Matthew Parris

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Matthew Parris
Matthew Parris 2017.jpg
Speaking at Quad, Derby, 2017
Member of Parliament
for West Derbyshire
In office
3 May 1979 – 8 May 1986
Preceded byJames Scott-Hopkins
Succeeded byPatrick McLoughlin
Personal details
Born (1949-08-07) 7 August 1949 (age 72)
Johannesburg, South Africa
Domestic partnerJulian Glover (political journalist)
Alma materClare College, Cambridge
Yale University
OccupationPolitician, journalist

Matthew Francis Parris (born 7 August 1949) is a British political writer and broadcaster, formerly a Conservative Member of Parliament. He was born in South Africa to British parents.

Early life and family[edit]

Parris is the eldest of six children (three brothers and two sisters) and grew up in several British territories and former territories: South Africa, Cyprus, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Swaziland (now Eswatini) and Jamaica, where his father was working as an electrical engineer. His parents ended up working and living in Catalonia, Spain, where Parris later bought a house.


Parris was educated at Waterford Kamhlaba United World College of Southern Africa, an independent school just outside Mbabane in Swaziland, and Clare College, Cambridge, where he gained a first class degree in law and was a member of the Liberal Club.[1] He won a Paul Mellon scholarship and studied international relations at Yale University.

He has said that an early reading of Animal Farm made him a Conservative, as "An admiration for [the pigs'] intelligence and sense of order dawned in me."[2]

Early career[edit]

At the age of 19, Parris drove across Africa to Europe in a Morris Oxford; the trip was traumatically punctuated when he and his female companion were attacked, and he was forced to witness her rape.[3]

Parris was offered a job as an MI6 officer,[4] but instead worked for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for two years. In 1976 he left this career because he did not like its formality, and because he wanted to become a Member of Parliament. He eventually joined the Conservative Research Department and moved on to become correspondence secretary to Margaret Thatcher. He was awarded an RSPCA medal (presented by Thatcher, then Leader of the Opposition), for jumping into the River Thames and rescuing a dog.[5]

Parliamentary career[edit]

Parris was the Conservative MP for the parliamentary constituency of West Derbyshire from 1979 to 1986. Competing prospective candidates for the seat included Peter Lilley and Michael Howard. He voiced support for gay rights. Parris left politics to pursue a career in journalism.[6]

Radio and television[edit]

Parris is now a radio and television presenter, The Times columnist, and pundit.[7] As an MP he took part in a World in Action documentary during 1984 requiring him to live in Newcastle for a week on £26.80, the then state social security payment set for a single adult by the government he supported as a Conservative.[8][9] The experiment came to an embarrassing end when he ran out of money for the electricity meter. Twenty years later, in 2004, he attempted the experiment again for the documentary For the Benefit of Mr Parris, Revisited.[10][11]

Parris resigned as an MP by applying for the Crown position of Steward of the Manor of Northstead and left Parliament specifically to take over from Brian Walden as host of ITV's influential Sunday lunchtime current-affairs series Weekend World in 1986. The series, broadcast since 1977 with Walden at its helm, ran for two more years under Parris before being cancelled in 1988.

He presents BBC Radio 4's Great Lives biography series, and has appeared on the satirical news programme Have I Got News for You and presented After Dark.[12] In 2007, Parris presented two light-hearted but caustic documentaries for Radio 4 on politicians' use of cliché and jargon, entitled Not My Words, Mr Speaker.[13]

On 8 July 2011, on Radio 4's Any Questions?, at the height of the furore surrounding the alleged illegal and corrupt activities of News of the World journalists, Parris eulogised the newspaper and gave an enthusiastic appreciation of what he considered the virtues and positive achievements of Rupert Murdoch.[14]

In December 2017 Parris appeared, in a cameo role, in the Anniversary edition of BBC's The League of Gentlemen.[15]

Writing and journalism[edit]

Parris is a prolific writer and has written many books on politics and travel. In 1991, a compilation of his pieces in The Times appeared, entitled So Far, So Good. Since then there have been further compilations. Scorn, a book he has edited of quotations about curses, jibes and general invective, was published in October 1994. He has achieved continuing success as a parliamentary reporter and columnist through his knowledge and understanding of politicians and ability to write well about them. He worked as parliamentary sketch writer for The Times newspaper from 1988 to 2001 and has had weekly columns in The Times and The Spectator magazine. In 2004, Parris became Writer of the Year in Granada Television's What the Papers Say Awards. In part, this was for reporting on elections in Iraq and Afghanistan. His previous accolades include Columnist of the Year in the 1991 and 1993 British Press Awards, and in the What the Papers Say Awards 1992. In 1990 he received the London Press Club's Edgar Wallace Outstanding Reporter of the Year Award.

