Phil Willis as Member of Parliament
Phil Willis entered into politics in 1985 but he became Member of Parliament for Harrogate and Knaresborough only in 1997. Before he became one of the most famous and most popular UK’s politicians, he was a councillor for Harrogate and later the Deputy Group Leader for the North Yorkshire County Council. Although Phil Willis became a prominent player in the front-line politics relatively late (he entered into politics at the age of 44 and became Member of Parliament at the age of 56), he rose to prominence in both the Liberal Democrat party and the national political scene relatively quickly.
Phil Willis served as Member of Parliament for Harrogate and Knaresborough for 13 years and spent 8 years as Liberal Democrat’s spokesman for education. His career in Westminster started in 1997 when he defeated the Conservative candidate and former Exchequer Norman Lamont. Two years after his election to the Parliament, he was appointed Shadow Secretary of State for Education and Skills and held the post until 2005 when he became Chairman of the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee.
After resignation of Charles Kennedy as the party’s leader in 2006, he was a serious candidate for his successor but he decided not to enter the fight for leadership against Sir Menzies Campbell. As he later stated for the Yorkshire Evening Post, he decided not to enter the fight for the leadership of the Liberal Democrat party due to his personal believes about what is good for the party. Willis explained that he disliked the idea of two 65-year olds fighting for the party’s leadership. However, he also said that he regrets for not taking advantage of the opportunity he had and that he would love to lead the party.
In addition to holding the chair of the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee, he also became Chair of the Joint Committee on the Draft Human Tissue and Embryos Bill in 2007. In the very same year, the Science and Technology Select Committee was disbanded and Willis was appointed as Chairman of the newly created the House of Commons Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Select Committee. The latter was disbanded as well in 2009 but Willis achieved its re-creation as well as his re-election as its chairman.
Willis’ announcement of retirement from the front-line politics at the next General Election came as a big surprise to the UK public as well as the political scene in 2007. His later statements reveal that his decision was not easy as well as a certain degree of disappointment over the Westminster politics. He kept his word and did not run for a fourth term at the 2010 General Election. The Liberal Democrat candidate for Member of Parliament for Harrogate and Knaresborough was Claire Kelley whom he also publicly supported. However, she was defeated by the Conservative Andrew Jones. After leaving the Parliament, Willis entered the House of Lords as Baron Willis of Knaresborough.