I was born in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, the youngest of three sons.
Although my childhood was happy and we had no financial hardships, my father, John George, a solicitor, died when I was four and my mother, Nina Joan (nee Stanbrook), a teacher, died when I was fifteen, and this obviously had a profound impact on our family. After mum died, I lived first with my brothers, Henry and Charles, then with my mother's parents. I became very close to my maternal grandmother, "Nanna", who passed away in a Kingston care home just a few years ago as a fantastic, adorable 90 year young lady.
I currently live in Surbiton with my wife, Emily, and our two children John and Ellie.
I went to Nottingham High School (1974-84), as have MPs from both other parties, including Kenneth Clarke, Geoff Hoon and Ed Balls. I enjoyed my time there, with plenty of extra-curricular activities - from the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme to the Community Service Group, from the Drama Society to playing the cello (badly) in the orchestra. Politics did not play a big part in my time there, though I helped found the Middle School Debating Society and ended up head boy.
After school, I took a 'gap year' when I worked in a pork pie factory and for Boots plc, learnt basic Spanish at a college in Salamanca before hitchhiking round Spain and then working as a holiday courier on a campsite in the Alsace.
I took a first class honours degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Jesus College, Oxford (1985-1988). Although I was not involved in any of the political societies at Oxford, I was active in a campaigning environmental group and was elected President of the College's Junior Common Room. I helped organise Tactical Voting 87 in Oxford during the 1987 General Election, though I still had not joined any political party.
After university, I became the Economics Researcher to the Liberal Democrats in Parliament, working in the Commons from 1989 to 1993, primarily for Alan Beith and Paddy Ashdown. I joined the party after starting work for them, partly because I was by then convinced the Lib Dems were the strongest mainstream party on the environment, partly because I realised I was really a “classic” Liberal and partly because Paddy Ashdown genuinely inspired me.
After becoming the party's Senior Economics Advisor, I was closely involved in developing policies such as the penny on income tax for education and making the Bank of England independent. I was also in charge of costing the election manifesto in 1992. During this time, I studied in the evenings at Birkbeck College, London University, gaining an MSc in Economics.
In 1993, I left Parliament to work for a management consultancy firm called Omega Partners where I specialised in postal services. With Omega Partners, I visited 28 countries and worked on projects for Post Offices in countries such as Belgium, South Africa, Sweden and Taiwan. My work ranged from strategic market analysis to business forecasting. During my time at Omega, I remained an active Liberal Democrat, serving on the Federal Policy Committee and various other policy groups.
In March 1995 I was selected to fight for Kingston and Surbiton. The Liberal Democrats' success in local Council elections plus boundary changes meant that we were strongly placed to challenge the incumbent Conservative in the General Election. The seat was won at the 1997 General Election after three recounts in an Election which saw the Conservative MP in the area defeated for the first time in history.
In the 2001 General Election, the seat was held, with the largest swing in the country, seeing the majority increase from 56 to 15,676. It fell back to 8,966 in the 2005 General Election, partly because the Labour vote crept back up. In 2010 I was again re-elected with a majority of 7,560. In 2015, along with many Liberal Democrat MPs, I lost my seat to the Conservative candidate.
Once elected in 1997, I was appointed as the Economics Affairs Spokesman by Paddy Ashdown, working closely with Malcolm Bruce in the Treasury team. I was promoted by Charles Kennedy to be the Deputy in the Treasury under Matthew Taylor, with responsibility for public spending and taxation policy.
In early 2000, I took over from Simon Hughes as the Liberal Democrat Spokesman on London, closely working with Susan Kramer's campaign. I served on the Treasury Select Committee from 1999 to 2001. I also sat on several Standing Committees, including every Finance Bill of the Parliament, the Bank of England and the Government Resources and Accounts Bills, as well as the Government for London Bill.
At the start of the 2001 Parliament, Charles Kennedy promoted me into the Shadow Cabinet as the Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, a post that I served until 2002.
In October 2002 I was appointed to shadow the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister with responsibility for Local Government and the Regions. This has seen my lead a national campaign to scrap the unfair council tax, as well as championing the cause of more affordable housing. I've worked on a variety of bills including reforms of housing, local government, regional government, the planning system and fire services.
