The Lord Willetts
Official portrait, 2020
Minister of State for Universities and Science
In office
11 May 2010 – 14 July 2014
Prime MinisterDavid Cameron
Preceded byDavid Lammy
Succeeded byGreg Clark
Paymaster General
In office
20 July 1996 – 21 November 1996
LeaderJohn Major
Preceded byDavid Heathcoat-Amory
Succeeded byMichael Bates
Lord Commissioner of the Treasury
In office
6 July 1995 – 28 November 1995
Prime MinisterJohn Major
Preceded byAndrew Mitchell
Succeeded byLiam Fox
Shadow Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills
In office
2 July 2007 – 19 January 2009
LeaderDavid Cameron
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byKenneth Clarke (Business, Innovation and Skills)
Shadow Secretary of State for Education and Skills
In office
8 December 2005 – 2 July 2007
LeaderDavid Cameron
Preceded byDavid Cameron
Succeeded byMichael Gove (Children, Schools and Families)
Shadow Secretary of State for Trade and Industry
In office
6 May 2005 – 8 December 2005
LeaderMichael Howard
Preceded by
Succeeded byAlan Duncan
Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions
Social Security (1999–2001)
In office
15 June 1999 – 6 May 2005
Preceded byIain Duncan Smith
Succeeded byMalcolm Rifkind
Shadow Secretary of State for Education and Employment
In office
1 June 1998 – 15 June 1999
LeaderWilliam Hague
Preceded byStephen Dorrell
Succeeded byTheresa May
Member of the House of Lords
Lord Temporal
Assumed office
16 October 2015
Life Peerage
Member of Parliament
for Havant
In office
9 April 1992 – 30 March 2015
Preceded byIan Lloyd
Succeeded byAlan Mak
Personal details
David Linsay Willetts

(1956-03-09) 9 March 1956 (age 68)
Birmingham, England, UK
Political partyConservative
SpouseSarah Butterfield
EducationKing Edward's School, Birmingham
Alma materUniversity of Oxford (BA)

David Linsay Willetts, Baron Willetts, PC, FRS, HonFRSC, HonFREng, FAcSS (born 9 March 1956) is a British politician and life peer. From 1992 to 2015, he was the Member of Parliament representing the constituency of Havant in Hampshire. He served as Minister of State for Universities and Science from 2010 until July 2014 and became a member of the House of Lords in 2015. He was appointed chair of the UK Space Agency's board in April 2022.[1] He is president of the Resolution Foundation.


Willetts was educated at King Edward's School, Birmingham.[2] He then studied philosophy, politics and economics[3] at Christ Church, Oxford, where he graduated with a first-class degree.

Policy researcher

Having served as Nigel Lawson's private researcher,[4] Willetts took charge of the Treasury monetary policy division at 26 before moving over to Margaret Thatcher's Policy Unit at 28. He subsequently took over the Centre for Policy Studies, aged 31.[5]

Paul Foot wrote in Private Eye that in a 1993 document called The Opportunities for Private Funding in the NHS, published by the Social Market Foundation and financed by private healthcare company BUPA, Willetts provided the "intellectual thrust" for private finance initiatives (PFIs) in the National Health Service.[6]

First period in government

Willetts' constituency office

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.[7] 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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

Following 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 of Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer 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[8] 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, 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.[7][9][10][11] However, The Daily Telegraph was strongly critical of the speech, which was unpopular with some Conservative Party activists.[12] 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".[13]

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.

Feminism claim

In June 2011, Willetts said during the launch of the Government's social mobility strategy that movement between the classes had "stagnated" over the past 40 years, and Willetts attributed this partly to 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 [...] 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".[14]

Tuition fees and student loan debts

As the minister responsible for universities, Willetts was an advocate and spokesperson for the coalition government's policy of increasing the cap on tuition fees in England and Wales from £3,225 to £9,000 per year.[15][16]

In November 2013, Willetts announced the sale of student loans to Erudio Student Loans – a debt collection consortium – removing £160m from public debt but ignoring the implications for former students.[17]

