John has been the MP for Weston, Worle and the Villages since 2005 and in 2015 he achieved the biggest majority on record in his constituency.
He is currently the co-chair of the All Party Group on Best Brexit – a group of MPs committed to honouring the referendum result and delivering the best deal possible for the UK as a whole – as well as being a member of the European Research Group.
He is also actively campaigning to make homes more affordable and to save green fields by axing planning restrictions on the height of urban buildings (read more about Build ‘Up Not Out’) as well as to introduce a UK Sovereign Wealth Fund.
From 2010-2016, John held various Ministerial posts. In 2015 he was Minister for Constitutional Reform, from 2010-12 he was Tourism & Heritage Minister and between 2013-2015 he was a Government Whip.
John delivered English Votes For English Laws, more powers to the Scottish, Welsh and Irish Governments, and crucially the EU Referendum Act. He also initiated the Boundary Review, cleaned up voter rolls, to make sure they only include valid electors, and kicked off a wide-ranging ‘automatic voter registration’ project to get more people to register and use their vote.
Tourism & Heritage
Hailed as ‘a GREAT tourism minister’ by VisitBritain, John wrote and implemented the Government’s Tourism Strategy and was Minister at the time of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, the London Olympic and Paralympic Games and as the tourism industry was one of the fastest-growing sectors of the British economy.
John also began the process of turning 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.
‘an excellent minister’ – Business In Sport and Leisure [link]
‘a great supporter of the tourism industry’ – British Hospitality Association [link]
‘very effective’ – Tourism Alliance [link]
‘a champion for heritage’ – The Council for British Archaeology [link]
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.
In 2013 John wrote 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 move described by The Telegraph as a ‘deserved return’ for a ‘stand-out talent’ [link].
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 is a member of Amnesty International and on the rare occasion that he isn’t working, he enjoys fishing and beekeeping.
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.
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.