Associate Profile Series – Lord Jeremy Purvis

GPG delivers specialist technical advice through a core group of retained Associates, who are former Ministers, Members of Parliament, senior civil servants/parliamentary staff, and academics. We have built long-lasting relationships with our Associates, whose expertise and work we seek to highlight through this newly launched Associate Profile series. This month, we find out about Lord Jeremy Purvis of Tweed, a Liberal Democrat working peer and one of the youngest ever Life Peers. He was elected to the Scottish Parliament as the youngest constituency MSP, aged 29. He served two terms in Holyrood as MSP for Tweeddale, Ettrick & Lauderdale.

Why did you decide to work in politics?   

It was a combination of local and national reasons. I was encouraged to be active in my local community on simple things like litter picking on road verges to make the area more attractive, and activities around my school and I saw the difference people working together could make. But it was also a frustration that the politics I saw on the TV was becoming more and more polarised and I wanted to have a say. I had never been to London or travelled abroad until I was 18 so this was also a new adventure to be interested in national and international affairs. 

Give us a short overview of what you consider to have been a key moment in your career. What brought you where you are today?  

Being elected as the youngest constituency MSP in the Scottish Parliament was of enormous importance to me. It was a privilege to be elected in an area where my family had always lived and to serve the community. It had with it great pressures as well as great joy. It made me mature as an individual and I was pleased to be able to make my mark by delivering certain improvements for people during the time I was elected, such as securing the restoration of the Borders Railway line into the heart of the Scottish Borders. 

In the UK Parliament, piloting through the House of Lords the 2015 International Development Act , which enshrined in law the UK commitment to spend 0.7% of GNI on development was a key moment. It has been of real and deep frustration to see this reneged on. 

What one thing about working in politics do you wish was different?  

The UK system needs very significant reform, in my view, and as a result of a failure to modernise our approach has become far more polarised on identity and nationality grounds than ever before. There is a great deal of division based on these issues rather than philosophical differences and this means that our politics is now much more focused on divisiveness rather than seeking common ground.  

Which aspects of GPG’s projects and values encouraged you to join the organisation?  

Colleagues of mine whom I knew and trusted had supported GPGs work, so when I was asked to join as an Associate I was very pleased to do so. GPG works in fascinating areas of the world, many of which I had only a basic understanding. Supporting the projects has meant I have met interesting people in complex and challenging situations. Building relations and working with a friendly and professional team have been very rewarding professionally. Supporting the projects has meant that I now know more, understand better and can offer more on building capacity in governance in very difficult circumstances. 

What work have you done with GPG, and which particular project with GPG stuck with you the most? 

I have been lucky to have helped projects in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Bahrain, Egypt and Sudan. The programmes in Sudan and with the Sudan team have been a very interesting project and I continue to gain a great deal from helping those strands. Travelling through the country and understanding more of its history and people have given me a great affection for it, and admiration. 

How would you describe the impact of your work with GPG? 

I hope I bring a level of knowledge of working in sub-national and national parliaments, as well as an understanding of constitutional reform. Combined with having a much greater understanding of regional politics and history means I hope I help deliver their programmes in an approachable and open way. 

What future do you envisage for your sector after the pandemic?  

There are great challenges in the UK in a post-Brexit, and post-pandemic world. It has heightened my political sense and I feel there is an even greater role for active political participation, as well as scrutiny of governments in all parts of the UK.   

Beyond GPG, tell us about an organisation or a programme you feel successfully contributes to strengthening representative politics and parliaments around the world.  

I have been lucky to be involved in the executive committees of the UK branches of the CPA and the IPU, as well as work with and support a number of charities operating in this field. Bringing knowledge from these organisations and focusing on the Global Goals has allowed me to very active and provide a positive contribution. 

Share your thoughts on a recent event or news story that caught your attention.  

I don’t think anyone could not be moved with the recent developments in Afghanistan. I served on the House of Lords International Relations and Defence Select Committee and when we conducted our inquiry into the UK and Afghanistan in 2020/1, many of issues we warned of have regrettably come to pass. It shows the value of solid parliamentary activity and scrutiny.  

Which books, articles, podcasts, shows or other would you recommend anyone working in politics should read/listen to/watch?  

I have learnt now that to better understand the present, learning more of history is of great importance. Finding good, well-written and objective histories of regional history allows a deeper basis upon which you can view current political developments. A daily source of reading for me in the morning is the FT which provides some of the best neutral and objective international reporting. The BBC World Service documentaries online are another good source. Reading widely allows you to be an objective consumer of news too which allows for differing perspectives.