Oliver Letwin

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The Right Honourable
Oliver Letwin
Oliver Letwin Official.jpg
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
Assumed office
14 July 2014
Prime Minister David Cameron
Preceded by The Lord Hill of Oareford
Minister of State for Policy
Assumed office
12 May 2010
Prime Minister David Cameron
Preceded by Position established
Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
In office
10 May 2005 – 6 December 2005
Leader Michael Howard
Preceded by Theresa May
Succeeded by Peter Ainsworth
Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer
In office
6 November 2003 – 10 May 2005
Leader Michael Howard
Preceded by Michael Howard
Succeeded by George Osborne
Shadow Home Secretary
In office
18 September 2001 – 6 November 2003
Leader Iain Duncan Smith
Preceded by Ann Widdecombe
Succeeded by David Davis
Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury
In office
26 September 2000 – 18 September 2001
Leader William Hague
Preceded by David Heathcoat-Amory
Succeeded by John Bercow
Member of Parliament
for West Dorset
Assumed office
1 May 1997
Preceded by James Spicer
Majority 3,923 (6.8%)
Personal details
Born (1956-05-19) 19 May 1956 (age 58)
Hampstead, London, England
Political party Conservative
Spouse(s) Isabel Davidson (1984-present)
Children 2
Alma mater Trinity College, Cambridge
Darwin College, Cambridge
Religion Judaism
Website Official website

Oliver Letwin FRSA[1] (born 19 May 1956, in Hampstead)[2] is a British politician and a member of the Conservative Party. As of 2014 he was the Minister of State for Government Policy at the Cabinet Office, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and a Member of Parliament (MP) representing the constituency of West Dorset. He is also the Chairman of the Conservative Research Department and Chairman of the Conservative Party's Policy Review.

Early life[edit]

William Letwin

Letwin is the son of William Letwin (14 December 1922 – 20 February 2013), Emeritus Professor at the London School of Economics, and conservative academic Shirley Robin Letwin,[3][4] "Jewish-American intellectuals from Chicago whose parents had fled persecution from Kiev".[5]

He was educated at Hall School in Hampstead and Eton College.[6] He went on to study at Trinity College, Cambridge. Whilst a student at Cambridge, he was a member of the Cambridge University Liberal Club. When asked about his membership of the Liberal club he explained: "I was also a member of the Fabian Society. But I am sorry to have to tell you that this was because I was interested in the thoughts of Liberals and Fabians (and still am) rather than because I was ever a Liberal Democrat or a Fabian."[7]

From 1980–81, Letwin was a visiting fellow (a Procter Fellow) of Princeton University, then a research fellow at Darwin College, Cambridge, from 1981–82.[8] His thesis, Emotion and Emotions, earned a PhD awarded by the Cambridge Philosophy Faculty in 1982.[9] In 1985 he attended the Corporate Finance Evening Programme at the London Business School.

Political career[edit]

Chapel of Eton College

From 1983 to 1986, he was a member of then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's Policy Unit. He stood at the 1987 election for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, and again unsuccessfully stood against Glenda Jackson for the Hampstead and Highgate seat in the 1992 election, before winning the West Dorset seat in 1997, by the narrow margin of 1,840 votes. In September 2001 he was appointed Shadow Home Secretary, by Iain Duncan Smith. In late 2003, the new party leader, Michael Howard, appointed Letwin his successor as Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer.

During the campaign for the 2001 general election, Letwin, as Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, expressed an aspiration to curtail future public spending by £20 billion per annum relative to the plans of the Labour government. When this proposal came under attack as regressive, Letwin found few allies among his colleagues prepared to defend it, and adopted a low profile for the remainder of the campaign. He famously went into 'hiding' during the 2001 election, and for some time after the election had finished.

