Helen Grant (politician)

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Helen Grant
MP
Helen Grant 2012.jpg
Minister for Sport
Incumbent
Assumed office
7 October 2013
Prime Minister David Cameron
Preceded by Hugh Robertson
Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice
In office
4 September 2012 – 7 October 2013
Prime Minister David Cameron
Preceded by Jonathan Djanogly
Succeeded by Shailesh Vara
Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Equalities
Incumbent
Assumed office
4 September 2012
Prime Minister David Cameron
Preceded by Lynne Featherstone
Member of Parliament
for Maidstone and The Weald
Incumbent
Assumed office
6 May 2010
Preceded by Ann Widdecombe
Majority 5,889 (12.0%)
Personal details
Born (1961-09-28) 28 September 1961 (age 53)
Willesden, Middlesex, England
Nationality British
Political party Conservative
Spouse(s) Simon Grant[1]
Children 2
Alma mater University of Hull
Occupation Solicitor
Website helengrant.org

Helen Grant (born 28 September 1961)[2] is a British Conservative Party politician and solicitor. She is the current Member of Parliament for Maidstone and The Weald in Kent and the current Minister for Sport and Equalities. She was elected at the 2010 general election, replacing the constituency's previous incumbent, Ann Widdecombe, who had decided to step down as an MP. Grant was the first black woman to be selected to defend a Tory seat and her election made her the Conservatives' first female black MP.[3]

Grant received her first government appointment in September 2012, when she received the dual roles of Under-Secretary of State for Justice and Under-Secretary for Women and Equalities. Grant attracted media attention in November 2012 after it emerged she was allowed to claim the maximum expenses allowed within the IPSA rules for a London flat, despite her family home being within 20 miles of London.[4][5]

Early life[edit]

Grant was born in Willesden, north London to an English mother and Nigerian father, but grew up in a single parent family after her parents separated and her father emigrated to the United States.[6] She was raised in Carlisle where she lived on the city's Raffles council estate with her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. She said in a 2008 interview with the Daily Mail that she was the victim of racist bullying at school.[6] In a 2010 interview she spoke fondly of her childhood, and the house in which she grew up. "I had happy memories in that house and it gave me a good start in life, [...] There was deprivation around, there was certainly need, there was some domestic violence and there were some fights. But my memory of the square where we lived is that there was pride in people."[7]

At school she was captain of the school tennis and hockey teams, and represented Cumbria in hockey, tennis, athletics, and cross-country. She was also an under-16 judo champion for the north of England and southern Scotland. She studied law at the University of Hull, after which she planned to take specialist legal qualifications. When it appeared unlikely that her local education authority would fund a place at her preferred college, her local MP Willie Whitelaw championed her cause,[6] and she took a place at the College of Law in Guildford.

Career[edit]

Grant undertook her articles of clerkship at Cartmell, Mawson & Main solicitors in Carlisle, where she qualified as a solicitor.[3] She then joined a legal practice in Wimbledon specialising in family law. She established her own practice, Grants Solicitors, in 1996, which also specialises in family law.[8] She has subsequently said that as a practising lawyer she saw a 'huge amount' of domestic violence, and that it had a 'huge effect' on her subsequent Ministerial role.[9]

Political career[edit]

Grant joined the Labour Party in 2004 and was asked by a senior local party figure to consider becoming a local councillor, but she rejected the idea. She offered the local party the use of her company's telephones in late 2004 prior to the 2005 general election. She claimed, however, they showed little interest, and that this left her feeling disillusioned with Labour. She joined the Conservatives in 2006, and later said of her membership of Labour, "It was almost looking in the biscuit barrel, not liking the look of the biscuits, and slamming the lid shut."[8]

Grant was a non-executive director of the Croydon NHS Primary Care Trust from January 2005 to March 2007 before stepping down to concentrate on her political career.[10]

In 2006 Grant worked with Iain Duncan Smith's Centre for Social Justice in the formation of Conservative policy to deal with family breakdown. Grant was one of the authors of the Social Justice Policy Group Report 'State of the Nation - Fractured Families' published in December 2006, and the follow-up solutions report 'Breakthrough Britain' published in July 2007.[10]

Parliamentary career[edit]

Grant applied to become a parliamentary candidate,[8] and was approved as a candidate in May 2006. She was selected by the Conservative Party as the prospective candidate for Maidstone and The Weald in January 2008, replacing longstanding MP Ann Widdecombe who had announced that she would be stepping down at the next general election.[6] She was the first black woman to be selected to defend a Tory seat, which at the time had a majority of 15,000.[11] She was selected as an A-List candidate and, although she was publicly supported by the sitting MP, Widdecombe criticised David Cameron's policy of ensuring 50% of the Conservatives' A-list candidates were women—a policy thought to have helped Grant win the nomination. This was quickly followed by revelations from a Sunday newspaper regarding her previous membership of Labour.[8]

Grant was elected as the Conservative MP for Maidstone and The Weald at the 2010 general election on 6 May 2010, achieving a reduced majority of 5,889.[12] Her election made her the Conservative Party’s first black woman MP.[3] In June 2010 she was elected to the Justice Select Committee,[13] a House of Commons select committee which oversees the policy, administration, and spending of the UK's Ministry of Justice.

