David Willetts

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For the West End actor, see Dave Willetts.
The Right Honourable
The Lord Willetts
Rt Hon David Willetts MP.jpg
Minister of State for Universities and Science
In office
11 May 2010 – 14 July 2014
Prime Minister David Cameron
Preceded by The Lord Drayson (Science and Innovation)
David Lammy (Innovation, Universities and Skills)
Succeeded by Greg Clark (Universities, Science and Cities)
Shadow Minister for Universities and Skills
Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills (2007–2009)
In office
2 July 2007 – 11 May 2010
Leader David Cameron
Preceded by Position established
Succeeded by Position abolished
Shadow Secretary of State for Education and Skills
In office
8 December 2005 – 2 July 2007
Leader David Cameron
Preceded by David Cameron
Succeeded by Michael Gove (Children, Schools and Families)
Shadow Secretary of State for Trade and Industry
In office
6 May 2005 – 8 December 2005
Leader Michael Howard
Preceded by James Arbuthnot (Trade)
Stephen O'Brien (Industry)
Succeeded by Alan Duncan
Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions
Social Security (1999–2001)
In office
15 June 1999 – 6 May 2005
Leader William Hague
Iain Duncan Smith
Michael Howard
Preceded by Iain Duncan Smith
Succeeded by Malcolm Rifkind
Shadow Secretary of State for Education and Employment
In office
1 June 1998 – 15 June 1999
Leader William Hague
Preceded by Stephen Dorrell
Succeeded by Theresa May
Paymaster General
In office
20 July 1996 – 21 November 1996
Leader John Major
Preceded by David Heathcoat-Amory
Succeeded by Michael Bates
Member of Parliament for Havant
In office
9 April 1992 – 30 March 2015
Preceded by Ian Lloyd
Succeeded by Alan Mak
Personal details
Born David Linsay Willetts
(1956-03-09) 9 March 1956 (age 60)
Birmingham, England, UK
Political party Conservative
Spouse(s) Sarah Butterfield
Alma mater Christ Church, Oxford

David Linsay Willetts, Baron Willetts, PC (born 9 March 1956) is an English Conservative Party politician and Visiting Professor at King's College London.[1] From 1992 to 2015, he was the Member of Parliament (MP) representing the constituency of Havant in Hampshire. He was the Minister of State for Universities and Science from 2010 until July 2014. Willetts became a member of the House of Lords in 2015.


Willetts was educated at King Edward's School, Birmingham, and Christ Church, Oxford, where he studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics. Willetts graduated with a first class degree.

Policy researcher[edit]

Having served as Nigel Lawson's private researcher,[2] Willetts took charge of the Treasury monetary policy division at 26 before moving over to Margaret Thatcher's Policy Unit at 28. Aged 31, he subsequently took over the Centre for Policy Studies.[3]

Paul Foot wrote in the Private Eye that in a 1993 document called The Opportunities for Private Funding in the NHS, published by the Social Market Foundation and financed by private healthcare company BUPA, Willetts provided the "intellectual thrust" for private finance initiatives (PFIs) in the National Health Service.[4]

First period in government[edit]

Willetts' constituency office

Aged 36, Willetts entered Parliament in 1992 as the MP for Havant. He quickly established himself in Parliament, becoming a Whip, a Cabinet Office Minister, and then Paymaster General in his first term (when that role was split between the Cabinet Office and HM Treasury as a policy co-ordination role). During this period Willetts gained "Two Brains" as a nickname, a monicker reportedly coined by The Guardian's former political editor Michael White.[5] However, Willetts was forced to resign from the latter post by the Standards and Privileges Committee over an investigation into Neil Hamilton in 1996, when it found that he had "dissembled" in his evidence to the Committee over whether pressure was put onto an earlier investigation into Hamilton.

