Stephen Parkinson (adviser)

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Stephen Parkinson (born 1983) is a special adviser to British Prime Minister Theresa May, former think tank researcher, and former lobbyist.


Parkinson was born in North Shields, and attended Park House School in Newbury, Berkshire, before going on to read History at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, from 2001 to 2004, where he graduated with a BA (subsequently proceeding to an MA). During his time at Cambridge, Parkinson was Chairman of the Cambridge University Conservative Association in the 2003 Lent term,[1] and President of the Cambridge Union in Lent 2004.[2] Parkinson subsequently wrote a history of the Cambridge Union, Arena of Ambition, published in 2009.[3]

Conservative politics - in opposition (2004-10)[edit]

Upon graduation in 2004, Parkinson went to work on the Home Affairs desk at the Conservative Research Department, including during the 2005 general election.[4][5] Later that year, he moved to the department's Political Section, where he was engaged in opposition research on other parties, briefing Shadow Ministers ahead of media appearances, and was part of David Cameron's briefing team as Leader of the Opposition ahead of Prime Minister’s Questions.[6]

In 2006, Parkinson left the Conservative Research Department, to take up a post as Director of Research at the Conservative think-tank, the Centre for Policy Studies.[7] He remained there until late 2007, when he returned to Conservative Central Office, this time to work on the party's target seats campaign.[8] He continued working at Central Office until the 2010 general election.

Lobbying career (2010-2)[edit]

After the 2010 election, with the Conservative Party back in government, Parkinson left Central Office to become a lobbyist with the lobbying firm Quiller Consultants, remaining with them for two years.[9]

2011 AV referendum campaign[edit]

During his time at Quiller, Parkinson also played a key role in the victorious NOtoAV campaign in the United Kingdom Alternative Vote referendum, 2011, serving as the Conservative Party's National Organiser in the cross-party campaign.[10]

Special Adviser - in government (2012-present)[edit]

Home Office Special Adviser[edit]

In 2012 he became Special Adviser to Theresa May when she was Home Secretary. Parkinson continued in this role until the autumn of 2015.[11]

2016 EU referendum campaign[edit]

In October 2015, Parkinson left his role as Special Adviser at the Home Office to become National Organiser of the ground operation for the successful Vote Leave campaign in the United Kingdom European Union membership referendum, 2016.[12][13]

In March 2018, Parkinson was accused of “outing” a pro-Leave volunteer Shahmir Sanni after he was asked to respond to Sanni's claim that Parkinson had directed his marketing and financial activity on the "BeLeave" campaign when BeLeave was supposed to be a separate campaign to Vote Leave.[14] In the statement, published in full on Vote Leave director Dominic Cummings's blog, Parkinson said that he and Sanni had been in a relationship for 18 months, which he implied coloured Sanni's judgement of events.[15] In response, Sanni claimed that members of his family in Pakistan had been forced to take "urgent protective measures to ensure their safety” because he had been publicly identified as gay.[16]

Downing Street Special Adviser[edit]

In the aftermath of the June 2016 EU referendum campaign, Theresa May became Prime Minister the following month, whereupon Parkinson rejoined her as a Special Adviser based in Downing Street, with the job title of Political Secretary to the Prime Minister.[17]

Parliamentary candidacies and selections (2010-present)[edit]

First parliamentary candidature, 2010[edit]

At the 2010 general election, Parkinson stood as the Conservative candidate for Newcastle upon Tyne North, having been selected the previous year.[18] He came third, polling 7,966 votes (18.1%), although he managed to increase the Conservative vote by a third.

