Oliver Letwin (OH 69) - Responsibility
‘Conkers, tobogganing down Crossfield Rd on metal trays, appalling food; tapioca, semolina and something like dried leather pretending to be liver’. Oliver Letwin is reminiscing about his years at The Hall as we drink tea and eat delicious fruit cake in the House of Commons tea room.
The record card from his school years is confusing. He attended The Hall from the age of 5 to 6, then 8 to 9 and then from10 to 13. He explains that his parents were academics and he spent the intervening years with them in the USA. As a result, his time at The Hall was rather disjointed and he often felt out of touch with his contemporaries. He spent days ‘in the field’ for ‘test matches’ at Finchley road but never knew what he was supposed to be doing and remains baffled by the game of cricket and any of its accompanying terminology. He remembers huge excitement about what he thought were small insects. Fortunately, he didn’t dare to ask what the fuss was about. It was the 1960’s and the insects in question were ‘The Beatles’.
A graduate of Cambridge University, with a PHD awarded by the Cambridge Philosophy Faculty, Oliver claims that he really didn’t learn anything at all at The Hall but if pressed he does admit that his lifelong interest in history came from his History Master, Mr Bathurst, and in politics from Mr Imlay who was supposed to be teaching classics but instead conducted fascinating classes on modern English Poetry, The Kennedy family and American politics.
Many years after leaving The Hall, Oliver got to know his former Headmaster Raymond Cooper well. He describes Cooper as a remarkable man who gave sage advice on Education when Oliver was serving as member of Margaret Thatcher's Policy Unit from 1983-86.
After several years working for Rothschilds in the city of London, Oliver committed to a career in politics and in 1997 was elected Member of Parliament for West Dorset. He joined the shadow cabinet under William Hague and Iain Duncan Smith and in 2003 Michael Howard appointed him as the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer.
In the lead-up to the 2010 general election, Oliver played an important role in the development of Conservative policy and following the election the Prime Minster, David Cameron, appointed him to the newly created office of Minister of State for Government Policy. Later that term, he was appointed as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, a position he retained following the 2015 election when he became a full member of the Conservative government's Cabinet. After the UK voted to leave the EU, Oliver was put in charge of the 'brexit unit' until Theresa May was appointed and a new team took over.
He claims that he is now making plans for his retirement and is looking forward to having time to travel and read. His career in politics has been an extraordinary one, full of intrigue and event, but asked what his greatest achievement has been he answers simply that it is to have a ‘happy family and lovely children’.
His advice to our pupils is that they should not listen to advice from aging politicians or old boys but his final thoughts are interesting.
‘I’m not sure I learnt anything at The Hall, but I did learn how to think in the company of creative and intelligent people’
Oliver returned to speak at our 6th Form society last year and we look forward to welcoming him back in the future.