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David Simmonds CBE


David Simmonds was elected Conservative MP for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner in December 2019. He has been active in local politics in the constituency as Deputy Leader of Hillingdon Council since 2002. He has led on education and children’s services and overseen the progress of the borough in raising standards for children, with over 90% of schools now good or outstanding (OFSTED) and every child able to get a local school place.

His national work has included leading the Conservatives at the Local Government Association, chairing the LGA Children and Young People Board from 2011 to 2015 and the Improvement and Innovation Board 2015 to 2016. As Chairman of the Asylum and Refugee Task Group he led the political work with government developing the Syrian resettlement programme and the National Transfer Scheme to support refugee children.

In Parliament, David serves as a Chair, Co-Chair, or Vice-Chair on several All Party Parliamentary Groups, including: the APPGs on Heathrow Expansion and Regional Connectivity; London; Housing and Planning; Refugees; and Migration. He is also a member of the Finance Committee and the Joint Committee on Human Rights, as well as a former member of the Education Select Committee.

David’s professional background is in finance, where he worked for high street banks after qualifying with the Chartered Institute of Insurers in 1997. David was born in Kent and educated at a comprehensive school in Pontypridd, then at Durham University and Birkbeck. He was awarded a CBE in the 2015 Birthday Honours List.


Today, it is my great honour to welcome David Simmonds to a College Fellowship at Birkbeck, University of London.

2015 will be remembered for one photography that seared its way into the world’s consciousness. On the 2nd September that year, the lifeless body of a Kurdish Syrian refugee called Alan Kurdi washed up on the beach near to the southern Turkish resort of Bodrum. Like many three-year-old boys worldwide, he was wearing blue shorts and a red t-shirt. Alan Kurdi, his mother, Rehen, and his 5-year-old brother, Galip, also drowned that day. They had been so desperate to flee the political violence in Syria that they contacted people smugglers who boarded them onto an unstable inflatable boat making its way to Greek island of Kos. They never arrived.

The plight of refugees such as Alan Kurdi, as well as other vulnerable people in our world, are some of the political issues dear to the heart of David Simmonds. He mobilized his formidable talents to get councils to find homes for 20,000 vulnerable Syrian refugees. Half of those resettled through the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme were children. The scheme has been described by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees as the “gold standard”.

Throughout recent years, Simmonds’ voice has been a powerful one in denouncing human traffickers who “prey on the misery and desperation of those seeking sanctuary and safety”. It was an “evil trade”. With Alan Kurdi’s body in mind, he reported that “Given that asylum claims can only be made by those who are physically in the UK, we need to offer safe, legal routes for people to come, rather than risk people arriving on small boats across the channel”. He noted,

This is not, as it is often unhelpfully framed, a choice between compassion and robust management of our borders. Offering safe legal routes into the country is part of our commitment to protecting the most vulnerable.

In other words, Simmonds wants to make a difference and, to do so, he argues that “the government has got to turn the sentimental commitment into a practical one”. It is important also to note his commitment, as Chair of the Local Government Association’s Asylum, Migration, and Refugee Task Group, to community participation and support. To effectively resettle refugees and other vulnerable people, human relationships are key. Simmonds has spoken eloquently about the divisive nature of discussions about immigration. When campaigning in elections, he admits that his constituents and voters are “very concerned to see that our borders are effectively managed”. However, he adds, they “tend to have a very positive view of the migrants and refugees they know in their community and in their neighbourhood”. Indeed, while he is yet to have someone in his constituency report an illegal immigrant, he has had “umpteen contacts” from constituents asking him to “prevent the deportation from the UK of someone who has been found to be an illegal immigrant… who they know, who their friends know, and who lives in the neighbourhood”. This is the delicate “conundrum” that concerns him.

