Matthew Parris

Matthew Parris

Matthew Parris
Member of Parliament
for West Derbyshire
In office
3 May 1979 – 8 May 1986
Preceded by James Scott-Hopkins
Succeeded by Patrick McLoughlin
Personal details
Born (1949-08-07) 7 August 1949
Johannesburg, South Africa
Occupation Politician, journalist

Matthew Francis Parris (born 7 August 1949) is a British journalist and former Conservative politician. He writes a weekly political column for The Times.


  • Early life and family 1
  • Education 2
  • Early career 3
  • Parliamentary career 4
  • Radio and television 5
  • Writing and journalism 6
    • Travel writing 6.1
  • Personal life 7
  • Bibliography 8
    • Journalism 8.1
  • References 9
  • External links 10

Early life and family

Parris is the eldest of six children (three brothers and two sisters) and grew up in several British territories and former territories: South Africa, Cyprus, Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), Swaziland and Jamaica, where his father was working as an electrical engineer. His parents ended up working and living in Catalonia, an autonomous region of Spain, where Parris later bought a house.


Parris was educated at Waterford Kamhlaba United World College of Southern Africa, an independent school just outside Mbabane in Swaziland, followed by Clare College at the University of Cambridge, from which he gained a first class degree in Law, where he was also a member of Cambridge University Liberal Club.[1] He then won a Paul Mellon scholarship and studied international relations at Yale University.

He has said that an early reading of Animal Farm made him a Conservative as an 'admiration for [the pigs] intelligence and sense of order dawned in me.'[2]

Early career

At the age of 19, Parris drove across Africa to Europe in a Morris Oxford; the trip was traumatically punctuated when he and his female companion were attacked, and he was forced to witness her rape.[3]

Parris was offered a job as a secret agent[4] but instead worked for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for two years. In 1976 he left this secure career because he did not like its formality, and because he wanted to become a member of parliament. He eventually joined the Conservative Research Department and moved on to become correspondence secretary to Margaret Thatcher. He was awarded an RSPCA medal (presented by Mrs Thatcher, then Leader of the Opposition), for jumping into the Thames and rescuing a dog.[5]

Parliamentary career

He served as the Conservative MP for the rural parliamentary constituency of West Derbyshire from 1979 until 1986. Competing prospective candidates for the seat included Peter Lilley and Michael Howard, later Conservative leader. The start of his career was overshadowed by a letter which he had written to a council tenant on behalf of Margaret Thatcher, which became featured in Labour Party election publications. As an MP he voiced his support for gay rights. Parris eventually left politics to pursue a career in journalism.

Radio and television

Parris is now a radio and television presenter and pundit.[6] As an MP he took part in a World in Action documentary during 1984 requiring him to live in Newcastle for a week on £26.80, the then state social security payment set for a single adult by the government he supported as a Conservative.[7][8] The experiment came to an embarrassing end when he ran out of money for the electricity meter. Twenty years later, in 2004, he attempted the experiment again for the documentary For the Benefit of Mr Parris, Revisited.[9][10]

Parris resigned as an MP by applying for the Crown position of Steward of the Manor of Northstead and left Parliament specifically to take over from Brian Walden as host of ITV's influential Sunday lunchtime current-affairs series Weekend World in 1986. The series, broadcast since 1977 with Walden at its helm, ran for two more years under Parris before being cancelled in 1988.

He presents BBC Radio 4's Great Lives biography series, and has appeared on the comedy news programme Have I Got News For You and presented After Dark.[11]

In 2007, Parris presented two light-hearted but caustic documentaries for Radio 4 on politicians' use of cliché and jargon, entitled Not My Words, Mr Speaker.[12]

On 8 July 2011 on BBC Radio 4's Any Questions, at the height of the furore surrounding the alleged illegal and corrupt activities of News of the World journalists, Parris eulogised the newspaper and gave an enthusiastic appreciation of what he considered the virtues and positive achievements of Rupert Murdoch.[13]

Writing and journalism

Parris is a prolific writer and has written many books on politics and travel. In 1991, a compilation of his pieces in The Times appeared, entitled So Far, So Good. Since then there have been further compilations. Scorn, a book he has edited of quotations about curses, jibes and general invective, was published in October 1994.

