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Chris Skidmore


Chris Skidmore is the Conservative MP for Kingswood and he was first elected in 2010. He has been a member of the Conservative party since 1996. Chris studied History at Oxford, where he continued with postgraduate research. He has written several history books including Edward VI: The Lost King of England; Death and the Virgin: Elizabeth I, Robert Dudley and the Mysterious Fate of Amy Robsart; Bosworth: The Birth of the Tudors; and most recently, Richard III: Brother, Protector, King. Chris is also a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries.

Chris was Minister of State jointly at the Department for Education and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy from September 2019 to February 2020. He was previously Minister of State at the Department of Health and Social Care between July 2019 and September 2019. He was Minister of State jointly at the Department for Education and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy between December 2018 and July 2019. He was Parliamentary Secretary at the Cabinet Office from July 2016 to January 2018. In May 2015, he was appointed Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. In September 2014 he was appointed Deputy Chairman of the Number 10 Policy Board and in 2013, he was appointed to the Number 10 Policy Board. Chris sat on the Education Select Committee from 2012 to 2014 and the Health Select Committee from 2010 to 2013.


Today, it is my great honour to welcome Christopher James Skidmore to a College Fellowship at Birkbeck, University of London.

Chris Skidmore was born in St Michael’s Hospital, Bristol, in 1981 and grew up in Longwell Green, outside the east fringe of Bristol. His early education included St Anne’s Primary School in Oldland Common, and the independent day schools, Colston’s and Bristol Grammar. By the age of eighteen, he was already a convinced Conservative. He joined his school’s debating society and threw himself into work experience at his local Kingswood constituency office. The MP he worked for was the Labour Party “rebel”, Roger Berry, MP for Kingswood from 1992. What Berry wasn’t to know at the time was that this young man with Tory views would be the first to topple him in 2010.

But Skidmore’s political ambitions were still in the future. He went to Christ Church, University of Oxford, where he graduated in 2002 in History. Surprisingly, Oxford dampened rather than inflamed his political ambitions. He found Oxford Union debates intimidating, preferring the more scripted ones conducted by members of the Historical Society, who, impressed by his knowledge and rhetoric, elected him President. It was an inspiring time for Skidmore who later admitted that he “nurtured a dream of becoming a don”.

Skidmore worked briefly in journalism, including the Western Daily Press and the People magazine, where he got to visit John Travolta’s plane and mix with celebrities. But this was never going to be enough. Politics was in his blood. He became an adviser for David Willett and Michael Gove, while also becoming involved in conservative think-tanks, such as the Bow Group (which he chaired 2007-8) and Policy Exchange (where he worked as a research fellow).

It was time to become more serious. In May 2010, Skidmore won the seat that Labour’s Berry had held for 18 years. Skidmore was a “local”, an important factor in electoral politics: Kingswood, a relatively well-off constituency, had been home to both sides of his family for generations. Skidmore was also one of the first MPs to be chosen by a primary, that is, where local members were able to attend the selection meeting. In 2010, he won with a 2,445 majority. In 2015, he increased this to 9,006 vote majority and then 11,220 in 2019. His success can be attributed to his dedication to his constituents and relentless hard work for their interests as well as those of the country.

Skidmore’s dedication to his party, constituents, and country has seen him serving in an incredible number of posts. In an oration of this length, it is impossible to do justice to even a small proportion of his contributions. They include his membership of the Health Select Committee, the Education Select Committee, and the Number 10 Policy Board. He has been Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Chancellor of the Exchequer; Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Cabinet Office where he served as Minister for the Constitution; Vice-Chair of the Conservative Party for Policy; Minister of State for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy; Minister of State for Health and Social Care; Vice-Chair of the Conservative Party; co-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Universities; and Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research, and Innovation. In all these positions, he has a reputation for being loyal to the Conservative Party and its principles. In his co-authored Britannia Unchained: Global Lessons for Growth and Prosperity (2012), he claimed that “Once they enter the workplace, the British are among the worst idlers in the world”. He was certainly not referring to himself! He has successfully combined a prodigious political career with a full family life – wife Lydia, three children (during lockdown, all there were under six years of age!), and a spaniel.

