Conservative Intelligence

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Mark Harper

Department: Cabinet Office

Last Updated: Friday, September 10th, 2010

Mark Harper has risen quickly through the ranks of the Conservative front bench – without a great deal of fanfare – but is in a position now which could well eventually lead to a job at the top table if he delivers what is being asked of him.

The post he was awarded in the Government in May – three months after his fortieth birthday – was of Cabinet Office minister responsible for Political and Constitutional Reform. In that role he works closer than any other Conservative (apart, arguably, from David Cameron) with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who takes the lead on those issues relating to changing the way politics is done in Britain.

This week saw the Second Reading of the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill – the legislation which will reduce the number of parliamentary constituencies and set the wheels in motion for the referendum on introducing Alternative Vote for next May; next week sees the Second Reading of the Bill to introduce fixed-term Parliaments lasting five years.

Harper will be tasked with taking both these flagship pieces of constitutional legislation through their committee stages and trying to see off attempts from (in the main) disgruntled Tories to introduce amendments which have the potential to scupper relations with the Lib Dems within the Coalition.

Harper was born and brought up in Swindon and it was in the Wiltshire town that he first joined the Conservatives as a teenager. He became seriously politically active there in his early twenties, after returning from reading PPE at Oxford (at Brasenose, just a few years behind David Cameron).

He held several officer posts in Swindon South Conservative Association in the mid- to late-1990s before getting selected for Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire in advance of the 2001 election. He was unsuccessful on that occasion, but was swiftly reselected and around that time also set up his own accountancy practice there.

Harper’s victory in that seat at the 2005 general election was tempered by the disappointment that his wife, Margaret, did not join him on the green benches – she was about 3,000 votes away from gaining Worcester for the Conservatives on that occasion.

Nonetheless, as a mainstream Eurosceptic Right-winger, he soon declared his support for Liam Fox in the leadership election that ensued after the election and was one of only eight of the Class of 2005 to be afforded a job on David Cameron’s first frontbench at the end of that year: and Liam Fox had clearly rated his talents too, since it was to his Defence team that he was posted.

Although later switching portfolios to become shadow minister for Disabled People in 2007, throughout the 2005-2010 Parliament, Harper remained a very active MP in the Chamber. Well-versed in parliamentary procedure and well-liked by his colleagues, he gained a thorough feel for the place which will be invaluable today as he steers those crucial bills through the Commons.

Jonathan Isaby

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