On 4 September 2012 following a government reshuffle, Grant was appointed Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, and Women and Equality.[14] She has been described as the 'Minister for Victims' of crime, and states her role as to 'look after the interests of victims and witnesses of any crime, including domestic violence, sexual violence and rape.'.[9]

Expenses controversy 2012[edit]

Grant attracted controversy in November 2012 when an edition of the Channel 4 documentary strand Dispatches reported that she was according to published records claiming the full £1,666.67/month[5] under MPs expenses - the maximum allowed within the IPSA rules - for a flat in London, when she has a home in Kingswood, Surrey, near Reigate.[4] Kingswood is located within a zone around London in which MPs cannot claim expenses for a London rental, but it is allowed in her case because she represents Maidstone and the Weald, which is outside the exclusion zone.[5] At that time Grant used a base bordering her constituency, where her mother lives and her son also lived while at school in Maidstone until 2013.[5] IPSA confirmed that Grant was entitled to a second-home allowance on Parliamentary expenses because her constituency was outside London, and her claim was within the rules.[5] However, Labour MP John Mann, a long standing campaigner on MPs' expenses, described the minister's actions as "outrageous" and a "farce":[5]

However, Mann's comments were countered by the MP for Reigate Crispin Blunt. Coming to her defence Mr Blunt said: "Helen has a substantial ministerial portfolio, constituents, a constituency and family responsibilities to manage. Her arrangements are not analogous to mine". "These are part of the trade-offs that MPs and ministers have to make all the time to try to meet all the competing demands on them. Frankly, I think this is a pretty cheap shot by Dispatches and I would hope you would be sympathetic to someone who has done a considerable public service, by moving from a successful professional service business into public service at significant expense to herself and her family." [15]

IPSA Controversy[edit]

Grant was also involved in controversy after the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority found that the standard employment contract template for the majority of her staff had been amended[16][17] although her husband, who was also employed by her, remained on an unaltered contract.[17] A constituency employee asked IPSA to check the terms of his sick pay[citation needed] when he took time off because of a heart condition after it became apparent he was only entitled to two weeks' sick pay rather than the IPSA contract standard of 26 weeks.

Grant initially refused to comment on the claim[16] although the Ministry of Justice stated that the changes to contracts were an attempt to provide a "fairer deal" for taxpayers.[16] IPSA stated that the contract should not have been changed.[16] Grant's husband later resigned from his position after it was revealed he had known about the changes for two months but had not informed his wife due to "oversight on his part rather than design".[17]

Personal life[edit]

Grant met her husband, Simon, in 1990,[6] and the couple, who married in 1991, have two sons,[18] one of whom was serving in the Royal Marines in Apr 2013.[9] They have a home in Kingswood, Surrey and in the constituency in Marden, Kent.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "The Register of Members' Financial Interests: Part 2: As at 24th January 2011". www.parliament.co.uk (HM Government of the United Kingdom). 24 January 2011. Retrieved 3 February 2011. 
  2. ^ "Helen Grant MP". BBC Democracy Live (BBC). Retrieved 19 May 2010. 
  3. ^ a b c Whittle, Julian (7 May 2010). "Ex-Carlisle mum wins ‘safe’ seat to become Tories first black woman MP". News & Star. Retrieved 7 May 2010. 
  4. ^ a b Antony Barnett (19 November 2012). "MPs: Are They Still at It?". Channel 4. Retrieved 10 January 2013. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f "MPs' expenses: Minister Helen Grant defends claim". BBC News (BBC). 19 November 2012. Retrieved 21 November 2012. 
  6. ^ a b c d e Oliver, Sarah (27 January 2008). "She was beaten up for being black ... but Tory contender Helen Grant says she'll never play the race card". Mail Online (Associated Newspapers Ltd). Retrieved 7 May 2010. 
  7. ^ Thorpe, Caroline (20 July 2010). "Humble Helen". Inside Housing. Retrieved 19 August 2010. 
  8. ^ a b c d Barkham, Patrick (29 August 2008). "'I always knew I was different'". The Guardian (Guardian Media Group). Retrieved 7 May 2010. 
  9. ^ a b c "Work/Life: Helen Grant MP, Minister for Victims". Stylist Magazine. 3 Apr 2013. Retrieved 5 April 2013. 
  10. ^ a b "Helen Grant". Conservatives.com. Conservative Party. Retrieved 21 May 2010. 
  11. ^ Pierce, Andrew (22 January 2010). "Lawyer set to be Tories' first black woman MP". Daily Telegraph (Telegraph Media Group). Retrieved 7 May 2010. 
  12. ^ "Grant retains Maidstone and Weald seat for Tories". Kent News. 7 May 2010. Retrieved 7 May 2010. 
  13. ^ Ashmore, John (25 June 2010). "Labour and Tories choose Select Committee members". New Statesman (Spencer Neal). Retrieved 14 September 2010. 
  14. ^ "Reshuffle reignites south east aviation row". BBC News (BBC). 5 September 2012. Retrieved 5 September 2012. 
  15. ^ "MP leaps defend colleague". Surrey Mirror. 22 November 2012. Retrieved 1 April 2013. 
  16. ^ a b c d "Equalities Minister Helen Grant criticised over sick pay". BBC News (BBC). 5 November 2012. Retrieved 21 November 2012. 
  17. ^ a b c Maidstone MP Helen Grant's husband quits over sick pay, BBC news website, 2012-11-28. Retrieved 2012-12-30.
  18. ^ ‘GRANT, Helen’, Who's Who 2013, A & C Black, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing plc, 2013; online edn, Oxford University Press, Dec 2012 ; online edn, Nov 2012 accessed 30 Dec 2012

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Ann Widdecombe
Member of Parliament for Maidstone & The Weald
2010–present
Incumbent