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Born in Glasgow, Scotland, he graduated from the University of Edinburgh with a degree in mathematics before spending 18 months teaching in Tanzania. After that he returned to Britain to complete a PhD on the policies and decision-making methods of voluntary organisations in Africa.
He has held a number of senior positions on developmental charities, including Head of International Service for the UK United Nations Association; Executive Director of the health care charity Health Link International; Deputy Director of the British Refugee Council, Chairperson of the London Friends of Palestine and UK Director of the Intermediate Technology Development Group. He also served on the boards of various organizations including War on Want, Oxfam UK, the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding and the Western Sahara Campaign (of which he has been Treasurer for the past 20 years).
He was the Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society from 1997 until 26 June 2010. He has stood for parliament three times as a Labour candidate, in Beckenham in 1987 and 1992, and in Daventry in 1997.
In 2006, he became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.
- Lyall, Sarah (8 May 2010). "Unclear Outcome at Polls Adds Urgency to Issue of Electoral Overhaul in Britain". The New York Times. p. 6. Retrieved 30 June 2011.