In 2002, his autobiography, Chance Witness: An Outsider's Life in Politics, was published by Viking. In 2005, he published A Castle in Spain about his family's project to refurbish a derelict sixteenth-century mansion, L'Avenc, in Catalonia, close to the foothills of the Pyrenees, and make his home there.

In 2011, Total Politics said that Parris's column "is considered essential reading by many in Westminster. He has a penchant for holding opinions that go against the grain. Parris has written scathingly about the localism agenda, and was a long-time defender of PMQs, although he recently changed his mind."[16]

Parris's writing has often attracted wider comment. For example, in a 2007 article in The Times he wrote a satirical article which stated, "A festive custom we could do worse than foster would be stringing piano wire across country lanes to decapitate cyclists.",[7][17] which attracted two hundred letters to the Press Complaints Commission [18] Parris issued an apology: "I offended many with my Christmas attack on cyclists. It was meant humorously but so many cyclists have taken it seriously that I plainly misjudged. I am sorry."[7][17] In the same year Alastair Campbell called Parris "a little shit" in his diaries, to which Parris responded "I'd rather be a little shit than a big cunt".[19]

Parris criticised the initial 2015 leadership election for the Labour Party, referring to recent rule changes that allowed any individual who donated £3 to the Labour Party to vote in the leadership elections.[20] Following a second leadership election, which incumbent leader Jeremy Corbyn won with an increased majority, Channel 4 presenter Krishnan Guru-Murthy said that Parris and Michael Dobbs commented that Corbyn's reelection "will break the Labour Party".[21]

In October 2017, the commentator Iain Dale placed Parris at Number 84 in his list of 'The Top 100 Most Influential People on the Right', describing him as "the pre-eminent columnist of his generation".[22]

In June 2020 Parris wrote an excoriating article on Boris Johnson saying, "He never had any judgment or strategic vision. Mr Johnson was only ever a shallow opportunist with a minor talent to amuse".[23]

A co-founder of the gay rights charity Stonewall, Parris has criticised the organisation for latterly adopting trans rights as part of its agenda, writing that trans issues are unrelated to gay rights and should be for a separate organisation.[24]

In May 2021, Parris called for the removal of ethnic minority status from Gypsy, Roma and Travellers, describing them "not a race, but a doomed mindset" and called for the “a gradual but relentless squeeze on anyone who tries without permission to park their home on public property or the property of others”.[25] The anti-racism group Hope not Hate responded to Parris's saying "The Times have published an article advocating for eradicating the way of life of an entire ethnic minority. Absolutely shameful. Solidarity with Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people who have to endure this racism, and this mindset."[26]

In June, Parris argued there was "an absolute problem with human rights" and wrote a column whose "aim is to question the whole concept of fundamental human rights. It is so deeply flawed as to be fatal to all reasoning built upon it."[27]

Travel writing[edit]

Parris has made several expeditions abroad. They include Mount Kilimanjaro in 1967 and in 1989; Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) in 1973; the Sahara in 1978; Peru; Bolivia. In 1990 he published Inca-Kola about his travels in Peru.

He spent the Antarctic winter of 2000 on the French possession of Grande Terre, part of the Kerguelen Archipelago in the Indian Ocean, with a few dozen over-winterers, mostly researchers. One of them was fatally shot in an accident during his stay, about which he wrote for The Times.[28]

Personal life[edit]

Parris claims he attempted to out himself in a late-night debate in the House of Commons in 1984, but nobody noticed.[29][30] He announced that he was gay in one of his weekly newspaper columns and admitted that he cruised Clapham Common for sex.[31][32][33]

In an interview on Newsnight, during the Ron Davies scandal of 1998, he told Jeremy Paxman that there were two gay members of the then-current Labour Cabinet, one being Peter Mandelson. He has stated that there are between 30 and 60 unannounced gay members of the British Parliament.