Attempts to stand in 2015, and temporary removal from the candidates' list[edit]

Parkinson had declared his interest in standing for a winnable constituency at the 2015 general election, and had been tipped for the shortlist in safe seats such as Richmond, Yorkshire; but in December 2014, he and another of May's Special Advisers, Nick Timothy, became involved in a candidate selection row. Both were removed from the Conservative Party's list of approved candidates by Party Chairman Grant Shapps, reportedly on the instructions of David Cameron's growing alarm at having such key allies of a leadership rival such as Theresa May in the House of Commons, and Parkinson and Timothy were given the pretext that neither had campaigned in the Rochester and Strood by-election (with such campaigning being a requirement of candidates staying on the approved list). Both Parkinson and Timothy protested that as Special Advisers, they were bound by the Civil Service Code of Conduct which specifically forbids senior civil servants from engaging in political campaigning. The Conservative Party subsequently apologised to both Parkinson and Timothy, but by that time, it was too late for either to apply for a seat.[19][20][21]

Selection contest for Saffron Walden, 2017[edit]

On 28 April 2017, with Prime Minister Theresa May having called a snap general election ten days earlier, it was reported that Parkinson had been shortlisted for the "safe seat" of Saffron Walden, after the retirement of veteran MP Sir Alan Haselhurst was announced.[22]

Analysing the shortlist, former MP and ConservativeHome Executive Editor Paul Goodman noted that, "Nor to date have SpAds been shoehorned into constituencies against weak opposition", but that, "The case of Saffron Walden is perhaps more suggestive. Stephen Parkinson, the Prime Minister’s Political Secretary and the former head of the ground campaign at Vote Leave, is up against Katherine Bennett, who hasn’t fought a Parliamentary election previously, and Kemi Badenoch, a member of the London Assembly who was beaten in the first round in [the Conservative selection contest for] Hampstead and Kilburn."[23] It was subsequently reported in the Daily Telegraph that Saffron Walden was one of four seats where Conservative activists had complained of a "selection stitch-up" over a Special Adviser being shortlisted alongside little-known rivals on the shortlist (with other instances being Alex Burghart, May’s Social Justice Policy Adviser shortlisted in Brentwood and Ongar; Chris Brannigan, Director of Government Relations at No. 10 Downing Street shortlisted in Aldershot; and Neil O'Brien, May's Economy and Industrial Strategy Adviser who was reportedly putting his name forward for safe seats). The Telegraph cited these instances of how, "The party’s leadership has been accused of using a rule change because of the snap election to 'foist its own friends onto local parties'."[24] Total Politics similarly asserted that "Theresa May now risks charges of election cronyism" after the shortlisting of so many Special Advisers, including Parkinson and Burghart, alongside James Wild (Special Adviser to Defence Secretary Michael Fallon) selected in Norfolk North, Meg Powell-Chandler (former Special Adviser to Communities Secretary Greg Clark) selected in Birmingham Northfield, and Parkinson's university contemporary Will Gallagher (former Special Adviser to Justice Secretary Chris Grayling) selected in City of Chester.[25]

In the event, after a last-minute change in the final line-up on the shortlist of three, with Katherine Bennett being replaced by Laura Farris, the Saffron Walden Conservative Association selected Kemi Badenoch for the seat rather than Farris or Parkinson, with Badenoch winning on the first ballot.[26][27]


In March 2017, Channel 4 News reported that, according to a cache of leaked documents and emails, Parkinson was one of the Conservative Party's senior campaigns figures at the heart of the party election spending investigation relating to alleged over-spending during the 2015 general election campaign.[28]

In March 2018, whistleblower Shahmir Sanni claimed that Parkinson had directed the activities of pro-Brexit pressure group BeLeave, in breach of electrical financing laws, through him in his position as a BeLeave volunteer.[29] In response, Parkinson issued a Downing Street press release, marked ‘official’, which revealed he had been in a relationship with Sanni during the referendum and arguing he had only offered ‘advice and encouragement’ in the context of their relationship rather than direction.[30] Sanni alleged in subsequent media appearances to have had to organise security for his family who live in Pakistan because of the status of homosexuality within the country, and accused Parkinson of ‘outing him’ against his will.[31]