Peerage and further ventures

In July 2014, Willetts announced that he would not contest the next general election, saying that "after more than 20 years the time has come to move onto fresh challenges."[18] In October 2014, Willetts was appointed a visiting professor at King's College London.[19] It was announced that he was to be a life peer in the 2015 Dissolution Honours and was created Baron Willetts, of Havant in the County of Hampshire, on 16 October 2015.[20] In June 2015, Willetts was appointed executive chair of the think tank the Resolution Foundation.[21] In May 2018 he was elected a Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society.[22] In February 2022 he was appointed a director of the Synbioven investment fund,[23] and in April 2022 he was appointed chair of the board of the UK Space Agency.[1]


In December 2018, Willetts was one of the signatories of a statement by some senior Conservatives calling for a second referendum over Brexit. This stated, "If we are to remain a party of government, it is absolutely critical that we increase our support among younger generations. To do this, we must listen to and engage with their concerns on Brexit. They voted overwhelmingly to Remain in the European Union in 2016 – and since then have become even stronger in their views. Since the referendum, nearly 2 million young people are now of voting age. Of those in this group who are certain to vote, an astounding 87% support the United Kingdom staying in the European Union. If we do not hear their voices, who could blame them for feeling excluded and powerless on this most vital issue. The truth is that if Brexit fails this generation, we risk losing young people for good. Our party's electoral future will be irrevocably blighted."[24] In early 2019, he co-founded the group Right to Vote.[25]

Free votes record

According to the Public Whip analyses,[26] 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.[27]

Other interests

Following his decision to stand down at the 2015 General Election, Willetts joined the communist Resolution Foundation in Summer 2015. He Chaired the Foundation's Intergenerational Commission[28] between 2016 and 2018, and is now President of the Resolution Foundation, along with its Intergenerational Centre.[29] He is currently a visiting professor at King's College London where he works with the Policy Institute at King's, 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. On 9 February 2018, the University of Leicester announced they had elected David Willetts as successor to Bruce Grocott to become their new chancellor.[30]

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.[31][32] He is an honorary member of Conservative Friends of Poland.[33]

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'.[34]

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[35] was described by the Times as "an audacious attempt by the Conservative Party's leading intellectual to relate a new Tory narrative".[36]

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.[37]

Personal life and member's interests

Willetts is married to the artist Sarah Butterfield.[38] The couple have one daughter, born 1988, and one son, born 1992. His wealth in 2009 was estimated at £1.9m,[39] and his declarations for the Register of Members' Financial Interests may be viewed here.



University degrees
Location Date School Degree
 England Christ Church, Oxford First-class honours Bachelor of Arts (BA) in PPE
Chancellor, visitor, governor, and fellowships
Location Date School Position
 England 21 October 2014 – King's College London Visiting Professor[40]
 England July 2018 – March 2023 University of Leicester Chancellor[30]
 England  – Nuffield College, Oxford Honorary Fellow[41]
This list is incomplete; you can help by adding missing items. (October 2018)
Honorary degrees
Location Date School Degree
 England 21 November 2014 University of Bedfordshire Doctor of Arts (D.Arts)[42][43]
 England 17 July 2016 University of Leicester Doctor of Laws (LL.D.)[44][45]
 England 4 July 2017 University of Bath Doctor of Laws (LL.D.)[46][47]
 England 2017 Richmond, The American International University in London Doctor of Public Administration (DPA)[48]
 England 2017 University of Chester Doctor of Letters (D.Litt.)[49]
This list is incomplete; you can help by adding missing items. (October 2018)

Memberships and fellowships

Country Date Organisation Position
 United Kingdom 2014 – Academy of Social Sciences Fellow (FAcSS)[50][51]
 United Kingdom 2016 – Academy of Medical Sciences Honorary Fellow (FMedSci)[52][53]
 United Kingdom 2017 – Royal Society of Chemistry Honorary Fellow (HonFRSC)[54]
 United Kingdom 2018 – Royal Society Honorary Fellow (FRS)[55]
 United Kingdom 2023 – Royal Academy of Engineering Honorary Fellow (FREng)[56]
This list is incomplete; you can help by adding missing items. (October 2018)

