Where Are They Now? Duncan Hames
4 min read
Duncan Hames, Liberal Democrat MP for Chippenham (2010 - 2015)
Duncan Hames says knew he was likely to be a one-term MP soon after he was elected in 2010; a combination of his slim majority in the newly-created Chippenham constituency and being a member of the junior party in a coalition government. “It did give me a resolve to try and make every day that I was there count… But I probably put too much pressure on myself as a result.”
One of the challenges Hames, 44, found was the “sheer number of different things I was expected to have a view on and try to represent my voters about”. “By the end, I’d concluded it was a bit of an impossibility to live up to the expectations of so many people at once.”
It was one of the topics he chose to focus on – renewables – that delivered Hames’ proudest moment in Parliament: mobilising cross-party support for the 2013 Energy Act as parliamentary private secretary to then-deputy prime minister Nick Clegg.
As Clegg’s PPS from 2012 to 2014, there were “pinch me” moments attending Cabinet, and also some tough conversations with the deputy prime minister, including over the 2013 vote on military action in Syria. “MPs had been recalled from the summer recess, so there wasn’t very much opportunity to have the conversations you needed to give people confidence. Many felt they were being bounced into a grave decision… The timetable was being driven by the needs of the White House, and I think if Parliament had another week or two or it would have it would have come to a different decision.”
After leaving Parliament, Hames served six years as a senior independent director at the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust – a role he sought after noting how much of his casework was linked to mental health. Hames has also been director of policy at the NGO Transparency International since 2016, and is currently studying part-time for a Masters in conflict, security and development at King’s College, London.
It remains – and I’m quite happy about this – the thing most remarked on about my time in the House of Commons
Describing tackling dirty money and corruption in the UK as a “privilege,” Hames lights up with pride as he describes his team’s work building a database of suspicious wealth invested in the UK economy, which has now been shared with the National Crime Agency.
“There is a figure that is often in news reports these days: £1.5bn-worth of real estate investment by Russians either accused of corruption or with close connections to the Kremlin – that’s my team’s research.”
Having made a point of giving back his parliamentary pass, he doesn’t shy away from calling himself a lobbyist, and is looking ahead to the next part of the Economic Crime Bill in the Queen’s Speech, amid concerns around Russian oligarchs and asset flight. “I’m pretty sure that I’ll have left more of an imprint on the British statute book in my years outside of Parliament than I managed while I was an MP.”
Hames married fellow Lib Dem MP (and later party leader) Jo Swinson in 2011, having met in 1999 at Paddy Ashdown’s final leadership rally. “Most MPs don’t get to spend very much time with their spouse, so if you’re going to be stuck in Parliament of an evening it’s quite nice to be able to spend some time with your wife,” Hames says. After they had their first child, Andrew, in 2013, Hames stepped back from his role as a PPS to focus on his family and the constituency, while Swinson remained employment relations minister.
Hames made history in 2014 when he carried Andrew through the voting lobby – the first time a baby had gone through the lobbies – after an unexpected late vote left them without childcare. “Parliament is so steeped in tradition, every time you do something different, someone’s going to think it’s a big deal,” he says. “It remains – and I’m quite happy about this – the thing most remarked on about my time in the House of Commons.”
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