British Conservative Politician
Born 1956

Oliver Letwin is the Conservative Member of Parliament for Dorset West, former Shadow Chancellor and now Head of Policy for the Conservative Party.

Early Life

Born on the 19th May 1956 at Hampstead in London. His parents were both American born academics of Russian Jewish origin working at the London School of Economics; his father William Letwin being an economic historian and his mother Shirley Robin Letwin (who died in 1993) a political philosopher. Both were graduates of the University of Chicago where they had studied under Friedrich Hayek, and became leading advocates of the new anti-collectivist ideas that inspired the likes of Keith Joseph and Margaret Thatcher. Both Letwins were active in the Centre for Policy Studies (where Mrs Letwin was a director), and thus it could be said that young Oliver was bottle fed Thatcherism from birth.

He was educated at Eton College, Trinity College, Cambridge and the London Business School, after which he was a visiting research fellow at Princeton University in 1980-1981, and then a research fellow at Darwin College, Cambridge in 1981-1982. From academia he moved to become Special Adviser to Keith Joseph, the Secretary of State for Education and Science between 1982 and 1983, and then a member of the Prime Minister's Policy Unit from 1983 to 1986, where he was one of the brains behind privatisation and a champion of the poll tax. Oliver subsequently left politics in 1986 and joined the merchant bank NM Rothschild and Sons where he was employed in their privatisation department, busily advising foreign governments on how to have their own Thatcherite revolution, and eventually became a director in 1991.

Political career

Oliver's first attempt at securing a seat was his home constituency of Hampstead and Highgate where he lost out to Labour's Glenda Jackson at the 1992 General Election. He afterwards transferred his attentions to the constituency of Dorset West where he was returned at the 1997 General Election with a majority of 1,840, although of course his party was defeated and forced out of government.

He subsequently enjoyed something of a meteoric rise within the somewhat depleted Conservative ranks. Just over a year after first being elected to the Commons, he was appointed the Frontbench Spokesman for Constitutional Affairs in June 1998 and then two years later in September 2000, he became Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury. However he first came to public prominence during 2001 General Election when, during the campaign, he gave an interview to the Financial Times in which he suggested that a Conservative government could slash taxes by £20bn a year during its first term in office, a statement that naturally gave rise to accusations that the Conservatives would need to cut public expenditure by a similar amount. Apparently this did not go down well with William Hague, and Oliver was famously forced into 'hiding' for the remainder of the campaign, much to the amusement of the Labour Party who produced a fake wanted poster with Oliver's mugshot whilst Gordon Brown appeared at a news conference to plead, "Let Letwin speak. We should free the Dorset One!".

Whether or not Letwin's remarks had any effect on the election result isn't known, in any case the Conservative Party lost the 2001 General Election as comprehensively as the previous election. Hague resigned as party leader, and in the subsequent contest Oliver supported Michael Portillo, demonstrating his support for the modernising wing of the party, but despite backing the losing candidate, the new party leader Iain Duncan Smith appointed him as Shadow Home Secretary in September 2001. There he remained until November 2003 when Smith's replacement Michael Howard made him Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, although he was slightly peeved at being obliged to resign his position as part-time director of NM Rothschild after facing accusations of a potential conflict of interest.

By this time Letwin had to moved to the left of the party. Having once described himself as "a radical Thatcherite" and been regarded as the intellectuals' Norman Tebbit, the experience of two successive election defeats appears to have caused him to modify his views. As Oliver put it himself; "I've completely changed my view, I've come to the conclusion that the most important thing we can do for the country is to improve the hospitals and the schools and the policing. To do that, you have to have fundamental structural reform, and you have to put the money in to enable those reforms to work", whilst David Davies went so far as to describe him as a "Hampstead liberal".

Given the slender majority of only 1,414 that he'd enjoyed at the 2001 election, he was one of the prime targets of the Liberal Democrats much-vaunted decapitation strategy at the 2005 General Election, although as it happened Oliver beat off the challenge and even increased his majority to 2,461. His party, of course, was defeated once more at that General Election and Oliver subsequently took a step down from the Treasury and became Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, apparently at his own request as he wanted to be able to return to gainful employment at NM Rothschild.

He supported David Cameron in the subsequent leadership election, and after Cameron duly won that contest, he agreed in December 2005 to serve as Chairman of the Party's Policy Review and Chairman of the Conservative Research Department. Often referred to as the 'Head of Policy' he therefore has been playing a key role in Cameron's re-invention of the Conservative Party. Once spoken of as a potential future leader of the party he now appears to have put such ambitions aside .

Oliver is married to Isabel Grace, the daughter of Professor John Frank Davidson, and has two children, the twins Jeremy John Peter and Laura Shirley born 5th July 1993. (Margaret Thatcher was their godmother.) He is also the author of Ethics, Emotion and the Unity of the Self (1984), Privatising the World (1987), Aims of Schooling (1988), Drift to Union (1990), and The Purpose of Politics (1999). He claims to know nothing about jazz or pop music, his own preference being for Handel's Messiah or the Kindertotenleider by Mahler but has expressed a soft spot for Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair.


SOURCES

  • Biograhies at
    http://www.conservatives.com/tile.do?def=people.person.page&personID=4533
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/2070087.stm
  • David Rae, Profile: Oliver Letwin, sweet-talking shadow chancellor Accountancy Age, 14 May 2004
    http://www.accountancyage.com/accountancyage/features/2040339/profile-oliver-letwin-sweet-talking-shadow-chancellor
  • Even rivals call this man Mr Nice Guy 16/04/2005
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2005/04/15/nint15.xml&sSheet=/news/2005/04/15/ixnewstop.html
  • Letwin comes out of exile 16 May, 2001, http://news.bbc.co.uk/vote2001/hi/english/newsid_1334000/1334380.stm
  • Alice Thomson, If we say we'll reduce tax, Gordon Brown will accuse us of slashing public services
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=%2Fnews%2F2003%2F12%2F09%2Fnpoll309.xml

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