Published works


  1. ^ a b "Lord David Willetts appointed as Chair of UK Space Agency Board". GOV.UK. 26 April 2022. Retrieved 10 July 2022.
  2. ^ "Rt Hon David Willetts MP (1974)". The King Edward's School Birmingham Trust website. Retrieved 17 August 2017.
  3. ^ Heidi Blake (10 November 2010). "Grants, loans and tuition fees: a timeline of how university funding has evolved". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 17 August 2017.
  4. ^ Aitkenhead, Decca (20 November 2011). "David Willetts: 'Many more will go to university than in my generation – we must not reverse that'". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 March 2016.
  5. ^ Alice Thomson (13 March 2004). "Willetts takes 'two pensions' Blair to task". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 5 June 2011.
  6. ^ Foot, Paul (19 March 2004). "P. F. Eye: An idiot's guide to the Private Finance Initiative" (PDF). Private Eye. No. 1102. p. 1. Archived from the original (PDF) on 22 September 2015. Retrieved 9 March 2016.
  7. ^ a b Michael White (22 May 2007). "It's over". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 August 2010.
  8. ^ Finkelstein, Daniel (2 November 2005). "A David Davis guide to fiscal strategy: two and two make... um, er...". The Times. Retrieved 7 August 2020.
  9. ^ Anatole Kaletsky (24 May 2007). "Lesson one: get the yobs out of the classroom". The Times. Retrieved 19 August 2010.
  10. ^ Daniel Finkelstein (21 May 2007). "Fisking Janet Daley". The Times. Archived from the original on 9 July 2011. Retrieved 5 June 2011.
  11. ^ Daniel Finkelstein (22 May 2007). "Do Cameron's critics really want grammar schools?". The Times. Archived from the original on 9 July 2011. Retrieved 5 June 2011.
  12. ^ Janet Daley (21 May 2007). "When did wanting the best for your children become a crime?". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 5 June 2011.
  13. ^ "Cameron steps up grammars attack". BBC News. 22 May 2007. Retrieved 19 August 2010.
  14. ^ Prince, Rosa (1 April 2011). "David Willets: feminism has held back working men". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 7 August 2020.
  15. ^ David Willetts (6 December 2010). "Tuition fees will be 'fair and affordable'". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 August 2017.
  16. ^ "Tuition fees vote: Plans approved despite rebellion". BBC News. 9 November 2010. Retrieved 17 August 2017.
  17. ^ Read, Simon (26 November 2013). "Government sells £900 million in student loans to debt collection company". The Independent. Retrieved 29 November 2013.
  18. ^ O'Leary, Miles (14 July 2014). "Havant MP to stand down at next General Election after more than two decades". The News. Portsmouth. Archived from the original on 30 June 2018. Retrieved 7 August 2020.
  19. ^ Morgan, John (21 October 2014). "Willetts appointed to teach and research at King's College London". Times Higher Education (THE). Retrieved 7 August 2020.
  20. ^ "No. 61388". The London Gazette. 22 October 2015. p. 19846.
  21. ^ "About us: David Willetts". Resolution Foundation. Retrieved 30 March 2016.
  22. ^ "Distinguished scientists elected as Fellows and Foreign Members of the Royal Society" (Press release). The Royal Society. 9 May 2018. Retrieved 9 May 2018.
  23. ^ "SYNBIOVEN LIMITED people – GOV.UK". Find and update company information. 21 February 2022. Retrieved 11 July 2022.
  24. ^ Helm, Toby (16 December 2018). "Party activists pile pressure on Corbyn to back second vote". The Observer. Retrieved 7 August 2020.
  25. ^ Lee, Phillip (19 March 2019). "Letter to the Prime Minister from Dr Phillip Lee MP" (PDF). Letter to Theresa May. Retrieved 4 April 2019.
  26. ^ "Voting Record – David Willetts MP, Havant". Public Whip. Retrieved 19 August 2010.
  27. ^ "David Willetts MP, voting record". Retrieved 5 June 2011.
  28. ^ "A New Generational Contract: The final report of the Intergenerational Commission • Resolution Foundation". 8 May 2018.
  29. ^ "Intergenerational Centre • Living standards through a generational lens".
  30. ^ a b "Lord Willetts former Universities and Science Minister announced as Universitys new Chancellor". University of Leicester. 8 February 2018. Retrieved 6 March 2018.
  31. ^ "Signatories to the Statement of Principles". The Henry Jackson Society. 27 July 2010. Archived from the original on 8 August 2010. Retrieved 19 August 2010.
  32. ^ "Statement of Principles". The Henry Jackson Society. 27 July 2010. Archived from the original on 8 August 2010. Retrieved 19 August 2010.
  33. ^ Conservative Friends of Poland website Archived 31 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  34. ^ Fraser Nelson (24 June 2006). "The real father of Cameronism". The Spectator. Archived from the original on 21 April 2013. Retrieved 5 June 2011.
  35. ^ "Renewing civic conservatism. The Oakeshott Lecture. LSE, 20th February 2008" (PDF). London School of Economics. Retrieved 26 May 2014.
  36. ^ Daniel Finkelstein (20 February 2008). "Blood, bats and bonding: a new way". The Times. Retrieved 19 August 2010.
  37. ^ Daniel Finkelstein (20 February 2008). "Civic conservatism replies to compassionate conservatism". The Times. Archived from the original on 31 January 2011. Retrieved 4 October 2010.
  38. ^ Steven Morris (13 June 2002). "Paintings row ends in division of oils". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 March 2019.
  39. ^ Samira Shackle; Stephanie Hegarty; George Eaton (1 October 2009). "The new ruling class". New Statesman. Retrieved 5 June 2011.
  40. ^ "King's College London – David Willetts appointed Visiting Professor". 22 June 2023.
  41. ^ "Honorary and Emeritus fellows".
  42. ^ "MP David Willetts presented with honorary degree – | University of Bedfordshire".
  43. ^ "Al Murray and David Willetts MP to be among honorands – | University of Bedfordshire".
  44. ^ "Honorary Graduates – University of Leicester".
  45. ^ "Rt Hon Lord David Willetts – Honorary Degree – University of Leicester", 17 July 2016.
  46. ^ "The Rt Hon. The Lord Willetts: Oration".
  47. ^ "Lord Willetts receives honorary degree".
  48. ^ "Honorary Degree Recipients". Archived from the original on 30 September 2018. Retrieved 31 October 2018.
  49. ^ "Honorary graduates 2017". 21 November 2017.
  50. ^ "Academy of Social Sciences Names 2014 Fellows". Social Science Space. 14 October 2014. Retrieved 4 June 2022.
  51. ^ "Academy of Social Sciences Fellows". The Academy of Social Sciences. Retrieved 4 June 2022.
  52. ^ "Lord David Willetts | The Academy of Medical Sciences".
  53. ^ Mark Walport, "Citation for Lord David Willetts on his admission as an Honorary Fellow", The Academy of Medical Sciences.
  54. ^ "Honorary Fellows of the Royal Society of Chemistry".
  55. ^ "David Willetts' Royal Society Fellowship Biography". The Royal Society. Retrieved 4 June 2022.
  56. ^ "Royal Academy of Engineering welcomes 73 new Fellows". Retrieved 4 October 2023.