In the 2005 general election Letwin's majority was 2,461.[10] In the 2010 election it was 3,923.[11]

In the lead-up to the 2010 general election, Letwin played an important role in the development of Conservative policy, and was described by Daniel Finkelstein as "the Gandalf of the process".[12]

Member of Parliament[edit]

He is a member of the Conservative Party. He was a non-executive director of NM Rothschild Corporate Finance Ltd (a merchant bank) until December 2009.[13]

Shadow cabinet[edit]

Letwin speaking in 2013

As Shadow Home Secretary he attracted plaudits for his advocacy of a "neighbourly society", which manifested itself in calls for street by street neighbourhood policing modelled on the philosophy of the police in New York. He was also largely credited with forcing the Home Secretary to withdraw his proposal in 2001 to introduce an offence of incitement to religious hatred. He successfully argued that such an offence would be impossible to define, so there would be little chance of prosecution. He also argued that Muslims would feel persecuted by such a law.

As Shadow Chancellor he focused on reducing waste in the public sector. At the 2005 election the Conservative Party claimed to have found £35bn worth of potential savings, to be used for increased resources for front line services and for tax cuts. This approach was credited with forcing the government to introduce bureaucracy reduction and cost-cutting proposals of their own.

At the 2001 election Letwin had a majority of just 1,414 in his constituency. There was some speculation as to whether he could retain his seat if Labour voters voted tactically for the Liberal Democrats in order to unseat him. However, at the 2005 general election, he increased his majority to 2,461.

In May 2005, Letwin was appointed Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. It was reported that he had requested a role less onerous than his former treasury brief so that he would have time to pursue his career in the City.[14]

Following the decision by Michael Howard to stand down as Conservative Party leader after the May 2005 general election, Letwin publicly backed the youngest candidate and eventual winner David Cameron.

Expenses claims[edit]

Oliver Letwin reportedly agreed to repay a bill for £2,145 for replacing a leaking pipe under the tennis court at his constituency home in Somerset, which he had claimed on his parliamentary expenses.[15]


Speaking to consultancy firm KPMG, on 27 July 2011, Letwin caused controversy after stating you can't have "innovation and excellence" without "real discipline and some fear on the part of the providers" in the public sector. This was widely reported, with The Guardian headline stating Letwin says 'public sector workers need "discipline and fear"'.[16]

On 14 October 2011, the Daily Mirror reported a story that Letwin had thrown away more than 100 secret government documents in public bins in St. James's Park, with no real care in disposing of them properly.[17][18] Enquiries made by the Information Commissioner's Office found that Letwin did not dispose of any government documents, they were in fact his constituents' personal letters to him. Letwin later apologised for his actions.

Letwin is a strong advocate of privatisation (detailed in his Privatising the World), and has focussed on the National Health Service (NHS).[19]

According to documents released in December 2014[20] he urged Thatcher to trial Poll Tax in Scotland, knowing that it was going to prove unacceptable.

Personal life[edit]

After two strangers on his London street had asked if they could use his lavatory at 5am in 2002, and he agreed to let them do so, they then stole his credit cards and other belongings. He retrieved his credit cards after chasing the accomplices in his dressing gown and pyjamas.[21][22] He once declared that he would rather beg on the street than let his children go to the inner city comprehensive school near his London home.[23][24]


  • Oliver Letwin (1987) Ethics, Emotion and the Unity of the Self, Routledge, ISBN 0-7099-4110-2
  • Oliver Letwin and John Redwood. (1988) Britain's Biggest Enterprise – ideas for radical reform of the NHS, Centre for Policy Studies, ISBN 1-870265-19-X
  • Oliver Letwin (1988) Privatising the World: A Study of International Privatisation in Theory and Practice, Thomson Learning, ISBN 0-304-31527-3
  • Oliver Letwin (1989) Drift to union: Wiser ways to a wider community, Centre for Policy Studies, ISBN 1-870265-74-2
  • Oliver Letwin (2003) The Neighbourly Society: Collected Speeches, Centre for Policy Studies, ISBN 1-903219-60-4