He has simultaneously developed another career, as well. He is an historian who has taught part-time at Bristol University, where he is an honorary research fellow.  He has also published biographies of Edward VI and Richard III, the War of the Roses (especially the battle of Bosworth in 1485), and an Agatha Christie-style mystery which is delightfully titled Death and the Virgin: Elizabeth, Dudley, and the Mysterious Fate of Amy Robsart, about the mysterious death of the wife of Elizabeth I’s favourite, Dudley. Apart from finding time in his hectic schedule to research and write books, Skidmore admits that the biggest challenge had been deciphering the “terrible handwriting in the Tudor Period”. But knowledge of the Tutor court probably served him well in dealing with the court at Westminster.

Skidmore’s passions – for politics and history – have frequently converged. Many years ago, I read an article by him entitled “History Cannot Be Taught Like it is a ‘Doctor Who’ Time-Travelling Fantasy”. By this, he meant that history shouldn’t be taught by

skipping across the centuries and ages, from ancient Egypt to Victorian times and then back to the Tudors. There needs to be a chronological focus which will allow pupils to have a proper understanding of the context and perspective of history.

He called for a way of teaching history that would “enthuse as well as enlighten pupils”, and he emphasised that one way this could be achieved was by weaving local history into the school curriculum.

Skidmore believes that a knowledge of the past can contribute to the present and the future. He maintains that his training in the discipline taught him the value of “a proper evaluation and analysis of the facts”. Therefore, he is both perplexed and disturbed by the fact that fewer school pupils in Britain seem to be studying history. Less than 30 per cent of pupils studied history beyond the age of 14. Indeed, in 159 schools, not a single pupil took GCSE history. He lamented that “we are facing a situation where history is at risk of dying out in schools and regions across the country”. Even worse, he noted that a two-tier system is developing whereby some students (primarily those in wealthier areas) get to study history while others don’t.

More broadly, Skidmore’s most senior roles in politics have been incisive for educational policy. One of his themes has been internationalisation. He was responsible for a new International Education Strategy and an International Research and Innovation Strategy, which led to the return of a two-year post-study work visa and the introduction of a “global talent” visa. Skidmore has been passionate about creating more inclusive universities, where disabled and visually impaired students, as well as students from minoritised communities, can flourish. He reminds people of the damning statistic that only six per cent of care leavers (that is, young people leaving foster care or a residential children’s home) participate in higher education and, once they get there, are nearly twice as likely to drop out. He is also passionate about prohibiting essay mill services, that is, companies that sell students essays that they can pass off as their own. Today, nearly 1,000 of such companies exist in the UK, and their numbers are growing thanks to the pandemic, which has seen students isolated in their homes and cut off from support that face-to-face learning provides.

Skidmore is a great advocate for Higher Education. He is a Birkbeckian, recognising the importance of part-time education for people in employment – a constituency which Birkbeck serves better than any other provider. People should be able to “earn as they learn”. He frequently observes that knowledge has the “power… to improve individual lives” and enable people to achieve their full potential. Universities are not just “job factories” but have a “vital role in helping to spread opportunity” to “wider demographics”. He believes that UK universities are a “world-leading success” and that the “value of a UK degree” is “one of our vital assets”.

Finally, he insists that education is, as he put it, “a lifelong endeavour”. This was why he took time out to become a senior fellow at the Mossavar-Rahmani Centre of Government at Harvard University, to study under some of the world’s most distinguished economists. His topic was one close to the hearts and minds of all people who carefully observe the world in which they live: global warming. To achieve the UK’s commitment to achieve “net zero” carbon emissions by 2050, Skidmore believes that the intellectual insights of humanities researchers, as well as scientists and engineers, are essential. In his words,

We need the full force of the academy turning its attention to how to achieve net zero [carbon emissions by 2050] if we are to achieve – and, above all, sustain – change. Historians can teach us the lessons from large systemic transformations in the past, as well as demonstrating that we will have to deal with failure and unintended consequences as yet unknowable.

In this endeavour, “universities have a critical role to play, not just as effective discoverers and communicators of the rising dangers of global warming but also as agents of change”. It is a rallying cry for each and every one of us, which is why it is my great honour to welcome Chris Skidmore to a College Fellowship.