Robert Henry Halfon (/ˈhælfɒn/) (born 22 March 1969) is a British Conservative Party politician who has served as Minister of State for Education since 2016, and as the Member of Parliament (MP) for Harlow since 2010. He was re-elected with an increased majority of 8,350 in 2015.
On 11 May 2015, David Cameron appointed Halfon Minister without Portfolio (attending Cabinet) and Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party, succeeding Sarah Newton. Halfon was sworn of the Privy Council on 14 May 2015. On 17 July 2016 the new Prime Minister Theresa May appointed him Minister of State at the Department for Education.
Halfon was born to a British Jewish family living in Hampstead, London. His grandfather was an Italian Jew, living in Libya until forced to leave in 1968, after which he joined his son who had already moved to England. Halfon was born with a moderate version of spastic diplegia, a form of cerebral palsy, and underwent several major operations as a child, causing osteoarthritis in his early thirties.
He was educated at Highgate School, an independent school in London. He attended the University of Exeter, where he read for a Bachelor of Arts degree in politics before a Master of Arts in Russian and East European politics. Along with David Burrowes, Sajid Javid and Tim Montgomerie, he took over Exeter University's Conservative Association, turning Conservative Future from social to political activities. At Exeter he took the issue of compulsory membership of the National Union of Students to the European Human Rights Court, which decided his application was manifestly ill-founded.
Halfon worked as chief of staff for the Conservative MP Oliver Letwin before becoming political director for Conservative Friends of Israel. He contested the Harlow seat in the 2001 and 2005 general elections, losing by just 97 votes on the second occasion.
His third run for Harlow was successful and after the 2010 general election, he was elected to the executive of the 1922 Committee of backbench Conservative MPs. He delivered his maiden speech in the House on 2 June 2010. He has been a member of the Public Administration Select Committee since 2010. On 19 July 2010 he hosted the launch of the Friends of Israel Initiative at the House of Commons.
On 18 July 2014 he was chosen by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, to be his Parliamentary Private Secretary. Announcing the appointment, Osborne described Halfon as "a brilliant campaigner".
Halfon is a member of the Prospect trade union and a campaigner for Conservative supporters to become more involved in trade unions. In 2012, he published a pamphlet through the thinktank Demos called Stop the Union Bashing: Why Conservatives Should Embrace the Trade Union Movement, which relayed the history of trade unionism in the Conservative Party, and called for these links to be revived.
After winning his seat, Halfon founded the Petrol Promise campaign, an online website and petition calling for lower fuel tax and an official inquiry into the oil market due to the suspected manipulation of petrol prices. He is a supporter of the FairFuelUK pressure group and has raised the issue of cheaper petrol in Parliament. He also presented a petition calling for an inquiry into price-fixing at the Office of Fair Trading signed by 30,000 motorists in 2013. This led to Chancellor George Osborne calling him a "champion of the people he represents". He won The Spectator's Campaigner of the Year Award in 2013 for his work fighting to keep petrol duty low.
Halfon is a supporter of apprenticeships, and campaigned for a new university technical college to be built in Harlow, which was to open in September 2014. He set up the Parliamentary Academy, which encourages MPs to employ apprentices in Parliament. He had the first MP's apprentice in the House of Commons, and as of 2013 was on his third apprentice, who came from Harlow College. For his work on apprenticeships, Robert Halfon was also named Avanta's Politician of the Year in 2013.
Cost of living
Halfon has worked against utility companies making big profits. In 2013 he published a study of water companies in the Eastern region examining their profits, and called for an inquiry. He has called for a windfall tax to be imposed on energy companies who are found to be unnecessarily putting up prices to customers.
Halfon has talked about the need to reduce tax for workers, arguing that a near living wage could be achieved if the Government reintroduced the 10p band of income tax or increased the National Insurance threshold, citing this as an alternative to the living wage which he says could damage small, local businesses.
Halfon has signed several early day motions in support of National Health Service funding for homeopathy sponsored by Conservative MP David Tredinnick. Although Halfon signed these motions in 2010, he has since campaigned no further on these issues.
UK university donations
Halfon has been critical of donations received by UK universities from abroad, in particular the London School of Economics and Political Science.
|Liberal Democrat||Geoffrey Seeff||904||2.0||−11.6|
|English Democrat||Eddy Butler||115||0.3||N/A|
|Liberal Democrat||David White||5,990||13.7%||+0.7|
|Conservative gain from Labour||Swing||+5.9%|
|Liberal Democrat||Lorna Spenceley||5,002||12.6||-0.8|
|Liberal Democrat||Lorna Spenceley||5,381||13.4||+4.0|
|Socialist Alliance||John Hobbs||401||1.0||N/A|
Halfon's partner, Vanda Colombo, is Brazilian. Halfon supports Chelsea F.C. and is a member of the M.C.C.
In 2015 he admitted an affair after he was warned that a Conservative aide was trying to blackmail him over a relationship with a party activist. He also came under fire from The Guardian and The Mirror for claiming £30,000 in expenses to meet his lover.