  1. ^ "List of Ministers' Interests" (PDF). Cabinet Office. February 2011. p. 12. Retrieved 19 February 2015. 
  2. ^ "Election Guide 2010 » Dorset West". UK Polling Report. 2013. Retrieved 19 February 2015. 
  3. ^ McDonagh, Melanie (20 February 2004). "Letwin's parents are the key to his soul - Telegraph". The Daily Telegraph (London: TMG). ISSN 0307-1235. OCLC 49632006. Retrieved 19 February 2015. 
  4. ^ White, Michael (7 December 2012). "Oliver Letwin: more at home in a senior common room than at a public meeting". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 February 2015. 
  5. ^ "Obituary: Professor William Letwin". The Daily Telegraph (London: TMG). 4 March 2013. ISSN 0307-1235. OCLC 49632006. Retrieved 19 February 2015. 
  6. ^ "Oliver Letwin MP: Personal Details". Westminster Parliamentary Record. 2015. Retrieved 19 February 2015. 
  7. ^ Blackhurst, Chris (12 January 2011). "Oliver Letwin is the reasonable politician who bankers feel they can trust". London Evening Standard. Retrieved 19 February 2015. 
  8. ^ "Oliver Letwin MP: Non Parliamentary Career". Westminster Parliamentary Record. 2015. Retrieved 19 February 2015. 
  9. ^ "Newton Library Catalogues". Cambridge University Library. 2015. Retrieved 19 February 2015. 
  10. ^ "Election 2005 Results: Dorset West". BBC News (London: BBC). 23 May 2005. Retrieved 19 February 2015. 
  11. ^ "Election 2010 : Constituency Dorset West". BBC News (London: BBC). 2010. Retrieved 19 February 2015. 
  12. ^ Finkelstein, Daniel (14 April 2010). "The wizard behind Cameron’s little blue book". The Times (London). Retrieved 10 May 2010. 
    "Profiles of men trying to negotiate a Tory-Lib Dem deal". BBC News (London). 10 May 2010. Retrieved 10 May 2010. 
  13. ^ "The Register of Members' Interests, 6 September 2010". They Work For You. MySociety. Retrieved 14 October 2011. 
  14. ^ "Letwin asks for less demanding job". Times Online. 10 May 2005. 
  15. ^ Rayner, Gordon (13 May 2009). "Oliver Letwin repays £2,000 tennis court bill". The Daily Telegraph (London: TMG). ISSN 0307-1235. OCLC 49632006. Retrieved 19 February 2015. 
  16. ^ Boffey, Daniel (30 July 2011). "Public sector workers need 'discipline and fear', says Oliver Letwin". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 31 July 2011. 
  17. ^ Gregory, Andrew (14 October 2011). "Oliver Letwin caught throwing away secret papers in public bins". Daily Mirror (London: Trinity Mirror). ISSN 9975-9950. OCLC 223228477. Retrieved 19 February 2015. 
  18. ^ Kirkup, James (14 October 2011). "Oliver Letwin: Cabinet Office minister threw documents into park bins". The Daily Telegraph (London: TMG). ISSN 0307-1235. OCLC 49632006. Retrieved 19 February 2015. 
  19. ^ Reynolds, Dr. Lucy; Lister, Dr. John; Scott-Samuel, Dr. Alex; McKee, Professor Martin (29 August 2011). "Liberating the NHS: source and destination of the Lansley reform" (PDF). University of Liverpool. Retrieved 19 February 2015. 
  20. ^ "Oliver Letwin's memorandum recommending Scottish poll tax trial in 1985". The Guardian. 30 December 2014. Retrieved 19 February 2015. 
  21. ^ Eden, Richard (6 May 2012). "Wealthy Cabinet minister Oliver Letwin takes in lodgers at his London home". The Daily Telegraph (London: TMG). ISSN 0307-1235. OCLC 49632006. Retrieved 19 February 2015. 
  22. ^ "Tories signal law and order shift". BBC News (London: BBC). 8 January 2002. Retrieved 19 February 2015. 
  23. ^ Clarkson, Jeremy (2004). "Chapter 74". The World According to Clarkson. Penguin. ISBN 0-14-101789-9. 
  24. ^ Waugh, Paul (10 October 2003). "Letwin: I'd rather beg than send child to inner-city school". The Independent (London: INM). ISSN 0951-9467. OCLC 185201487. Retrieved 19 February 2015. 

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
James Spicer
Member of Parliament
for West Dorset

Political offices
Preceded by
Ann Widdecombe
Shadow Home Secretary
Succeeded by
David Davis
Preceded by
Michael Howard
Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer
Succeeded by
George Osborne
Preceded by
Theresa May
Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Succeeded by
Peter Ainsworth
New office Minister of State for Policy
Preceded by
The Lord Hill of Oareford
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster