David Willetts

David Willetts
The Right Honourable
David Willetts
Minister of State for Universities and Science
Assumed office
11 May 2010
Prime Minister David Cameron
Preceded by Lord Drayson (Science and Innovation)
Shadow Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Shadow Minister for Universities and Skills)
In office
6 December 2005 – 11 May 2010
Leader David Cameron
Preceded by David Cameron
Succeeded by Andy Burnham (as Shadow Secretary of State for Education)
John Denham (as Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills)
Member of Parliament
for Havant
Assumed office
9 April 1992
Preceded by Ian Lloyd
Majority 12,160 (27.7%)
Personal details
Born 9 March 1956 (1956-03-09) (age 55)
Birmingham, Warwickshire, England
Political party Conservative
Spouse(s) Sarah Butterfield
Alma mater Christ Church, Oxford

David Linsay Willetts (born 9 March 1956) is a British Conservative Party politician and the Minister of State for Universities and Science. He is the Member of Parliament (MP) representing the constituency of Havant in Hampshire.



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

Policy researcher

Having served as Nigel Lawson's private researcher,[citation needed] 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.[1]

First period in government

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.[2] 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

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[3] 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.[2][4][5][6] 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.[7][8] 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".[9]

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

Following the 2010 general election, Prime Minister David Cameron appointed Willetts as the Minister of State for Universities and Science. In this capacity, he attends the meetings of the Cabinet, although he is not a full member.

Willetts is in the unusual position of being a junior Conservative minister in a department headed by a Liberal Democrat minister. This has created some tension over which bits of his speeches are recognised as statements of BIS policy and which are not.[10]

Feminism claim

In June 2011 Willets said during the launch of the Government’s social mobility strategy that movement between the classes had “stagnated” over the past 40 years, will be published next week and Mr Willetts attributed this partly 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.”[11]

Free votes record

According to the Public Whip analyses,[12] 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.[13]

"Two brains"

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".[14] He is currently 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 (part of the University of 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.[15][16] He is an honorary member of Conservative Friends of Poland.[17]

Civic conservatism

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'.[18]

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[19] was described by the Times as "an audacious attempt by the Conservative Party's leading intellectual to relate a new Tory narrative".[20]

"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."[21]

Personal life and member's interests

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,[22][23] and his declarations for the Register of Members' Financial Interests may viewed here.


