nurses and firemen etc. having to commute across London and get to their jobs on time and having to do without a second home.

Pickles was asked to pay back £300 following the MP's expenses scandal, which he had claimed for cleaning.[46]

Radio show[edit]

Pickles also appeared as a radio presenter on local community radio station Phoenix FM together with the then Leader of Brentwood Council (and fellow Conservative) Brandon Lewis in a show titled The Eric and Brandon Show. The show was billed as non-party political, and involved the two politicians interviewing local personalities interspersed with music.

Personal life[edit]

Pickles married Irene Coates in 1976 in Staincliffe, a district of Batley in West Yorkshire.


  • Eric Pickles Esq (1952–1992)
  • Eric Pickles Esq MP (1992–2010)
  • The Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP (2010–)


  1. ^ "Eric pickles". Desert Island Discs. 9 December 2012. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 18 January 2014. 
  2. ^ Watts, Robert (22 November 2009). "Eric Pickles tells of communist past as Eric the Red". London: The Times. Retrieved 22 November 2009. 
  3. ^ a b Daleville (Alabama) Sun-Courier, 28 September 2014
  4. ^ The Times-Record (Fayette, Alabama), 15 June 2013
  5. ^ "Pickles Papers Chapter 2 Para 15". 
  6. ^ a b c Hetherington, Peter (2 July 2008). "Bluff diamond". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 31 July 2008. 
  7. ^ Dod's Parliamentary Companion 2005, 173 edition, London 2004, p.275
  8. ^ Administrator. "Pickles Papers Chapter 2". 
  9. ^ Administrator. "Pickles Papers Chapter 9". 
  10. ^ City Limits magazine, 9–16 August 1990, p.8.
  11. ^ City Limits 30 August - 6 September 1990: Letter from Monday Club.
  12. ^ Leeds Other Paper July 1990
  13. ^ "Eric PICKLES", Debrett's People of Today. Accessed 16 July 2014.
  14. ^ a b Vallely, Paul (24 January 2009). "Eric Pickles: The Tory heavyweight". The Independent (London). Retrieved 6 July 2010. 
  15. ^ Tony Grogan, "The Pickles Papers", 1989, ISBN 0-948994-04-5
  16. ^ "Martin Bell to run for MP again". BBC News. 8 December 2000. Retrieved 14 August 2012. 
  17. ^ House of Commons Research Paper 05/33 – The General Election 2005
  18. ^ Tories plan purge of town hall ‘fat cats’, The Times, 30 December 2008[dead link]
  19. ^ "Gordon Brown outlines plans to reform UK voting system". BBC News. 2 February 2010. Retrieved 22 April 2013. 
  20. ^ "The Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP". Department for Communities and Local Government. Retrieved 31 October 2011. 
  21. ^ "Privy Council appointments, 13 May 2010". Privy Council. Retrieved 26 July 2010. 
  22. ^ Hope, Christopher (30 July 2010). "Local people to get powers to veto excessive council tax rises, Eric Pickles to say today". London: Retrieved 4 October 2010. 
  23. ^ Will Hutton "Birmingham's last hurrah for local pride before civic Britain is culled", The Observer, 1 September 2013
  24. ^ Christopher Hope (16 December 2014). "'Flog' home owners who leave bins in road, says Eric Pickles". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 17 December 2014. 
  25. ^ Eric Pickles' statement to Parliament r.e. Casey Report 4th February 2015 [1]
  26. ^ Pickles, Eric (13 December 2010), Localism Act 2011 
  27. ^ Localism Bill 2010–11, UK Parliament 
  28. ^ Tirley PRI Secretaries of State decision letter 
  29. ^ Bareham, Dominic (15 April 2014). "South Norfolk MP Richard Bacon welcomes turbine decision - News -". Diss Mercury. Retrieved 15 December 2014. 
  30. ^ Malone, Charlotte (6 June 2014). "Eric Pickles rejects 10 out of 12 wind farm applications". Blue and Green Tomorrow. Retrieved 28 October 2014. 
  31. ^ Toynbee, Polly (28 October 2014). "This war on windfarms is the Tories’ latest sop to Ukip". Gurdian (Manchester). Retrieved 28 October 2014. 
  32. ^ "High Court Ruling on Council Prayers". National Secular Society. Retrieved 20 February 2012. 
  33. ^ "Yougov poll on Council Prayers". National Secular Society. Retrieved 20 February 2012. 
  34. ^ "BBC News on Council Prayers". BBC. 18 February 2012. Retrieved 20 February 2012. 
  35. ^ "Keith Porteous Wood". National Secular Society. Retrieved 20 February 2012. 
  36. ^ "Prayer Advice". Communities and Local Government. Retrieved 29 March 2012. 
  37. ^ Peter Dominiczak "Militant atheists should 'get over it' and accept UK is Christian ", Daily Telegraph, 6 April 2014
  38. ^ Eric Pickles’ speech to the Flag Institute Spring Meeting, 14 May 2011
  39. ^ "Flying the flag for Middlesex". Hillingdon Times. 
  40. ^ "Eric Pickles raises the Essex flag outside CLG". Flickr. 
  41. ^ Eric Pickles urges England to fly the flag for St George’s Day
  42. ^ Flag consultation announcement
  43. ^ "MP: Long hours justify second home claim BBC 26 March 2009". BBC News. 27 March 2009. Retrieved 4 October 2010. 
  44. ^ Martin, Iain (27 March 2009). "Tories should put Eric Pickles under house arrest – Iain Martin, Daily Telegraph 27 March 2009". London: Retrieved 4 October 2010. 
  45. ^ "Eric Pickles on Question Time – 1:35 on the video, 21 March 2009". 21 March 2009. Retrieved 4 October 2010. 
  46. ^ Stratton, Allegra (16 October 2009). "MPs' expenses: Who is in the clear, and who owes what". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2 May 2010. 


  • Grogan, Tony (1989), The Pickles Papers, Bradford: 1 in 12 Publications, ISBN 0-948994-04-5 .

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Robert McCrindle
Member of Parliament
for Brentwood and Ongar

Political offices
Preceded by
Caroline Spelman
Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government
Succeeded by
Caroline Spelman
Preceded by
John Denham
Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government
Preceded by
The Baroness Warsi
Minister of State for Faith
Party political offices
Preceded by
Caroline Spelman
Chairman of the Conservative Party
Succeeded by
The Baroness Warsi