Theresa May refused to remove Parkinson, stating that "My political secretary does a very good job as my political secretary" in response to a question from Angela Eagle.[32]



  1. ^ Former Chairmen of Cambridge University Conservative Association, CUCA website
  2. ^ 'Appendix: List of former Union officers', Stephen Parkinson, Arena of Ambition: A History of the Cambridge Union (Icon Books, London, 2009)
  3. ^ Arena of Ambition on Amazon website
  4. ^ Stephen Parkinson biography, Quiller Consultants' website, accessed 19 October 2011
  5. ^ 'About the author' flap on inside back cover, Stephen Parkinson, Arena of Ambition: A History of the Cambridge Union (Icon Books, London, 2009)
  6. ^ Stephen Parkinson biography, Quiller Consultants' website, accessed 19 October 2011
  7. ^ Stephen Parkinson biography, Quiller Consultants' website, accessed 19 October 2011
  8. ^ 'About the author' flap on inside back cover, Stephen Parkinson, Arena of Ambition: A History of the Cambridge Union (Icon Books, London, 2009)
  9. ^ Stephen Parkinson biography, Quiller Consultants' website, accessed 19 October 2011
  10. ^ Stephen Parkinson, '10 Ways to Help No2AV in the Next Hundred Days', ConservativeHome, 25 January 2011
  11. ^ Who's Who in Team Theresa May
  12. ^ Mark Wallace, 'Does May’s closest adviser joining the Vote Leave campaign signal her intentions?', ConservativeHome, 22 October 2015
  13. ^ Staff Directory for the designated lead campaign for Leave, published by the Electoral Commission, 2016
  14. ^ [
  15. ^ [1]
  16. ^ [2]
  17. ^ Who's Who in Team Theresa May
  18. ^ 'Dominic Llewellyn and Stephen Parkinson adopted for Newcastle seats', ConservativeHome, 26 September 2009
  19. ^ Who's Who in Team Theresa May
  20. ^ Nicholas Watt, 'Theresa May warned Tory leadership chances at risk from advisers’ infighting', The Guardian, 21 December 2014
  21. ^ Francis Elliott, 'Cameron approved removal of May’s aides from candidate list', The Times, 20 December 2014
  22. ^ Mark Wallace, 'Exclusive. Aldershot, Chichester and Chester shortlist details. The man up against Farron. Latest selection news.', Conservative Home, 28 April 2017
  23. ^ Paul Goodman, 'May’s maids. Watch the Prime Minister’s show-not-tell drive for more women Conservative MPs.', ConservativeHome, 28 April 2017
  24. ^ Ben Riley-Smith, 'Tory grassroots fury over selection stitch-up as Number 10 allies parachuted into safe seats', Daily Telegraph, 30 April 2017
  25. ^ David Singleton, 'Tories select special advisers and lobbyists as election candidates', TotalPolitics, 2 May 2017
  26. ^ Mark Wallace, 'EXCLUSIVE: Kemi Badenoch selected in Saffron Walden', ConservativeHome, 2 May 2017
  27. ^ Fraser Nelson, 'First, Nigel Lawson. Then Boris. Now Kemi Badenoch moves from The Spectator to politics.', The Spectator, 2 May 2017
  28. ^ 'Election Expenses: New emails show more members of PM’s top team involved', Channel 4 News, 15 March 2017
  29. ^ "Former Vote Leave activist says Brexit 'tainted' due to alleged election spending violations". The Independent. Retrieved 2018-09-27.
  30. ^ Political Editor, Francis Elliott (2018-03-26). "May aide Stephen Parkinson on brink after outing ex‑boyfriend in Brexit spending row". The Times. ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 2018-09-27.
  31. ^ "Theresa May aide urged to resign after 'outing' gay whistleblower". PinkNews. Retrieved 2018-04-03.
  32. ^ "European Council - Hansard Online". Retrieved 2018-04-03.