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Infidels, Freethinkers, Humanists, and Unbelievers
Parris, Matthew (1949 - )

"All three of our major religions in Britain -- Christianity, Islam and Judaism -- have a hateful idea at the very core. That idea is Exclusion: the "othering," if you like, of the unredeemed."

-- Matthew Parris


Matthew Parris is a journalist and former Conservative politician in the United Kingdom. Parris is the eldest of six children and grew up in several countries where his British father was working as an electrical engineer (South Africa, Cyprus, Rhodesia, Swaziland and Jamaica). His mother was an actress. At the age of 19 in East Africa, he was witness to rape when he and a girl were tied up by a knifeman. He drove across the continent in a Morris Oxford.

After obtaining a first class degree in law from Clare College, Cambridge, he studied international relations at Yale University. He was offered a job as a spy, but worked for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for two years. In 1976 he left this secure career because he did not like its formality, and because he wanted to become a Member of Parliament.

He first applied to become an apprentice London Transport bus fitter, but was rejected and joined the Conservative Research Department. He moved on to become correspondence secretary to Margaret Thatcher. He was awarded an RSPCA medal (presented by Margaret Thatcher) for jumping into the Thames and rescuing a dog.

Parliamentary career
He served as the Conservative MP for the rural parliamentary constituency of West Derbyshire from 1979 until 1986. Competing prospective candidates for the seat included Peter Lilley and Michael Howard, later Conservative leader. The start of his career was overshadowed by a letter which he had written to a council tenant on behalf of Margaret Thatcher, which became featured in Labour Party election publications. His career within the Conservative government was hampered by his occasional support for gay rights and a self confessed lack of ruthlessness. He was not promoted from being a back bench MP and left politics to pursue a career in journalism.

Radio and television work
Parris is also a radio and television presenter and pundit. As an MP he took part in a documentary requiring him to live for a week on the social security payments awarded by the Conservative government for which he was an MP. The experiment came to an embarrassing end when he ran out of money for the electricity meter. He left Parliament specifically to take over as host of ITV's Weekend World. This ran for two years. Parris was criticised for being too nice, and being unable to ask 'killer' questions. He has also appeared on Have I Got News For You.

Writing and journalism
His success has been as a parliamentary reporter, due to his knowledge and understanding of politicians and ability to express this well. He worked as parliamentary sketch writer for The Times newspaper from 1988 to 2001. His writing has largely concerned current events rather than a historical account of his own time in politics. He has weekly columns in The Times and The Spectator magazine.

In 2004 Parris became Writer of the Year in Granada Television's What the Papers Say Awards. In part, the reward was for reporting on elections in Iraq and Afghanistan. His previous accolades include Columnist of the Year in the 1991 and 1993 British Press Awards, and in the What the Papers Say Awards 1992. In 1990 he received the London Press Club's Edgar Wallace Outstanding Reporter of the Year Award.

He has written books on politics and travel. He has made several expeditions abroad, including to Mount Kilimanjaro in 1967 and 1989, Zaire 1973, the Sahara in 1978 and to Peru and Bolivia. In 1990 he published Inca-Kola, about his travels in Peru. In 1991, a compilation of his pieces in The Times appeared, entitled So Far, So Good. Since then there have been further compilations. Scorn, a book he has edited of quotations about curses, jibes and general invective, was published in October 1994.

He spent the Antarctic winter of 2000 on the French possession of Grande Terre (or "Desolation Island", part of the Kerguelen Archipelago in the Indian Ocean) with a few dozen over-winterers. One of them was fatally shot in a tragic accident, an event he writes movingly about.

Personal life
Parris announced he was gay in one of his weekly newspaper columns. He has stated that he was once beaten up on Clapham Common, which he had habitually visited late at night when an MP. This left him with a quiet determination to fight for gay rights. In a live interview on Newsnight during the Ron Davies scandal of 1998, he famously told interviewer Jeremy Paxman that there were two gay members of the then current Labour Cabinet, one being Peter Mandelson. He has stated that there are between thirty and sixty unannounced gay members of the UK parliament.

Parris has also been a keen marathon runner, taking part in the London event several times, with a fastest time of 2:32:57.

 
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