So, who is Simmonds? He was born in Kent in 1976 and educated at the Cardinal Newman Roman Catholic Comprehensive School in Pontypridd. From there, he went to at the University of Durham – Grey College, with its famous emblem of the Phoenix rising from the flames (a reference to the fire that almost destroyed the college before it opened in 1959). While at Durham, he joined the Union Society, which exposed him to wide variety of viewpoints – including those of the Trotskyist Dave Nellist (the inspiration for Private Eye’s Dave Spart of the “looney left”), gay rights activist Peter Tatchell, and speakers representing the right-wing Monday Club. He claimed that being exposed to such diversity of arguments helped him to become, in his words “a more socially liberal and a more enlightened person”.

On leaving the University of Durham, he started on a path that moved from an interest in insurance to one of politics. He made the move to Birkbeck, where he gained a Postgraduate Certificate, then a Financial Planning Certificate from the Chartered Institute of Insurers (CII). A graduate traineeship at the leading insurance company Eagle Star, led to jobs at Lloyds TSB and HSBC.

But politics was in his blood. Only a year after qualifying with the CII in 1997 he was elected councillor for the London Borough of Hillingdon. He was only 22 years old, the youngest councillor in London. There, he threw his energies into children’s services, education, social services, housing, and planning. He has always sought to “give back” to his communities. He worked as a magistrate, a trustee of the Early Intervention Foundation, a board member of the Teachers’ Pension Scheme, and Chair of the National Employers Organisation for Schoolteachers. His reputation sourced as a result of his roles as Deputy Chair and Deputy Leader of the Local Government Association, where (as we have heard) he was Chair of the Asylum, Refugee and Migration Task Group, the Children and Young People Board, and the Improvement and Innovation Board. His championing of local communities saw him awarded a CBE in the 2015 Birthday Honours List. In 2019, he took his prodigious talents and experience to Parliament. He was elected Conservative MP for Ruislip, Northwood, and Pinner on 13 December 2019, winning 56 per cent of the vote to Labour’s (the runner-up) 25 per cent.

In an oration of such a short length, it is impossible to do justice to all of Simmonds’ achievements and political philosophy. In reading his speeches and policy interventions, he emerges as a man of principle and compassion. He dedicates incredible energy to standing up for the more vulnerable in our communities. For example, he is concerned about the ways COVID-19 and lockdowns have had a particularly harmful impact on migrants and asylum seekers, dramatically increasing their imminent risk of destitution.

He believes that the future of the nation lies with children. He insists that “levelling up people and places must mean investing in children and families”. This has led him to argue strongly for enhanced investment in children’s services. Such investment “has the ability to transform people’s lives”; he aims to set in place supports and mechanisms that will create a life “that’s seen as being a good, positive one that that person can enjoy and where they can contribute”. It will mean early intervention, however. Of course, this means money. But he reminds fellow politicians that the “inability to fund early intervention will increase costs to the public sector in the long run as emerging problems go unaided until urgent and crisis-based intervention is required, adding pressure on other services such as the police and A&E”. He adds that the “life-long human and financial costs associated with childhood trauma can be significant”. For Simmonds, “helping families is core to who we are as Conservatives”. His policies could make a “transformation difference”. 

Simmonds also has strong views on education. Since his foundational experiences with the Union Society at the University of Durham, he has become committed to free speech. Recently, when the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill was discussed in Parliament, he could be heard arguing that “being exposed to new opinions and having your world view challenged is an important part of academic development”. He acknowledges that “this may have the potential to make some people feel uncomfortable” but, nevertheless, “freedom of speech is vital to the university”. He believes that the legislation “will not only help tackle hate speech but will also continue to demonstrate that the UK is a place of free speech and the peaceful exchange of views”.

Finally, what about the man? His wife is a doctor in the NHS and he has two children. To relax, he enjoys good wine, modern British prints, and (presumably prior to lockdown) travelling in Europe. He also collects tennis shoes!

But, today, we celebrate him for the way he serves politics as a way of making a difference and strengthening democracy.

It is my great honour to welcome David Simmonds to a College Fellowship.