Following re-election in 2005, I was appointed as Shadow Education and Skills Secretary by Charles Kennedy, I post that I held until the election of Menzies Campbell as new leader of the Liberal Democrats in March 2006. During that month I was put in charge of the Trade and Industry Brief, as well as being tasked to undertake a review of Liberal Democrat campaigning techniques, becoming the Chair of the Liberal Democrats’ Campaign and Communications Committee, which oversees preparations for elections.
In December of 2006, I became Chief of Staff to the Leader of the Liberal Demcorats, Sir Menzies Campbell, and I oversaw preparations for an election which we genuinely then expected would be in Autumn 2007. When Nick Clegg became the Leader, he appointed me Liberal Democrat Shadow Foreign Secretary.
In May 2010 I was been appointed Minister for Employment Relations, Consumer and Postal Affairs in the Coalition Government.
In February 2012 I was appointed to the Cabinet as Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. My proudest achievement in government is to have led the policy to secure a massive increase in renewable electricity in the UK which has doubled under the coalition and on track to beat the 30% target in 2020.
I won back the parliamentary seat in the snap election in June 2017. I served as Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Home Affairs. In this role, I campaigned on a number of key issues including for the government to guarantee the rights of EU citizens to stay in the UK.
In Parliament, I worked with charities such as Shelter and St Mungo's to develop a new law — the Homelessness (End of Life Care) Bill which would give terminally-ill homeless people the extra help they need.
In July 2019, I ran against Jo Swinson in the Liberal Democrat leadership election (unfortunately I lost). In September 2019 I was appointed as Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats, and as Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer. I campaigned massively to prevent a "no deal" Brexit, pushing for a proper response to the Climate Emergency, and helping Liberal Democrats get elected across the country.
In Kingston and Surbiton, as MP, I took up a range of issues for individuals and the wider community. Primarily for individual constituents, I held two advice surgeries a week – between seven and eight times more than my Conservative predecessors managed.
For the wider community in Kingston and Surbiton, I waged a series of high profile campaigns over the years on issues ranging from saving Surbiton Hospital to increasing Kingston’s share of London’s police officers, from re-zoning Kingston and Surbiton train stations to opposing a proposed Tesco by the Tolworth roundabout off the A3.
I published annual reports every year for 17 years, at no cost to the taxpayer, which were delivered free to every household, and I had a regular column in the local newspaper. While it’s impossible to win every campaign, working together with others we achieved a number of notable victories for the local community over the years including:
- winning a new Accident & Emergency Unit at Kingston Hospital
- a reduction in the speed limit on the A3 Kingston by-pass to 50 mph, saving lives
- improving the formula for Kingston in the Metropolitan Police Authority’s Resource Allocation Formula (more officers!)
- winning extra capital investment for local schools, so our record high primary school class sizes fell to under 30
- stopping the mothballing of Surbiton Hospital
- improving safety at local train stations with my “Safer Stations Initiative”
- stopping Thames Water build on the environmentally significant filter beds by the River Thames
- stopping Ministers reallocating Kingston Council to an east London category for “Additional Cost Adjustment” (which would have meant less grant and higher council tax)
- saving an old people's day centre, Alfriston in Surbiton from closing
- winning a new medical centre for Chessington
- preventing the closure of Kingston’s Magistrates’ Courts
- expanding the maternity unit at Kingston Hospital
- helping Kingston to become Britain’s first “Business Improvement District”
- getting one of the former Eurostar’s Waterloo platforms converted for domestic use
- helping achieve a new Post Office for Tolworth Broadway
- opposing Tesco’s proposed megastore by the Tolworth A3 roundabout, that threatened extra air pollution and congestion
- stopping South West Trains permanently closing an entrance/exit to New Malden train station
- winning cash from Whitehall to build new primary schools locally and expand existing ones, to meet increased demand
- getting a school bus for pupils of Hinchley Wood School who live in Chessington and Hook
I believe it’s vital that a local MP actively campaigns for his or her constituency.
- I published a paper "Making MPs Work for Our Money" (Centre for Reform, 2000) arguing for major reform of how Parliament scrutinises the budget.
- I support Notts County FC (having preferred the Magpies' strip to Nottingham Forest's aged 4), but have naturally also adopted Kingstonian FC, victors in two recent FA Umbro Trophy Cup Finals.
- I received awards from the Royal Humane Society and the Chief Constable of the British Transport Police in 1994, after rescuing a woman from the path of an oncoming train at Clapham Junction.
- My career in the Liberal Democrats began just 6 months after I graduated from university, when I answered an advert in the Guardian Newspaper for an Economic Researcher.