Shadow Cabinet[edit]

Despite the resignation, Willetts was able to return to the shadow front bench a few years later while William Hague was Leader of the Opposition, initially serving in the Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Education Secretary before becoming Shadow Social Security (later Shadow Work and Pensions) Secretary. He carved out a reputation as an expert on pensions and benefits. Since leaving the DWP post, he has been recruited as an external consultant by the actuaries Punter Southall.

After the 2005 election, he served as Shadow Secretary of State for Trade and Industry in the Shadow Cabinet under Michael Howard. In August 2005, after ruling out running for leader owing to a lack of support, commentators speculated that he was gunning for the post Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer position and would cut a deal with either David Davis or David Cameron. On 15 September he confirmed his support for Davis, at that time the bookies' favourite. Willetts, a centrist moderniser, went to ground following the announcement of the Davis tax plan since it was widely speculated that he disagreed with the seemingly uncosted and widely derided[6] tax plan and found it impossible to defend. Davis then lost the candidacy race to Cameron.

Following Cameron's win, Willetts was appointed Shadow Secretary of State for Education and Skills in Cameron's first Shadow Cabinet in December 2005, the role Cameron had vacated, and later becoming Shadow Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills. His title became Shadow Minister for Universities and Skills since Gordon Brown's merger of the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills with the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform into the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in June 2009.

On 19 May 2007, Willetts made a controversial speech on grammar schools in which he defended the existing Conservative Party policy of not reintroducing grammar schools. The speech received a mixed reception. The analysis was applauded by The Guardian and The Times.[5][7][8][9] However, the more right-wing Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail were both strongly critical of the speech, which was unpopular with some Conservative Party activists.[10][11] The speech was made more controversial when David Cameron weighed into the argument, backing Willetts' speech and describing his critics as "delusional", accusing them of "splashing around in the shallow end of the educational debate" and of "clinging on to outdated mantras that bear no relation to the reality of life".[12]

The Department for Education and Skills was abolished by the new Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, who established two new departments. On 2 July 2007, Cameron reshuffled Willetts down to the junior of the two departments: the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills.

Second period in government[edit]

Following the 2010 general election, Prime Minister David Cameron appointed Willetts as the Minister of State for Universities and Science.

Feminism claim[edit]

In June 2011, Willetts said during the launch of the Government’s social mobility strategy that movement between the classes had "stagnated" over the past 40 years, and Willetts attributed this partly to the entry of women into the workplace and universities for the lack of progress for men. "Feminism trumped egalitarianism", he said, adding that women who would otherwise have been housewives had taken university places and well-paid jobs that could have gone to ambitious working-class men. He went on to say that "One of the things that happened over that period was that the entirely admirable transformation of opportunities for women meant that with a lot of the expansion of education in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, the first beneficiaries were the daughters of middle-class families who had previously been excluded from educational opportunities", he said. He said that "And if you put that with what is called 'assortative mating' — that well-educated women marry well-educated men – this transformation of opportunities for women ended up magnifying social divides. It is delicate territory because it is not a bad thing that women had these opportunities, but it widened the gap in household incomes because you suddenly had two-earner couples, both of whom were well-educated, compared with often workless households where nobody was educated".[13]

Sale of student loan debts[edit]

In November 2013 Willetts announced the sale of student loans to Erudio Student Loans -a debt collection consortium -removing £160m from public debt but ignoring, according to The Independent, the implications for former students.[14]

Standing down[edit]

In July 2014, Willets announced that he would not contest the next general election, saying that "after more than 20 years the time has come to move onto fresh challenges."[15] In October 2014, Willets was appointed a visiting professor at King's College London.[16] It was announced that he was to be a life peer in the 2015 Dissolution Honours and was created Baron Willetts, of Havant in the County of Hampshire, on 16 October 2015.[17] In June 2015, Willetts was appointed executive chair of the think tank the Resolution Foundation.[18]

Free votes record[edit]

