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Jesse Norman MP

Last Updated: Friday, February 25th, 2011

Jesse Norman is one of the foremost intellects to have arrived on the Conservative benches after last year’s general election, when he gained the seat of Hereford and South Herefordshire from the Liberal Democrats (aided by the retirement of the incumbent MP) after three and a half years’ hard graft as the prospective candidate.

Both a campaigner and a thinker, he enjoyed a varied career in the City and academia before entering the Commons. He is also very hard to miss around Parliament, given that at 6ft 5in he towers above almost all of his colleagues.

Born in 1962 (although looking very good for his 48 years), Norman was educated at Eton and Merton College, Oxford. He spent over a decade working in the City (Institutional Shareholder Services, Kleinwort Benson and BZW), although punctuated this with a spell (between 1989 and 1991) as project director for a charity distributing medical textbooks in Eastern Europe.

In 1997 he became an academic, as a lecturer and teaching fellow in Philosophy at University College, London, gaining an MPhil and PhD along the way. Although a lifelong Tory (he joined the party while at Oxford), it was during the 2000s that he became more involved in active politics, working for Oliver Letwin at the 2005 general election before then going to work at the think-tank Policy Exchange once David Cameron was in the ascendant.

Indeed, his 2006 book, Compassionate Conservatism, was described by the Sunday Times as “the Guidebook to Cameronism”, with the future Prime Minister himself describing the book as “brilliant” and showing that “the modern compassionate conservatism that I am leading has its roots in the deepest traditions of conservative thought”. Interestingly, he has equally been lauded by the radical MEP, Daniel Hannan.

He has advised a number of other figures at the highest echelons of the party – think George Osborne, David Willetts, Philip Hammond and Boris Johnson – and has written or contributed to numerous other pamphlets and books. He was credited as a co-author of the 2005 localist, decentralising blueprint, Direct Democracy and followed up his 2006 volume with Compassionate Economics in 2008 and in 2009, with journalist Peter Oborne, wrote a Conservative case for the Human Rights Act. His latest tract is another distinctly Cameroon volume, The Big Society: the Anatomy of the New Politics.

He chairs the Conservative Co-Operative Movement and since his election to Parliament has been elected by his peers to sit on the Treasury Select Committee, become chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on employee ownership and is leading an increasingly high-profile cross-party campaign demanding a rebate for taxpayers from the Private Finance Initiative contracts pushed by Gordon Brown while he was resident in Downing Street. In this guise he even found himself quoted approvingly by Polly Toynbee in The Guardian earlier this week.

He is certainly an ambitious politician and is now one of just nine Tory backbenchers to have never voted in a division lobby without a minister or whip for company: not only has he never defied the party whip in a division (despite having occasionally indicated opposition to measures during debates, such as retention of 28-day detention) but he has opted not to cast a vote either way on private member’s bills and other issues where rank-and-file backbenchers have been allowed a free vote.

Married with three children, he is Director both of the Roundhouse, a pioneering performing arts and urban regeneration centre, and of the Hay Festival of Literature and the Arts, as well as being involved in a number of charitable ventures in Herefordshire.

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