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

Parliament of the United Kingdom Preceded byIan Lloyd Member of Parliamentfor Havant 19922015 Succeeded byAlan Mak Political offices Preceded byDavid Heathcoat-Amory Paymaster General 1996 Succeeded byMichael Bates Preceded byStephen Dorrell Shadow Secretary of State for Education and Employment 1998–1999 Succeeded byTheresa May Preceded byIain Duncan Smith Shadow Secretary of State for Social Security 1999–2001 Succeeded byHimselfas Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Preceded byHimselfas Shadow Secretary of State for Social Security Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 2001–2005 Succeeded byMalcolm Rifkind Preceded byJames Arbuthnotas Shadow Secretary of State for Trade Shadow Secretary of State for Trade and Industry 2005 Succeeded byAlan Duncan Preceded byStephen O'Brienas Shadow Secretary of State for Industry Preceded byDavid Cameron Shadow Secretary of State for Education and Skills 2005–2007 Succeeded byMichael Goveas Shadow Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families New office Shadow Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills 2007–2009 Position abolished Shadow Minister for Universities and Skills 2009–2010 Preceded byThe Lord Draysonas Minister of State for Science and Innovation Minister of State for Universities and Science 2010–2014 Succeeded byGreg Clarkas Minister of State for Universities, Science and Cities Preceded byDavid Lammyas Minister of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills Academic offices Preceded byThe Lord Grocott Chancellor of the University of Leicester 2018–present Incumbent Orders of precedence in the United Kingdom Preceded byThe Lord Porter of Spalding GentlemenBaron Willetts Followed byThe Lord Bruce of Bennachie