His success has been as a parliamentary reporter, due to his knowledge and understanding of politicians and ability to express this well. He worked as parliamentary sketch writer for The Times newspaper from 1988 to 2001. His writing has largely concerned current events rather than a historical account of his own time in politics. He has weekly columns in The Times and The Spectator magazine.

In 2004 Parris became Writer of the Year in Granada Television's What the Papers Say Awards. In part, this was for reporting on elections in Iraq and Afghanistan. His previous accolades include Columnist of the Year in the 1991 and 1993 British Press Awards, and in the What the Papers Say Awards 1992. In 1990 he received the London Press Club's Edgar Wallace Outstanding Reporter of the Year Award.

In 2008 Parris wrote an article in the Times which included the line: "A festive custom we could do worse than foster would be stringing piano wire across country lanes to decapitate cyclists."

In 2011, Total Politics said Parris' column "is considered essential reading by many in Westminster. He has a penchant for holding opinions that go against the grain. Parris has written scathingly about the localism agenda, and was a long-time defender of the yah-boo politics of PMQs, although he recently changed his mind."[14]

Alastair Campbell called Parris "a little shit" in his diaries, to which Parris replied "I'd rather be a little shit than a big cunt". [15]

In August 2015 Parris revealed how he had attempted to register all four of his llamas as Labour Party supporters, "as they wished to vote in the leadership election, having been caught up in all the media fuss."[16]

On October 21 2015 Parris published on the Times the article; "If I had a choice I wouldn't be whitey"[17] Starting with "Speaking as a white man, don't we have ghastly complexions? Par-baked like those bread rolls you can buy at the supermarkets, we look like quite not finished product"[17]

Travel writing

Parris has made several expeditions abroad, including to Mount Kilimanjaro in 1967 and 1989, Zaire in 1973, the Sahara in 1978, and Peru and Bolivia. In 1990 he published Inca-Kola, about his travels in Peru.


He spent the Antarctic winter of 2000 on the French possession of Grande Terre, part of the Kerguelen Archipelago in the Indian Ocean, with a few dozen over-winterers, mostly researchers. One of them was fatally shot in an accident during his stay, an event about which he wrote for the Times.[18]

In 2005 Parris published A Castle in Spain about his family's project to refurbish a derelict sixteenth-century mansion, L'Avenc, in Catalonia, close to the foothills of the Pyrenees, and make his home there.

Personal life

Parris came out in a late-night debate in the House of Commons in 1984.[19] He later also announced he was gay in one of his weekly newspaper columns. In a live interview on Newsnight during the Ron Davies scandal of 1998, he told interviewer Jeremy Paxman that there were two gay members of the then current Labour Cabinet, one being Peter Mandelson. He has stated that there are between thirty and sixty unannounced gay members of the British Parliament. In August 2010, in a list compiled by the Independent on Sunday, Parris was voted the 49th most influential LGBT person in Britain.

In August 2006, Parris entered into a civil partnership with his long-term partner, Julian Glover, a speech writer for David Cameron and a former political journalist at The Guardian. At the time of their partnership, they had been together for eleven years.[19]

Parris was a keen marathon runner, taking part in the London event several times. His personal best was 2:32:57 which he recorded in 1985 at the age of 35.[20] He decided he wanted to go out on top and arguing that serious running is not good for health, he stopped running marathons after that. No British MP – sitting or retired – had bettered Parris's marathon time.

He owns homes in Spain, Derbyshire, and the Docklands of east London. He is the honorary patron of Clare Politics, a student-run politics society at his alma mater, Clare College, Cambridge.[21]