In August 2010, in a list compiled by the Independent on Sunday, Parris was voted the 49th most influential LGBT person in Britain. In August 2006 Parris entered into a civil partnership with his long-term partner, Julian Glover, a speechwriter for David Cameron and a former political journalist at The Guardian. At the time of their partnership, they had been together for 11 years.[30]

Parris owns homes in Spain, Derbyshire (where he keeps pet alpacas) and the Docklands in East London.[34] He is the honorary patron of Clare Politics, a student-run politics society at Clare College, Cambridge.[35] He was a keen marathon runner, taking part in the London Marathon several times. His personal best was 2:32:57, achieved in 1985 at the age of 35,[36] a record which Total Politics in 2018 said "looks unlikely to be smashed any time soon"; John Lamont, the fastest of 15 MPs in the marathon that year, finished at 3:38:03.[37] Parris decided that he wanted to go out on top, and arguing that serious running is not good for one's health, he stopped running marathons after that. No British MP, sitting or retired, has bettered Parris' marathon-running time.[38]


  • Scorn: The Wittiest and Wickedest Insults in Human History Matthew Parris (Profile Books Ltd, 2016) ISBN 1781257299
  • Parting Shots: Undiplomatic Diplomats – the ambassadors' letters you were never meant to see Matthew Parris, Andrew Bryson (Penguin Books Ltd, 2010) ISBN 978-0-670-91929-1
  • Mission Accomplished!: A Treasury of the Things Politicians Wish They Hadn't Said Matthew Parris, Phil Mason (JR Books Ltd, 2007) ISBN 978-1-906217-35-8
  • A Castle in Spain (Viking, 2005) ISBN 0-670-91547-5
  • Chance Witness: An Outsider's Life in Politics (Viking, 2002) ISBN 0-670-89440-0
  • The King's English (Oxford Language Classics Series) Henry Fowler, Frank Fowler, Matthew Parris (introduction) (Oxford University Press, 2002) ISBN 0-19-860507-2
  • Off Message: New Labour, New Sketches (Robson Books, 2001) ISBN 1-86105-479-3
  • I Wish I Hadn't Said That: The Experts Speak – and Get It Wrong! Matthew Parris (foreword), Christopher Cerf, Victor Navasky (HarperCollins, 2000) ISBN 0-00-653149-0
  • Against the Law: The Classic Account of a Homosexual in 1950s Britain Peter Wildeblood, Matthew Parris (introduction) (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1999) ISBN 0-297-64382-7
  • The Great Unfrocked: Two Thousand Years of Church Scandal (Robson, 1998) ISBN 1-86105-129-8
  • Scorn with Extra Bile Matthew Parris (editor) (Penguin Books, 1998) ISBN 0-14-027780-3
  • I Couldn't Possibly Comment: More Sketches from the Commons (Robson Books, 1997) ISBN 1-86105-095-X
  • Read My Lips: A Treasury of Things Politicians Wish They Hadn't Said (Parkwest Publications, 1997) ISBN 1-86105-043-7
  • Great Parliamentary Scandals: Four Centuries of Calumny, Smear and Innuendo (Robson Books, 1995) ISBN 0-86051-957-0
  • Scorn with Added Vitriol (Hamish Hamilton, 1995) ISBN 0-241-13587-7
  • Scorn: A Bucketful of Discourtesy, Disparagement, Invective, Ridicule, Impudence, Contumely, Derision, Hate, Affront, Disdain, Bile, Taunts, Curses and Jibes (Hamish Hamilton, 1994) ISBN 0-241-13384-X
  • Look Behind You!: Sketches and Follies from the Commons (Robson, 1993) ISBN 0-86051-874-4
  • So Far So Good...: Selected Pieces (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1991) ISBN 0-297-81215-7
  • Inca Kola: A Traveller's Tale of Peru (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1990) ISBN 0-297-81075-8
  • Coping with the Soviet Union Peter Blaker, Julian Critchley, Matthew Parris (Conservative Political Centre Bookshop, 1977) ISBN 0-85070-599-1


