John’s Local Work
John was elected as MP for Weston, Worle and the Villages in 2005 and again in 2010. He is involved in many local community initiatives – you can find more details of his campaigns for local people on Drugs & Crime, Local Health Funding, Local School Funding and Regenerating Weston. He is also President of the League of Friends of Weston-super-Mare Hospital, Patron of the South West branch of the Mankind Initiative, President of the Abbeyfield Weston-super-Mare Society, a long-serving Governor and Associate Governor of Weston College and Patron of the You Tree Cancer Support Group.
The son of two teachers, John has lived in the constituency for well over a decade, in the village of Winscombe. His father was brought up in nearby Timsbury, and his grandfather taught in Midsomer Norton. John married Dido Harding in 1995 and they have two young daughters. Dido is Chief Executive of TalkTalk, the broadband firm, and her horse, Cool Dawn, won the 1998 Cheltenham Gold Cup – John has been kicking himself ever since because he didn’t bet on the race!
John’s education was entirely state-funded, starting with a Church of England Primary school before winning a state scholarship to Ipswich School and then a place at Cambridge University to study law. The only exception was his MBA at Columbia University in New York, which he paid for himself.
After University, John had an extensive and successful business career before he entered Parliament. He worked for a variety of large, blue chip companies starting with J P Morgan (risk management on a bank trading floor); then McKinsey (strategic management consultancy); Thompson (academic book publishing) culminating at Pearson PLC (Managing Director of Longman’s schoolbook publishing operations) before striking out on his own in a Management Buy-Out (MBO) of Logotron (educational software for schools), later adding Widgit (special needs software for children with dyslexia). He also helped found Credit Market Analysis (publishing credit data for financial firms) which was sold to the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and is now part of Standard & Poors.
Because of his business career, John was a latecomer to politics. He ran Cambridge University’s Charity Appeal (raising a record amount of money, mainly to help starving children in Africa) instead of the more normal route through student politics or the Union debating society, and only became actively involved later. He joined the Party in London’s East End before coming a distant second in Ealing Southall (a safe Labour seat) in the 1997 General Election.
In 1998 he was in charge of research for the Bow Group, a long-established and highly-respected Conservative think-tank where he commissioned and published papers on Reforming the House of Lords, Human Rights, Reforming Europe and recruiting more Conservative women MPs. He was also the author of an influential pamphlet ‘Member’s Rights’, which called for Conservative Party members to elect the Party’s leader: shortly afterwards the Party adopted this approach.
In the 2001 General Election he nearly won Weston-super-Mare back from the Liberal Democrats, losing by just 338 votes after a recount, but finished the job at his second attempt in 2005.
After becoming an MP, John spent several years holding the Labour Government’s feet to the fire on the Department for Work and Pensions Select Committee. He was the sole author of an annexe to the Committee’s report on Benefits Simplification, outlining a radical new structure for the benefits system which largely matched the Coalition Government’s new Universal Credit a few years later. He also contributed to the Welfare Reform Bill and Finance Bills before helping Oliver Letwin (as his Parliamentary Private Secretary, or PPS) on the Conservative Party’s policy review, including the draft Manifesto for the ‘election that never was’ when Gordon Brown became Prime Minister in 2008.
John then became a shadow business minister in Ken Clarke’s team, where he wrote the Party’s policy on cutting red tape and quangos (details here) and unexpectedly became a huge fan of Vince Cable when he confirmed it as Government policy just days after the coalition Government was formed in 2010. John’s ideas of ‘one-in, one-out’ regulatory budgets and regular reviews of all quangos are now making a profound and continuing impact on the way Whitehall works.
From 2010 to 2012 John was Tourism & Heritage Minister, covering the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the London Olympic and Paralympic Games. During his tenure the Tourism industry was one of the fastest-growing sectors of Britain’s economy, and John also wrote and implemented the Government’s Tourism Strategy; began a process to turn English Heritage’s properties (Stonehenge, Dover Castle, Tintagel and many others) into a second National Trust; removed silly red tape licenses on live entertainment; sold the Tote bookmaker; protected the Lloyds of London building with a ‘Grade 1’ listing and much else (more details in these links on Tourism, Heritage and Horseracing). He was hailed as 'a GREAT tourism minister [who we] very much enjoyed working with' by VisitBritain ‘an excellent minister’ by Business In Sport and Leisure [link], ‘a great supporter of the tourism industry’ by the British Hospitality Association [link], ‘very effective’ by the Tourism Alliance [link], and “a champion for heritage” by The Council for British Archaeology [link].
John had a brief spell on the backbenches in 2013, writing a radical but well-received paper (We Deserve Better) on how to give people a better deal on their utilities (gas, water, electricity etc) and campaigning to protect green fields from urban sprawl by building up, not out. In 2013 he returned to the front benches as a Government Whip, in a well-received move described by The Telegraph as a 'deserved return’ for a 'stand-out talent' [link].
John is a member of Amnesty International; his hobbies are fishing and beekeeping.