He was born in India, where his father was a minister of the Church of South India. Educated at Wolverhampton Grammar School, he studied History and English at King's College, Cambridge and worked on an oil rig before becoming a journalist on Accountancy Age.
Rentoul was a journalist on the New Statesman between January 1983 and May 1988, latterly as Deputy Editor, and a political reporter for BBC's On The Record between 1988 and 1995. He became a political correspondent of The Independent in 1995 and the chief leader writer at The Independent from January 1997 before becoming chief political commentator for The Independent on Sunday in 2004. He has described having "slavish admiration" for Tony Blair. He is also a visiting professor in Contemporary History at Queen Mary, University of London. His biography of Tony Blair has passed through several editions.
Fellow journalist Martin Bright has said Rentoul "remains one of the most incisive political columnists writing today, even though he has lost his access to the highest levels of power". In 2011, Total Politics said Rentoul "is probably the most high-profile defender of Tony Blair’s record in the British media, in a year when the mere mention of the former PM’s name provoked boos at the Labour Party conference. His column in The Independent on Sunday has become one of the last bastions of pure, unadulterated Blairism".
Rentoul has been critical of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition, he has been supportive of elements in the Coalition he identifies as Blairite or centrist. A member of the Labour Party for 33 years, he is very critical of Ed Miliband, out of a fear that Miliband could lead the Labour party to the left or continue with Gordon Brown's policies.
He also maintains a daily blog.
- Guardian, 25 June 1980, p. 7.
- 'One man's war on clichés (does what it says on the tin)', John Rentoul, The Independent, 14 June 2001
- John Rentoul tells Ethos his top public service innovators, Ethos June 2012
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