  1. ^ Parris, Matthew (14 January 2010). "Invicta what a terrible choice of poem". The Times. London.
  2. ^ Parris, Matthew. "Matthew Parris: Animal Farm by George Orwell (1945)". The Times.
  3. ^ Chance Witness, pp. 94–95
  4. ^ Chance Witness, p.134
  5. ^ Chance Witness, p.197
  6. ^ "Matthew Parris wishes he had come out while a Tory MP". PinkNews. 20 August 2010. Retrieved 5 November 2019.
  7. ^ a b c What’s smug and deserves to be decapitated? Matthew Parris: My Week. Published at 12:00AM, 27 December 2007. accessed 18 Jan 2016 The Times
  8. ^ "British Film Industry: WORLD IN ACTION > FOR THE BENEFIT OF MR PARRIS" Thames TV, 23 January 1984
  9. ^ "ITV TV Classics – World In Action" Archived 11 June 2009 at the Wayback Machine Published 4 May 2007, retrieved 16 July 2009
  10. ^ "British Film Industry: FOR THE BENEFIT OF MR PARRIS, REVISITED" ITV1, 29 January 2004
  11. ^ "Liberty Bell – For the Benefit of Mr Parris". 29 January 2004. Archived from the original on 17 July 2011. Retrieved 27 April 2010.
  12. ^ "After Dark: with presenters including Tony Wilson and Anthony Clare".
  13. ^ "BBC Radio 4 – Not My Words, Mr Speaker". 19 September 2007. Retrieved 15 October 2014.
  14. ^ "BBC Radio 4 – Any Questions?". 1 January 1970. Retrieved 25 February 2014.
  15. ^ "Royston Vasey Mon Amour, Anniversary Specials, The League of Gentlemen - BBC Two". BBC.
  16. ^ "Top 100 political journalists 2011". Total Politics. Archived from the original on 1 March 2014. Retrieved 25 February 2014.
  17. ^ a b BBC News. Thursday, 3 January 2008. Cycling fury at beheading 'joke' BBC
  18. ^ Accessed 18 January 2016
  19. ^ Burkeman, Oliver (10 July 2007). "Does he mean me?". The Guardian.
  20. ^ Parris, Matthew (19 August 2015). "My llamas paid their £3 to vote in Labour poll". The Times.
  21. ^ Hopkins, Steven (12 July 2016). "Corbyn Leadership Ballot Decision Will 'Break Labour'". The Huffington Post.
  22. ^ Dale, Iain (2 October 2017). "The Top 100 Most Influential People On The Right: Iain Dale's 2017 List". LBC. Retrieved 30 November 2017.
  23. ^ The Times "Comment" 6 June 2010: "Johnson has been tested and found wanting"
  24. ^ Parris, Matthew (22 May 2021). "Stonewall should stay out of trans rights war". The Times. Retrieved 25 May 2021.
  25. ^ Parris, Matthew (22 May 2021). "It's time we stopped pandering to Travellers". The Times. Retrieved 15 May 2021.
  26. ^ Hope not Hate [@hopenothate] (15 May 2021). "The Times have published an article advocating for eradicating the way of life of an entire ethnic minority. Absolutely shameful. Solidarity with Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people who have to endure this racism, and this mindset" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  27. ^ Parris, Matthew (26 June 2021). "The absolute problem with human rights". The Times. Retrieved 26 June 2021.
  28. ^ Matthew Parris's account of stay on Kerguelen in 2000, The Times[dead link]
  29. ^ Bryant, Chris (14 August 2014). Parliament: The Biography (Volume II - Reform). Random House. p. 92. ISBN 978-0857522245.
  30. ^ a b Pierce, Andrew (29 August 2006). "Parris, the reluctant groom, says 'I do'". The Times.
  31. ^ Cooke, Rachel (12 October 2002). "Observer review: Chance Witness by Matthew Parris". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  32. ^ Johnson, Boris (5 October 2002). "Coming out . . . as a politician". Retrieved 2 May 2018 – via
  33. ^ "Chance Witness by Matthew Parris". The Independent. 15 October 2002. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  34. ^ Pollock, Octavia (18 August 2019). "Matthew Parris on his llamas: 'They're interested in everything humans are doing'". Country Life. Retrieved 29 February 2020.
  35. ^ Clare Politics. "About Us". Retrieved 15 August 2011.
  36. ^ Topping, Alexandra (13 April 2014). "Record number of MPs run in London Marathon". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 13 April 2014.
  37. ^ Singleton, David (23 April 2018). "Tories keep London Marathon crown as John Lamont is fastest MP". Total Politics. Retrieved 11 August 2018.
  38. ^ Topping, Alexandra (13 April 2014). "Record number of MPs run in London Marathon". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 25 October 2019.

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by Member of Parliament for West Derbyshire
Succeeded by