Phil Willis’ Political Career
Phil Willis entered into politics in 1985 when he joined the Liberal party which merged with the Social Democrats into today’s Liberal Democrat party in 1988. In the very same year, Willis run for the seat in the Harrogate Borough Council and won. In 1990, he became Leader of the Harrogate Council. Three years later, he was elected member of the North Yorkshire County Council and was appointed Deputy Group Leader.
At the 1997 General Election, Phil Willis defeated the Conservative candidate and ex-Exchequer Norman Lamont and became Member of Parliament for Harrogate and Knaresborough as the first Liberal after 1906. Two years later, he became the Liberal Democrat’s Shadow Secretary of State for Education and Skills due to his successful career as a teacher as well as due his national recognition as one of the most respected teachers. He kept the post of Secretary of State for Education and Skills until the General Election in 2005. He was re-elected Member of Parliament for Harrogate and Knaresborough, defeating the Conservative candidate Maggie Punyer for more than 10,000 votes.
Shortly after his re-election as Member of Parliament in 2005, he was appointed Chairman of the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee. In 2007, he was also appointed Chair of the Joint Committee on the Draft Human Tissue and Embryos Bill but a few months later, he lost the post of the Chairman of the Science and Technology Select Committee because the Committee was disbanded. However, he was chosen as the Chairman of the House of Commons Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Select Committee that was formed in 2007.
In 2009, the House of Commons Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills was disbanded as well but thanks to Willis and the prominent members of the Science community, the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee was re-created and he was elected as its chairman shortly thereafter.
In 2007, after 10 years of his service as Member of Parliament for Harrogate and Knaresborough, Willis announced that he will retire from the Parliament at the 2010 General Election. It is not entirely clear why he decided to do so because it seemed that he could have a bright career at Westminster. But perhaps he really wanted to leave the front-line politics while being at the top as he according to the BBC stated in a letter to the local party.
At the 2010 General Election, he did not run for another term. Willis supported and campaigned for his Liberal Democrat colleague Claire Kelley who, however, did not manage to repeat his success. She was defeated by the Conservative candidate for Member of Parliament for Harrogate and Knaresborough, Andrew Jones. Many political analysts attribute the Liberal Democrat defeat in Harrogate and Knaresborough to inability of the party to found as charismatic and popular politician as Phil Willis. He has not, however, retired from politics completely. In 2010, he entered the House of Lords as Baron Willis of Knaresborough.