According to the Public Whip analyses,[19] Willetts was strongly in favour of an elected House of Lords and was strongly against the ban on fox-hunting. TheyWorkForYou additionally records that, amongst other things, Willetts was strongly in favour of the Iraq War, strongly in favour of an investigation into it, moderately against equal gay rights, and very strongly for replacing Trident.[20]

"Two Brains"[edit]

Due to his careful intellectual approach, ties to academia, his unusually policy-heavy background and his high hairline, he has acquired the nickname "Two Brains".[21] He is currently a visiting professor at King's College London where he works with the Policy Institute at King’s, a visiting professor at the Cass Business School, a board member of the Institute for Fiscal Studies and a visiting fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford, Willetts is the author of several books on conservatism, including "Why Vote Conservative" (1996) and "Modern Conservatism" (1992), as well as numerous articles. He was a founding signatory in 2005 of the Henry Jackson Society principles, advocating a proactive approach to the spread of liberal democracy across the world, including when necessary by military intervention.[22][23] He is an honorary member of Conservative Friends of Poland.[24]

Civic conservatism[edit]

Willetts has pioneered the idea of "civic conservatism" [D. Willetts, "Civic Conservatism", SMF (1994)]. This is the idea of focusing on the institutions between the state and individuals as a policy concern (rather than merely thinking of individuals and the state as the only agencies) and is one of the principles behind the increasing support in the Conservative Party's localist agenda and its emphasis on voluntary organisations. During an interview with The Spectator, he was referred to as 'the real father of Cameronism'.[25]

Fourteen years after the publication of "Civic Conservatism" Willetts gave the inaugural Oakeshott Memorial Lecture to the London School of Economics in which he made an attempt to explain how game theory can be used to help think about how to improve social capital. The lecture[26] was described by the Times as "an audacious attempt by the Conservative Party's leading intellectual to relate a new Tory narrative".[27]

Civic conservatism, like free market economics, proceeds from deep-seated individual self-interest towards a stable cooperation. It sets the Tories the task not of changing humanity but of designing institutions and arrangements that encourage our natural reciprocal altruism.[28]

Personal life and member's interests[edit]

Willetts is married to the artist Sarah Butterfield. The couple have one daughter, Imogen (born 1988) and one son, Matthew (born 1992). His wealth is estimated at £1.9m,[29][30] and his declarations for the Register of Members' Financial Interests may viewed here.

Published works[edit]