  1. ^ Alice Thomson (13 March 2004). "Willetts takes 'two pensions' Blair to task". The Daily Telegraph. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1456725/Willetts-takes-two-pensions-Blair-to-task.html. Retrieved 5 June 2011. 
  2. ^ a b Michael White (22 May 2007). "It's over". The Guardian. http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/michael_white/2007/05/a_levelheaded_tory_mp_of.html. Retrieved 19 August 2010. 
  3. ^ Daniel Finkelstein (2 November 2005). "A David Davis guide to fiscal strategy: two and two make... um, er ...". The Times. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/daniel_finkelstein/article585454.ece. Retrieved 19 August 2010. 
  4. ^ Anatole Kaletsky (24 May 2007). "Lesson one: get the yobs out of the classroom". The Times. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/anatole_kaletsky/article1832196.ece. Retrieved 19 August 2010. 
  5. ^ Daniel Finkelstein (21 May 2007). "Fisking Janet Daley". Comment Central (The Times). http://timesonline.typepad.com/comment/2007/05/fisking_janet_d_1.html. Retrieved 5 June 2011. 
  6. ^ Daniel Finkelstein (22 May 2007). "Do Cameron's critics really want grammar schools?". Comment Central. The Times. http://timesonline.typepad.com/comment/2007/05/are_david_camer.html. Retrieved 5 June 2011. 
  7. ^ Janet Daley (21 May 2007). "When did wanting the best for your children become a crime?". The Daily Telegraph. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/personal-view/3640014/When-did-wanting-the-best-for-your-children-become-a-crime.html. Retrieved 5 June 2011. 
  8. ^ Stephen Pollard (17 May 2007). "Scandal of the Tory grammar school u-turn". The Daily Mail. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-455414/Scandal-Tory-grammar-school-u-turn.html. Retrieved 19 August 2010. 
  9. ^ "Cameron steps up grammars attack". BBC News. 22 May 2007. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/6679005.stm. Retrieved 19 August 2010. 
  10. ^ "Tracking David Willetts & Vince Cable". Exquisite Life. 11 June 2010. http://exquisitelife.researchresearch.com/exquisite_life/2010/06/tracking-david-willetts.html. Retrieved 19 August 2010. 
  11. ^ Feminsim has held back working men
  12. ^ "Voting Record — David Willetts MP, Havant". Public Whip. http://www.publicwhip.org.uk/mp.php?mpn=David_Willetts&mpc=Havant. Retrieved 19 August 2010. 
  13. ^ "David Willetts MP, voting record". TheyWorkForYou.com. http://www.theyworkforyou.com/mp/david_willetts/havant#votingrecord. Retrieved 2011-06-05. 
  14. ^ Michael White (5 February 2008). "Willetts scores points in this ball game". The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/feb/05/politics.uk. Retrieved 5 June 2011. 
  15. ^ "Signatories to the Statement of Principles". The Henry Jackson Society. 27 July 2010. http://www.henryjacksonsociety.org/signatories.asp?pageid=36. Retrieved 19 August 2010. 
  16. ^ "Statement of Principles". The Henry Jackson Society. 27 July 2010. http://www.henryjacksonsociety.org/content.asp?pageid=35. Retrieved 19 August 2010. 
  17. ^ Conservative Friends of Poland website
  18. ^ Fraser Nelson (24 June 2006). "The real father of Cameronism". The Spectator. http://www.spectator.co.uk/essays/all/23081/the-real-father-of-cameronism.thtml. Retrieved 5 June 2011. 
  19. ^ "The Ideas that are Changing Politics". London School of Economics. http://www.lse.ac.uk/collections/LSEPublicLecturesAndEvents/events/2008/20071128t1633z001.htm. Retrieved 19 August 2010. 
  20. ^ Daniel Finkelstein (20 February 2008). "Blood, bats and bonding: a new way". The Times. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/daniel_finkelstein/article3399671.ece. Retrieved 19 August 2010. 
  21. ^ Daniel Finkelstein (20 February 2008). "Civic conservatism replies to compassionate conservatism". Comment Central. The Times. http://timesonline.typepad.com/comment/2008/02/civic-conservat.html. Retrieved 4 October 2010. 
  22. ^ Samira Shackle; Stephanie Hegarty; George Eaton (1 October 2009). "The new ruling class". New Statesman. http://www.newstatesman.com/uk-politics/2009/10/oxford-universitywealth-school. Retrieved 5 June 2011. 
  23. ^ 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. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/election/article-1280554/The-coalition-millionaires-23-29-member-new-cabinet-worth-1m--Lib-Dems-just-wealthy-Tories.html. Retrieved 5 June 2011. 

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

  • Timmins, Nicholas (2001). The Five Giants: A Biography of the Welfare State. ISBN 0-00-710264-X. 


  • Willetts, David (1991). Happy Families? Four Points to a Conservative Family Policy. ISBN 1-870265-62-9. 
  • Willetts, David (1992). Modern Conservatism. ISBN 0-14-015477-9. 
  • Willetts, David (1992). Welfare to Work. ISBN 1-874097-18-6. 
  • Willetts, David (1996). Blair's Gurus. ISBN 0-14-026304-7. 
  • Willetts, David (1997). Why Vote Conservative?. ISBN 0-14-026304-7. 
  • Willetts, David (1997). Blair's Gurus. ISBN 1-897969-47-3. 
  • Willetts, David (1998). Who do we think we are?. ISBN 1-897969-81-3. 
  • Willetts, David (2003). Left Out, Left Behind. ISBN 0-9545611-0-4. 
  • Willetts, David (2003). Old Europe? Demographic Change and Pension Reform. ISBN 1-901229-47-5. 
  • Willetts, David (2010). The Pinch: How the Baby Boomers Took Their Children's Future – And Why They Should Give It Back. ISBN 1848872313. 

External links

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Ian Lloyd
Member of Parliament for Havant
Political offices
Preceded by
David Heathcoat-Amory
Paymaster General
Succeeded by
Michael Bates
Preceded by
David Cameron
Shadow Secretary of State for Education and Skills
Position abolished
New office Shadow Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills
Succeeded by
The Lord Mandelson
Preceded by
The Lord Drayson
as Minister of State for Science and Innovation
Minister of State for Universities and Science

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