Richard Grosvenor Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax (born 29 January 1958), known as Richard Drax, is a British Conservative politician, journalist, landowner and former British Army officer, serving as the Member of Parliament (MP) for South Dorset since 2010.
|Member of Parliament |
for South Dorset
|Assumed office |
6 May 2010
|Preceded by||Jim Knight|
Richard Grosvenor Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax
29 January 1958
Westminster, London, England
(m. 1985; div. 1997)
Eliza S Dugdale
|Residence||Charborough House, Dorset|
|Alma mater||Royal Agricultural College|
Royal Military Academy Sandhurst
|Profession||Army officer; journalist|
|Years of service||1978–1987|
Drax was born on 29 January 1958 in Westminster, London. He was educated at Harrow School before going to the Royal Agricultural College in Cirencester where he graduated with a diploma in rural land management in 1990, receiving a further diploma in journalism in 1995.
Drax passed out from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and was commissioned in the British Army joining the Coldstream Guards on 9 December 1978 as a second lieutenant. Drax was promoted lieutenant on 9 December 1980, before being transferred to the Regular Army Reserve of Officers after active service on 9 December 1983, ending his first period of full-time military service.
Drax was reinstated on the Active List on 10 September 1984, beginning his second and final period of regular service. He retained the rank of lieutenant with seniority from 10 September 1981 to reflect the three years he had served. He was promoted captain on 10 March 1986.
He relinquished his British Army commission on 9 September 1987, thereby retiring after nine years' service as a Coldstreamer.
Selected as a Conservative prospective parliamentary candidate in July 2006, at the general election in May 2010 Drax defeated the incumbent Labour Member of Parliament for South Dorset, Jim Knight, later Lord Knight of Weymouth. Drax retained his seat in the 2015 general election with an increased majority and the 2017 general election.
In the House of Commons he has sat on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and currently serves on the European Scrutiny Committee.
In 2009, Drax faced criticism from political rivals for 'hiding his aristocratic roots' by not using his full quadruple-barrelled name. It was suggested the then leader of the Conservative Party, David Cameron, had asked wealthy Conservative candidates to shorten their names to appear more in touch with normal people. Drax denied the accusations, saying that he only used the shortened version of his name because of the "logistic mouthful", while Cameron's comments were a "throw away joke".
In January 2016, the Labour Party unsuccessfully proposed an amendment in Parliament that would have required private landlords to make their homes "fit for human habitation". According to Parliament's register of interests, Drax was one of 72 Conservative MPs who voted against the amendment who personally derived an income from renting out property. The Conservative Government had responded to the amendment that they believed homes should be fit for human habitation but did not want to pass the new law that would explicitly require it.
Drax campaigned for Brexit during the 2016 referendum. In April 2019, in a speech in the House of Commons, Drax said that he "made the wrong call" by supporting the government's Brexit deal and called for the resignation of Theresa May if she failed to take the UK out of the EU by 12 April. Drax praised May's succcessor, Boris Johnson, for achieving a trade deal in December 2020, but in February 2021 criticised the UK's exit due to issues with trade in Northern Ireland.
Drax lives in his family's ancestral seat, Charborough House – a Grade I listed manor house in rural Dorset. He holds the lordship of the manor of Longburton and is the largest individual landowner in Dorset, owning approximately 13,870 acres. He also owns the 2,200-acre Ellerton Abbey farming estate in Swaledale, North Yorkshire, and the nearby 520-acre Copperthwaite Allotment grouse moor.
Drax is the eldest son of Henry Walter Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax (1928–2017) and The Hon. Pamela Weeks (1931–2019) and a grandson of Admiral The Hon. Sir Reginald Drax, younger son of the 17th Lord Dunsany thereby being in remainder to the ancient Barony of Dunsany (cr. 1462): the second oldest title in the Peerage of Ireland. His great-uncle was the celebrated writer and playwright the 18th Lord Dunsany, and his maternal grandfather was General the Lord Weeks.
His first wife (divorced 1997) was Zara Legge-Bourke, younger sister of the royal nanny Tiggy Legge-Bourke, relations of the Earl of Dartmouth. Drax married his second wife; Eliza, daughter of Commander James Dugdale RN (related to David Cameron) in 1998. Drax since married his third wife Norwegian-born Elsebet Bødtker and has four children in total.
At least six of his ancestors, including John Samuel Wanley Sawbridge Erle-Drax and the 17th Lord Dunsany, were Members of Parliament for Dorset and Gloucestershire between the 1680s and 1880s. A cousin is the 19th and present Lord Dunsany.
Family links to historical slavery
During the 2010 United Kingdom general election campaign period, in which Drax was campaigning to be MP for South Dorset, the Daily Mirror reported that Drax's family had earned their fortune through slavery. Drax's response questioned his responsibility for "something that happened 300 or 400 years ago", stating "it's not what I stand for", and cited the desperation of his opponents- "all they can do is pick at bits of my family history". In 2013, the BBC reported that his ancestor John Erle-Drax, who had an estate in Barbados, was recorded in a database created by University College London as having received £4,293 12s 6d in compensation in 1836 for 189 slaves when slavery was abolished.
A 2020 investigation by The Guardian found that Richard Drax still owns and grows sugar on the same Drax Hall plantation in Barbados that made the family's fortune. Over 200 years, 30,000 slaves died at this and the other Drax plantations, according to Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, Chair of CARICOM's Reparations Commission. "The Drax family has done more harm and violence to the black people of Barbados than any other," he said.
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