Miriam and I have three young sons – Antonio, Alberto and Miguel. We divide our time between London and my constituency in Sheffield. Miriam works as a Partner in an international law firm. We were married in her home town in Spain in 2000.
I grew up in Oxfordshire with two brothers and a sister in a large extended family. My mother is Dutch and my father is half Russian. I guess that helps explain my internationalist outlook, and why I learned a number of European languages (Dutch, French, German, Spanish).
I studied Social Anthropology at Cambridge and afterwards continued my post graduate studies at the University of Minnesota and the College of Europe in Bruges. I then spent some time in New York, working as a trainee journalist with Christopher Hitchens, as a consultant in London, and in Budapest writing about economic reform having won a prize from the Financial Times. Later I moved to Brussels where I worked for five years for the European Commission. My job included managing aid projects in Central Asia following the collapse of communism and acting as a trade negotiator with China and Russia as a senior member of Leon Brittan’s office, then Vice President of the EC.
In 1999 I was elected Member of the European Parliament for the East Midlands – the first liberal Parliamentarian in the whole region since the 1930s. As an MEP, I co-founded the Campaign for Parliamentary Reform, which led calls for reforms to expenses, transparency and accountability in the European Parliament. I was also the Trade and Industry Spokesman for the Liberal group of MEPs and piloted a radical new law breaking up telecoms monopolies.
The travelling life of an MEP was difficult to reconcile with a young family and in 2004 I stood down as an MEP. I lectured part-time at Sheffield and Cambridge Universities before being elected as Member of Parliament for Sheffield Hallam in 2005.
I became Europe spokesman in Charles Kennedy’s shadow cabinet, acting as deputy to Menzies (Ming) Campbell. When Ming won the 2006 leadership election, I became Shadow Home Secretary. In this position, I led the Liberal Democrats’ defence of civil liberties, proposing a Freedom Bill to repeal unnecessary and illiberal legislation, campaigned against ID Cards and the retention of innocent people’s DNA, and argued against excessive counter-terrorism legislation. Together with my colleagues I also forced the Government into a symbolic defeat in a debate on the lop-sided Trans Atlantic Extradition Treaty signed by Tony Blair’s Government which sacrificed basic safeguards for British citizens.
I was elected leader of the Liberal Democrats in December 2007 after a leadership campaign in which I focused on reaching out beyond the party to new voters. After so many years of alternate Labour and Conservative Governments making the same mistakes, I am proud of the difference the Lib Dems bring to British politics: on civil liberties, on the environment, on greater fairness in the tax system, on international affairs and on reforming the outdated ways of Westminster. I strongly believe the economic recession makes the need for real change in Britain greater still.
Every week since becoming leader I have travelled across the country to explain my values and to talk to people about the issues that they care most about. I particularly enjoy my regular town hall meetings where any member of the public can question me on (almost!) any topic they choose.
Following the formation of the Coalition Government in May 2010 I was appointed Deputy Prime Minister.