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Oliver Letwin

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Oliver Letwin

The Right Honourable
Oliver Letwin
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 Government Policy
In office
12 May 2010 – 11 May 2015
Prime Minister David Cameron
Preceded by Position established
Succeeded by Position abolished
Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
In office
10 May 2005 – 6 December 2005
Leader Michael Howard
Preceded by Richard Ottaway (Environment)
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 16,130 (28.6%)
Personal details
Born (1956-05-19) 19 May 1956
Hampstead, London
Political party Conservative
Spouse(s) Isabel Davidson (1984–present)
Children 2
Alma mater University of Cambridge
Website Official website

Oliver Letwin (born 19 May 1956)[1] is a British Conservative politician. He has served as Member of Parliament for West Dorset since 1997 and as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster since 2014.

Following the 2015 general election, Letwin was given overall responsibility for the Cabinet Office and became a full member of the Cabinet in the Conservative government. He had previously been Minister of State for Government Policy from 2010 and 2015.[2]

He is also Chairman of the Conservative Research Department and chaired the Conservative Party's Policy Review from 2005 to 2010.


  • Early life 1
  • Political career 2
    • Shadow cabinet 2.1
    • Government and Cabinet Minister 2.2
    • Controversy 2.3
  • Personal life 3
  • Publications 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7

Early life

Professor William Letwin
Eton College, Berkshire

Letwin is the son of William Letwin (14 December 1922 – 20 February 2013), Emeritus Professor at the London School of Economics, and the 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]

Letwin 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 of Darwin College, Cambridge, from 1981 until 1982.[8] His thesis, Emotion and Emotions, earned a PhD (Cantab) 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

From 1983 to 1986, he was a member of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's Policy Unit. He stood at the 1987 election for Hackney North and Stoke Newington.

According to official government documents from 1985, released in December 2014, Letwin recommended the Prime Minister to "use Scotland as a trail-blazer for the pure residence charge", i.e. the controversial Community Charge or 'Poll tax', having trialed it there first, and to implement it nationwide should "the exemplifications prove... it is feasible."[10]

He unsuccessfully stood against Glenda Jackson for the Hampstead and Highgate seat in the 1992 election.

Letwin went on to win the historically safe Conservative seat of West Dorset at the 1997 general election, although he only achieved a majority of 1,840 votes over the next candidate.

Shadow cabinet

Leader of the Opposition and Leader of the Conservative Party William Hague appointed Letwin as a member of his Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury in September 2000. He understudied both Michael Portillo and Michael Howard in their consecutive tenures as Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer.

He had previous been an official Opposition Spokesperson on Constitutional Affairs, Scotland and Wales since 1998, to be promoted to Shadow Financial Secretary to the Treasury in 1999.

During the campaign for the 2001 general election, Letwin 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.

After the election, his personal majority for his West Dorset constituency was cut to 1,414 ballots. There was 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 September 2001 he was appointed Shadow Home Secretary by new Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith. In this role, 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 then 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.

In late 2003, the next Party leader, Michael Howard, appointed Letwin as his successor as Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer. 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 2005 general election Letwin's vote majority in his seat increased to 2,461 votes.[11]

In May 2005, Letwin was appointed Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The Times reported 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.[12] Until December 2009, he was a non-executive director of the merchant bank NM Rothschild Corporate Finance Ltd.[13]

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

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".[14] The 2010 election saw him increase his majority to 3,923 votes.[15]

Government and Cabinet Minister

Dr Oliver Letwin PC MP

British Prime Minister David Cameron appointed Letwin to the newly-created office of Minister of State for Government Policy in the new Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition government in May 2010. His responsibilities included developing government policies with the Cabinet Office, as set out in the Coalition's programme for government, as well as implementing departmental business plans. He also attended the Cabinet, although not as a full member or Cabinet Minister.

Letwin was appointed as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster on 14 July 2014, succeeding Lord Hill of Oareford who became the United Kingdom's next European Commissioner. Letwin also continued in his role as Minister for Policy until the 2015 general election, when the position was abolished.

He as returned with an increased majority of 16,130 votes by his West Dorset constituents at 2015 general election.

Following the 2015 election, Letwin remained Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster as Cameron reappointed him as an official ministerial member of the new Conservative government's Cabinet. He has been given responsibility for overall charge and oversight of the Cabinet Office.


