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David Willetts MP

Assumed office 
6 December 2005
as Shadow Secretary of State for Education and Skills
Leader David Cameron
Preceded by David Cameron

Member of Parliament
for Havant
Assumed office 
9 April 1992
Preceded by Ian Lloyd
Majority 6,508 (15.7%)

Born 9 March 1956 (1956-03-09) (age 54)
Nationality British
Political party Conservative
Spouse(s) Sarah Butterfield
Alma mater Christ Church, Oxford
Nickname(s) Two Brains

David Linsay Willetts (born 9 March 1956) is the Conservative Member of Parliament for Havant, in the United Kingdom. He is currently the Shadow Minister for Universities and Skills having previously been the Shadow Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills until the abolition of the department.



Willetts was educated at King Edward's School, Birmingham and Christ Church, Oxford where he studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics.


Having served as Nigel Lawson's private researcher, he 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]. Aged 36, Willetts entered Parliament in 1992 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, he 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.

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.


Shadow Cabinet

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 is now 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.

Grammar Schools

On 19 May 2007 he 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. [4] [5][6][7] 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.[8][9] 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".[10]

The Department for Education and Skills was abolished by the new Prime Minister Gordon Brown and 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.

Free Votes Record

According to the Public Whip analyses[1], Willetts was strongly in favour of an elected House of Lords and was strongly against the ban on fox-hunting.

"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".[11] 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.[12]

Civic Conservatism

See Civic Conservatism

Willetts has pioneered the idea of "Civic Conservatism". This is an idea which was introduced in "Civic Conservatism" [D. Willetts, "Civic Conservatism", SMF (1994)].

This is the idea of focussing 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'.[13]

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[14] was described by the Times as "an audacious attempt by the Conservative Party's leading intellectual to relate a new Tory narrative" [15].

"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."[16]

Member interests and private life

The register of members interests records that he is chairman of the board of Universal Biosensors Ltd, and holds shares in its parent company, Sensor-Tech Limited. He is also an adviser to Punter Southall actuaries and Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein.[17]

He is married to the artist Sarah Butterfield and has one daughter and one son.

Willetts's wealth is estimated at £1.9m.[2]

See also


  1. ^ Voting Record — David Willetts MP, Havant (10637) — The Public Whip
  2. ^ Samira Shackle, Stephanie Hegarty and George Eaton The new ruling class New Statesman 01 October 2009

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

Offices held

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Ian Lloyd
Member of Parliament for Havant
Political offices
Preceded by
David Heathcoat-Amory
Succeeded by
Michael Bates
Preceded by
David Cameron
Shadow Secretary of State for Education and Skills
Position abolished
New creation Shadow Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills

Simple English

David Linsay Willetts (born March 9, 1956) is an English politician and the current Minister of State for Univ
ersities and Science in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. He is the Member of Parliament for the Havant constituency in the United Kingdom. He was first elected in the 1992 general election.

He is a member of the Conservative Party.


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