I was fortunate to have grown up in an environment that has given me so many opportunities.
I was born in London in 1958, fourth in a family of five children, and grew up in Sussex and Somerset. My mother was a teacher, my father a toolmaker and engineer who worked in the electronics industry. Neither of my parents had the chance to go to university – they met during the war when my mother was evacuated and my father was in the RAF – but we were all encouraged and supported throughout our education.
They raised us on a very moderate income and had to work hard all their lives to give us what we needed, but we also grew up in an environment that was full of love. My mother’s family had strong religious beliefs and my grandfather was a very early trade unionist, and this has left me with strong notions of social justice. Both my parents also understood the need to take personal responsibility and to get things done which has left me with a very practical, hands-on approach to life.
I went to Wells Cathedral School and Oxford University where I graduated with a law degree, after which I completed an MBA in Manchester. From Manchester I moved to London to work for a management consulting company and after about 2 years was posted to Belgium. I stayed in Brussels for 8 years, during which time I met my wife, Ilse, who is Flemish. We also lived in Paris for about 7 years before returning to the UK in 1998. Thanks to that experience I speak fairly fluent Dutch and French and we speak English and Dutch at home.
I enjoyed my time abroad immensely and the experience of living and working in a different culture has given me a different perspective on many policy issues.
When we returned to the UK we lived in the market town of Soham, near Cambridge. Soham is a lovely town with a real heart and sense of community. It also has its fair share of “national” problems like anti-social behaviour, drug crime, pollution, unemployment and the need for renewal. Although we moved to Cambridge earlier this year, I am still involved in the Rotary club there and help to raise funds for local initiatives like the MAGPAS First Responders.
It’s important to remember that the the world isn’t just about Westminster – most people live in small towns like Soham and the really important issues for them are what’s happening in their square mile. MPs need to understand local issues.
My career has been interesting with some real high points but with a fair number of disappointments along the way. I’ve mostly worked in the software industry with companies like Microsoft but I’ve also been an entrepreneur, running my own consulting company and at one time even trying to start an airline. More recently I have been helping academics to set up companies that take university research out of the laboratory and onto the market.
The last couple of years have been really tough for everyone but especially for small businesses – they have borne the brunt of the recession. There has been steady rise in the amount of red tape that plagues businesses and we must address this. Small businesses are the true lifeblood of our economy and we are slowly suffocating them to death.
I’ve been really lucky that for the last 6 years I have had time to dedicate time to local causes, like helping my son’s choir raise funds for tours, working as a volunteer at a local Sue Ryder home and organising events like our annual Rotary carol service. One of my most fullfilling roles, though, is as trustee for a regional children’s hospice – East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices (EACH). EACH does phenomenal work, professionally and with total dedication to the families in their care. More than three quarters of their income comes from individual donations in the local community.
I think that charities are the jewels in our crown, where individuals take responsibility for the most vulnerable people in our society and care for them through direct action. We should to do all we can to nurture this kind of collective social responsibility which works without big government interference.
I have two teenage boys aged 14 and 17. They are very different but both excel in their own areas of interest. Like any parent I want my children to grow up healthy, secure, well balanced and equiped to thrive in a challenging world. Above all I hope that I have instilled in both of them a sense of respect for other people and a willingness to serve the community. I have not been disappointed!
My interests are very broad. I have a commercial pilot’s license and enjoy competing in motorsport. I also enjoy travelling with my wife and children and we have back-packed through most of the Middle East, Turkey and North Africa. When I’m at home I also enjoy listening to music and going the theatre, in particular when my children are performing.