The Daily Telegraph reported in 2009 that Letwin reportedly agreed to repay a bill for £2,145 for replacing a leaking pipe under the tennis court at his constituency home in Dorset, which he had claimed on his parliamentary expenses.[16]

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"'.[17]

In a paper published in 2011, co-authored by four academics including Martin McKee, Letwin was accused of having inspired the controversial Health and Social Care Act 2012. Citing his 1988 Centre for Policy Studies pamphlet, Britain's biggest enterprise: ideas for radical reform of the NHS (written with John Redwood), they argued it suggested reform to the National Health Service which "provides a coherent justification for the trajectory of change to the NHS that we have seen implemented by the governments in power since that time."[18]

On 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.[19][20] 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.

Personal life

Letwin married Isabel Davidson in 1984, and they have two children together.

As the son of Jewish parents, Letwin was criticised by The Daily Mail in June 2013 for editing his own WorldHeritage profile to change information regarding his faith. His religion was changed to Atheism. Letwin confirmed one of his staff had removed the reference listing his religion as ‘Judaism’ as "although his family background is Jewish, he is now an atheist", the newspaper reported.[21]

In 2003, The Independent reported comments Letwin had made saying that he would "go out on the streets and beg" rather than send his children to the state schools in Lambeth where he and his family lived.[22][23]

After two strangers on his London street had asked if they could use his toilet 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.[24][25]


  • 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

See also


  1. ^ "Election Guide 2010 » Dorset West". UK Polling Report. 2013. Retrieved 19 February 2015. 
  2. ^ "Minister of State for Government Policy".  
  3. ^ McDonagh, Melanie (20 February 2004). "Letwin's parents are the key to his soul - Telegraph".  
  4. ^ White, Michael (7 December 2012). "Oliver Letwin: more at home in a senior common room than at a public meeting".  
  5. ^ "Obituary: Professor William Letwin".  
  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".  
  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. ^ "Oliver Letwin's memorandum recommending Scottish poll tax trial in 1985". The Guardian. 30 December 2014. Retrieved 19 February 2015. 
  11. ^ "Election 2005 Results: Dorset West".  
  12. ^ "Letwin asks for less demanding job". Times Online. 10 May 2005. 
  13. ^ "The Register of Members' Interests, 6 September 2010". They Work For You. MySociety. Retrieved 14 October 2011. 
  14. ^  
    "Profiles of men trying to negotiate a Tory-Lib Dem deal". BBC News (London). 10 May 2010. Retrieved 10 May 2010. 
  15. ^ "Election 2010 : Constituency Dorset West".  
  16. ^ Rayner, Gordon (13 May 2009). "Oliver Letwin repays £2,000 tennis court bill".  
  17. ^ Boffey, Daniel (30 July 2011). "Public sector workers need 'discipline and fear', says Oliver Letwin". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 31 July 2011. 
  18. ^ 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. 
  19. ^ Gregory, Andrew (14 October 2011). "Oliver Letwin caught throwing away secret papers in public bins".  
  20. ^ Kirkup, James (14 October 2011). "Oliver Letwin: Cabinet Office minister threw documents into park bins".  
  21. ^ Smith, Mike Deri; Conrad, Mark (3 June 2013). "Now Cabinet Minister Oliver Letwin is caught editing his own profile on WorldHeritage".  
  22. ^ Clarkson, Jeremy (2004). "Chapter 74". The World According to Clarkson. Penguin.  
  23. ^ Waugh, Paul (10 October 2003). "Letwin: I'd rather beg than send child to inner-city school".  
  24. ^ Eden, Richard (6 May 2012). "Wealthy Cabinet minister Oliver Letwin takes in lodgers at his London home".  
  25. ^ "Tories signal law and order shift".  

External links

  • Oliver Letwin MP official constituency website
  • bioDebrett's People of Today
  • Profile at the Cabinet Office
  • Profile at the Conservative Party
  • Profile at Parliament of the United Kingdom
  • Contributions in Parliament at Hansard 1803–2005
  • Current session contributions in Parliament at Hansard
  • Voting record at Public Whip
  • Record in Parliament at TheyWorkForYou
  • Profile at Westminster Parliamentary Record
  • Profile at BBC News Democracy Live
  • Articles authored at Journalisted
  • Works by or about Oliver Letwin in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
  • Oliver Letwin collected news and commentary at The Guardian
  • Profile: Oliver Letwin BBC News, 30 March 2006
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
Richard Ottaway
as Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment
Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Succeeded by
Peter Ainsworth
New office Minister of State for Government Policy
Position abolished
Preceded by
The Lord Hill of Oareford
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
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