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James Manning

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[b]Before politics[/b]


Born on 8th December 1970, James Richard Manning was the first and only child of Derrick and Elizabeth Manning (née Knight.) Elizabeth Manning died in childbirth, and Derrick, already an alcoholic, succumbed quickly to intense depression and substance abuse.


The young James was therefore brought up primarily by his maternal uncle, George Knight, a former officer in the Royal Air Force turned taxi driver and police special constable. Manning later described George as “an eccentric, an obsessive, and quite probably somewhere on the autistic spectrum.” Obsessively concerned with his status as a member of the “officer class” despite his relative poverty - and his condition of living in a modest two-up-two-down terrace in Bath - George was both a harsh disciplinarian and a proud man, who insisted that James attend a private Montessori nursery - paying for the privilege at the expense of basic home amenities - learn to play cricket and rugby from a young age, and study such topics as the classics, the history of art, Latin and philosophy - aiming to “make a gentleman of the boy.” Although his parents were from the Black Country, James was taught to speak in an affected English Received Pronunciation accent, intended to disguise the modesty of his background, and was expected to show a level of self-discipline and restraint far beyond his years. James was required to take cold showers each day, embark on a robust regime of exercise every morning before dawn, and perform regular errands for other families in the community. The boy was beaten regularly, and required to attend Church of England services several times each week.


In 1981 the family, such as it was, moved to Sutton in Greater London, where James attended Wilson’s School - a high-performing local grammar school for boys. At the school, James captained the rugby team, played on the cricket team and petitioned his teachers to form a boxing club. He excelled in the study of literature and history, wrote sonnets in his spare time, and enlisted in a variety of national literary competitions for children. He was a member of the Army Cadets from the age of 13.


James excelled in his O Levels, but during the summer holidays of 1986 George Knight died suddenly of a heart attack. His neighbour, Mary-Anne Jones, took James into her home and he spent the next two years living with the extended Jones family.


The next few years of James’ life were defined by the “letting off of pent-up steam in an explosion of youthful mischief.” James took up smoking, drinking and a string of lovers.


Despite his outward rebelliousness and proclivity towards all of which his uncle would have disapproved, James remained academically successful and performed well in his A Levels despite “putting in very little effort”. It therefore came as a shock to his contemporaries when he declined to attend university, instead continuing in his job at a local butcher’s shop. Moving into a small bedsit in Cheam, he continued to exhibit a tendency towards promiscuity, and by 1989 had three children by different mothers.


In 1990 James took the decision to enlist in the British Army, being successfully selected for officer training. James enjoyed a fourteen-year career in the Army during which time he married his first wife, the French-Australian model Chloé Loubet, and welcomed the birth of his fourth daughter and first son. Manning played for the Army Rugby Union.


In 2000 James left the military having attained the rank of Major, though he retained a commission as a reservist. He applied to  study at Oxford University, where he read business administration and graduated with first-class honours in 2003.


In the same year, Manning and his close friend Ben Merchant purchased a derelict supermarket building in Bedfordshire. Reopening the store under the branding of “Smiley’s,” the pair sold a range of foods and household goods and quickly turned a profit sufficient to open a second and then a third store in 2004. “Smiley’s” continued to grow rapidly with a unique franchise business model, and by 2007, when Manning sold his shares in the firm, it operated 12 stores in the East of England.


Ahead of the 2007 general election, Manning was selected to contest the seat of Richmond Park which had been held by the Liberal Democrats since 1997, on behalf of the Conservative Party. He won the seat.


[b]Political career[/b]


Manning is pro-European, though he rejects British membership of the Euro. In 2007, he wrote an article in French for [i]Le Figaro[/i] expressing a desire to see the three Presidents of the European Union replaced with a single and directly-elected figurehead. He also opined that the balance of powers between the Commission, Parliament and Council should change, with the Parliament given legislative primacy and the Council in effect acting as the second house of a bicameral legislature.


Manning was criticised in December 2007 for comments made about devolution; instinctively favouring a strong and unified state, he expressed fears that “the establishment of Scottish and Welsh assemblies and executives - leaving to one side the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland - seems to me to make the United Kingdom the inverse of Europe, where ever-closer union is surely replaced with a union ever-more distant and eventually set to break.” He said that he would have preferred that a comprehensive solution to the West Lothian Question had been implemented in the British Parliament rather than devolved administrations established in 1998, but later clarified that he “[had] no ambition to rescind or alter the existing devolution settlement, which is now a permanent fixture of our political system.”


In the same year Manning called for cannabis to be decriminalised, citing the Portuguese example of decriminalisation as a model for the UK to emulate. 


[b]Personal life[/b]


Manning has eight children. His first wife, Chloé Loubet, was a French-Australian model with whom he had two children; his second, Abigail-Lucy Heath, was a civil servant with whom he had three. In 2007, Manning and Heath finalised their divorce and Manning announced his engagement to Nyusya Romanova, a Russian-born entrepreneur who had been his tennis coach and partner for the preceding two years. Manning has three children by different mothers from his young adulthood.


Manning owns a flat in the Putney area of London and a larger property in Whitby, Yorkshire. He is a collector of classic cars, with notable features of his collection including a Daimler DS420, an Aston Martin DB5, a Rolls Royce Silver Shadow and an Austin Mini. He does not drive while in London and commutes to Westminster via the London Underground from Putney Bridge station.


Manning is a keen fan of cricket and rugby union, playing both recreationally and also enjoying competitive tennis. In 2004 and 2005 he ran the London Marathon to raise money for Cancer Research UK. 


He has a close personal friendship with fellow retail entrepreneur Ben Merchant, with whom he founded Smiley’s supermarkets in 2003. Merchant, who is a British-Australian dual national, donated significant sums to Manning’s 2007 election campaign in Richmond Park. Smiley’s is now 100% owned by the Merchant family after Manning sold his 50% stake in 2007.


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