  1. ^ "King's College London - David Willetts appointed Visiting Professor". kcl.ac.uk. 
  2. ^ Aitkenhead, Decca (20 November 2011). "David Willetts: 'Many more will go to university than in my generation – we must not reverse that'". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 March 2016. 
  3. ^ Alice Thomson (13 March 2004). "Willetts takes 'two pensions' Blair to task". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 5 June 2011. 
  4. ^ Foot, Paul (19 March 2004). "P. F. Eye: An idiot's guide to the Private Finance Initiative" (PDF). Private Eye (1102). p. 1. Retrieved 9 March 2016. 
  5. ^ a b Michael White (22 May 2007). "It's over". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 August 2010. 
  6. ^ Daniel Finkelstein (2 November 2005). "A David Davis guide to fiscal strategy: two and two make... um, er ...". The Times. Retrieved 19 August 2010. 
  7. ^ Anatole Kaletsky (24 May 2007). "Lesson one: get the yobs out of the classroom". The Times. Retrieved 19 August 2010. 
  8. ^ Daniel Finkelstein (21 May 2007). "Fisking Janet Daley". Comment Central. The Times. Archived from the original on 9 July 2011. Retrieved 5 June 2011. 
  9. ^ Daniel Finkelstein (22 May 2007). "Do Cameron's critics really want grammar schools?". Comment Central. The Times. Archived from the original on 9 July 2011. Retrieved 5 June 2011. 
  10. ^ Janet Daley (21 May 2007). "When did wanting the best for your children become a crime?". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 5 June 2011. 
  11. ^ Stephen Pollard (17 May 2007). "Scandal of the Tory grammar school u-turn". The Daily Mail. Retrieved 19 August 2010. 
  12. ^ "Cameron steps up grammars attack". BBC News. 22 May 2007. Retrieved 19 August 2010. 
  13. ^ feminism has held back working men
  14. ^ Government sells £900 million in student loans to debt collection company by Simon Read, independent.co.uk, 26 November 2013. Retrieved 29 November 2013.
  15. ^ "Havant MP to stand down at next General Election after more than two decades". portsmouth.co.uk. 
  16. ^ "Search". Times Higher Education (THE). 
  17. ^ The London Gazette: no. 61388. p. 19846. 22 October 2015.
  18. ^ "About us: David Willetts". Resolution Foundation. Retrieved 30 March 2016. 
  19. ^ "Voting Record — David Willetts MP, Havant". Public Whip. Retrieved 19 August 2010. 
  20. ^ "David Willetts MP, voting record". TheyWorkForYou.com. Retrieved 5 June 2011. 
  21. ^ Michael White (5 February 2008). "Willetts scores points in this ball game". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 June 2011. 
  22. ^ "Signatories to the Statement of Principles". The Henry Jackson Society. 27 July 2010. Retrieved 19 August 2010. 
  23. ^ "Statement of Principles". The Henry Jackson Society. 27 July 2010. Retrieved 19 August 2010. 
  24. ^ Conservative Friends of Poland website
  25. ^ Fraser Nelson (24 June 2006). "The real father of Cameronism". The Spectator. Retrieved 5 June 2011. [permanent dead link]
  26. ^ "Renewing civic conservatism. The Oakeshott Lecture. LSE, 20th February 2008" (PDF). London School of Economics. Retrieved 26 May 2014. 
  27. ^ Daniel Finkelstein (20 February 2008). "Blood, bats and bonding: a new way". The Times. Retrieved 19 August 2010. 
  28. ^ Daniel Finkelstein (20 February 2008). "Civic conservatism replies to compassionate conservatism". Comment Central. The Times. Retrieved 4 October 2010. 
  29. ^ Samira Shackle; Stephanie Hegarty; George Eaton (1 October 2009). "The new ruling class". New Statesman. Retrieved 5 June 2011. 
  30. ^ Glen Owen (23 May 2010). "The coalition of millionaires: 23 of the 29 member of the new cabinet are worth more than £1m... and the Lib Dems are just as wealthy as the Tories". The Mail on Sunday. Retrieved 5 June 2011. 

For Willetts' roles in the 1980s–1990s as a welfare specialist:

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Ian Lloyd
Member of Parliament
for Havant

Succeeded by
Alan Mak
Political offices
Preceded by
David Heathcoat-Amory
Paymaster General
Succeeded by
Michael Bates
Preceded by
Stephen Dorrell
Shadow Secretary of State for Education and Employment
Succeeded by
Theresa May
Preceded by
Iain Duncan Smith
Shadow Secretary of State for Social Security
Succeeded by
as Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions
Preceded by
as Shadow Secretary of State for Social Security
Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions
Succeeded by
Malcolm Rifkind
Preceded by
James Arbuthnot
as Shadow Secretary of State for Trade
Shadow Secretary of State for Trade and Industry
Succeeded by
Alan Duncan
Preceded by
Stephen O'Brien
as Shadow Secretary of State for Industry
Preceded by
David Cameron
Shadow Secretary of State for Education and Skills
Succeeded by
Michael Gove
as Shadow Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families
New office Shadow Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills
Position abolished
Shadow Minister for Universities and Skills
Preceded by
The Lord Drayson
as Minister of State for Science and Innovation
Minister of State for Universities and Science
Succeeded by
Greg Clark
as Minister of State for Universities, Science and Cities
Preceded by
David Lammy
as Minister of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills