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David Lidington

Department: Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Position: Minister of State

Last Updated: Friday, October 22nd, 2010

Political circumstances have not been kind to many of the 1992 intake of Conservative MPs. Four of their number are now Cabinet minsters: Iain Duncan Smith, Liam Fox, Cheryl Gillan and Eric Pickles. But there are far more who – after holding Shadow Cabinet roles during the difficult years in opposition – have either returned to the backbenches or are resigned to remaining middle-ranking ministers, having been overtaken by younger colleagues to the top table.

In this latter category one finds David Lidington, MP for Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire, who is ensconced at the Foreign Office as Minister for Europe after two spells in the Shadow Cabinet in opposition.

Europe has been a troublesome issue for the Conservatives for two decades and a reminder of its potential for causing internal strife was in evidence the week before last when there was a backbench rebellion over UK contributions to the EU Budget. That aside, Lidington is also going to have to bat for Britain and calm Tory nerves amidst renewed speculation about Franco-German plans for a new EU Treaty in the coming months.    

Born in 1956, Lidington was educated at Haberdasher’s Aske’s school in Hertfordshire before going on to read History at Cambridge. Not only did he go on to gain a PhD in the subject (although he is never known as Dr Lidington), but he also chaired the university Conservative Association and captained the Sidney Sussex College team which won University Challenge in 1979.

He is by and large a party loyalist, having served a variety of political masters over the years.  He is also a long-standing advocate of a more compassionate brand of Conservatism, evident through his membership of the Conservative Christian Fellowship and his involvement in the Renewing One Nation think-tank which paved the way for the founding of the Centre for Social Justice.   

After a brief career in the private sector, he worked as a special adviser to Douglas Hurd in the Home Office and Foreign Office in the late 1980s and acted as parliamentary aide to Michael Howard during the Major Government, before fulfilling the same role for William Hague during his first two years as Leader of the Opposition. 

From 1999 until the 2010 general election, he remained permanently on the front bench, variously as a spokesman on Home Affairs, Treasury matters, Foreign Affairs, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and Northern Ireland, sitting in Shadow Cabinet under Iain Duncan Smith, Michael Howard and for the first two years of David Cameron’s leadership.        

But by the time of the 2010 general election he had been demoted out of the Shadow Cabinet to become a foreign affairs spokesman (under his old boss William Hague), alongside the rather more combative Mark Francois, who was Shadow Europe Minister. On Cameron’s appointment as Prime Minister, however, Francois was sent to the Whips’ Office and Lidington given the Europe brief.

Francois’s background was as a partisan Right-winger and with Cameron’s pragmatic stance on matters European having been further diluted by the presence of Liberal Democrats in government, it seems that the Prime Minister decided that the thoughtful and mild-mannered Lidington was a better fit as Europe Minister: it certainly sent a signal to the Eurosceptic wing of the party that this Government was unlikely to ruffle many feathers on the continent. 

He has a reputation for being well-briefed, diligent and conscientious and in that respect Cameron can rely on him to be a safe pair of hands as a minister.

However, there is one issue on the horizon which could yet have fatal consequences for his ministerial career and it does not relate to his portfolio, but rather a matter where his duties as a constituency MP could conflict with a government decision. The plans for a high speed rail link between London and Birmingham are causing much disquiet among his Buckinghamshire constituents and whilst he is working overtime to ensure that Aylesbury residents’ concerns are passed on to the appropriate ministers and their replies published on his website, if final decisions on the route do not find favour with his constituents, he may end up honourably falling on his ministerial sword in order to speak out for them on the issue.

Outside of political life, Lidington is married with four children and a member of the Parliamentary Choir.

 Jonathan Isaby

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