  • Parting Shots: Undiplomatic Diplomats – the ambassadors' letters you were never meant to see Matthew Parris, Andrew Bryson (Penguin Books Ltd, 2010) ISBN 978-0-670-91929-1
  • Mission Accomplished!: A Treasury of the Things Politicians Wish They Hadn't Said Matthew Parris, Phil Mason (JR Books Ltd, 2007) ISBN 978-1-906217-35-8
  • A Castle in Spain (Viking, 2005) ISBN 0-670-91547-5
  • Chance Witness: An Outsider's Life in Politics (Viking, 2002) ISBN 0-670-89440-0
  • The King's English (Oxford Language Classics Series) Henry Fowler, Frank Fowler, Matthew Parris (introduction) (Oxford University Press, 2002) ISBN 0-19-860507-2
  • Off Message: New Labour, New Sketches (Robson Books, 2001) ISBN 1-86105-479-3
  • I Wish I Hadn't Said That: The Experts Speak – and Get It Wrong! Matthew Parris (foreword), Christopher Cerf, Victor Navasky (HarperCollins, 2000) ISBN 0-00-653149-0
  • Against the Law: The Classic Account of a Homosexual in 1950s Britain Peter Wildeblood, Matthew Parris (introduction) (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1999) ISBN 0-297-64382-7
  • The Great Unfrocked: Two Thousand Years of Church Scandal (Robson, 1998) ISBN 1-86105-129-8
  • Scorn with Extra Bile Matthew Parris (editor) (Penguin Books, 1998) ISBN 0-14-027780-3
  • I Couldn't Possibly Comment: More Sketches from the Commons (Robson Books, 1997) ISBN 1-86105-095-X
  • Read My Lips: A Treasury of Things Politicians Wish They Hadn't Said (Parkwest Publications, 1997) ISBN 1-86105-043-7
  • Great Parliamentary Scandals: Four Centuries of Calumny, Smear and Innuendo (Robson Books, 1995) ISBN 0-86051-957-0
  • Scorn with Added Vitriol (Hamish Hamilton, 1995) ISBN 0-241-13587-7
  • Scorn: A Bucketful of Discourtesy, Disparagement, Invective, Ridicule, Impudence, Contumely, Derision, Hate, Affront, Disdain, Bile, Taunts, Curses and Jibes (Hamish Hamilton, 1994) ISBN 0-241-13384-X
  • Look Behind You!: Sketches and Follies from the Commons (Robson, 1993) ISBN 0-86051-874-4
  • So Far So Good...: Selected Pieces (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1991) ISBN 0-297-81215-7
  • Inca Kola: A Traveller's Tale of Peru (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1990) ISBN 0-297-81075-8
  • Coping with the Soviet Union Peter Blaker, Julian Critchley, Matthew Parris (Conservative Political Centre Bookshop, 1977) ISBN 0-85070-599-1


Incomplete – to be updated


  1. ^
  2. ^ The Times, 25 October 2014
  3. ^ Chance Witness, pp. 94–95
  4. ^ Chance Witness, p.134
  5. ^ Chance Witness, p.197
  6. ^ "What’s smug and deserves to be decapitated?" [Cyclists.], The Times
  7. ^ "British Film Industry: WORLD IN ACTION > FOR THE BENEFIT OF MR PARRIS" Thames TV, 23 January 1984
  8. ^ "ITV TV Classics – World In Action" Published 4 May 2007, retrieved 16 July 2009
  9. ^ "British Film Industry: FOR THE BENEFIT OF MR PARRIS, REVISITED" ITV1, 29 January 2004
  10. ^
  11. ^ Website of production company Open Media
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^ [1]
  17. ^ a b
  18. ^ Matthew Parris's account of stay on Kergulen in 2000, The Times
  19. ^ a b The Times, 29 August 2006, Parris, the reluctant groom, says 'I do'
  20. ^
  21. ^

External links

  • Online – Matthew Parris's column archivesThe Times
  • Online – The Matthew Parris Pol-CastThe Times Podcast series commenting on the 2006 Party conference season
  • Online – Matthew Parris: the Kerguelen columnsThe Times articles from his trip to the Kerguelen Islands
  • Appearances on C-SPAN
    • interview with Parris, December 12, 2010Q&AC-SPAN
  • Audio interview
  • Matthew Parris at DMOZ
  • Hansard 1803–2005: contributions in Parliament by Matthew Parris
  • Matthew Parris features as Policy-Maker for a PageEthos Journal
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
James Scott-Hopkins
Member of Parliament for West Derbyshire
Succeeded by
Patrick McLoughlin