New Chair of the Electoral Commission appointed

Information on the new Chair of the Electoral Commission

Sir John Holmes has been appointed as the new Chair of the Electoral Commission.

The UK Parliament approved a motion to appoint Sir John, following a selection process overseen by the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission. The motion passed by the House of Commons presents the new Chair for appointment by Her Majesty the Queen.

Sir John was until recently the Director of the Ditchley Foundation and is currently Chair of the International Rescue Committee-UK.

His previous experience includes over thirty years in the diplomatic service, including a period as senior overseas advisor at Downing Street, working with two consecutive Prime Ministers. Following this he served as British Ambassador in Lisbon and Paris, before taking up a role working for the UN as Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator.

Sir John will take up his new post at the end of the year, when he replaces the outgoing Chair, Jenny Watson.

Jenny Watson is leaving the Commission at the end of her second consecutive term of office, having joined as Chair in 2009.

Commenting on his appointment, Sir John said:

I am honoured and delighted to have the opportunity to take over as Chair of the Electoral Commission. Helping to make sure our democracy works as it should, moves with the times, and serves the interests and wishes of all the people of the United Kingdom is a huge responsibility. I look forward to working with all concerned to continue this vital task, and to build on the hard work and success of my predecessor.

Jenny Watson, outgoing Chair of the Electoral Commission said:

It has been a privilege to serve as Chair of the Electoral Commission during what has been an extraordinarily busy period for elections and referendums through the UK. I’m grateful for the hard work and support of colleagues at the Commission and within local government over the last eight years, and am proud of what we have achieved together.

Commenting on the appointment of Sir John Holmes, Jenny Watson said:

I congratulate Sir John on his appointment. The knowledge and experience that he brings will be invaluable and I’m confident that he will provide the Commission with strong leadership going forwards. I know that the team at the Commission are looking forward to working with him as they enter an exciting new phase of work.

The UK Parliament has also approved a motion to appoint Dame Susan Bruce DBE as Electoral Commissioner with special responsibility for Scotland. Dame Susan has held a number of senior positions in local government in Scotland, most recently as the Chief Executive of The City of Edinburgh Council from 2011 to 2015. She has also served as Chief Executive at both Aberdeen and East Dunbartonshire Councils.

Dame Susan will take up her new post at the end of the year, when she replaces the outgoing Commissioner for Scotland, John McCormick.


For further information contact Electoral Commission press office:

Extra notes

Notes to editors

  • The Electoral Commission is an independent body set up by the UK Parliament. Our aim is integrity and public confidence in the UK’s democratic process. We regulate party and election finance and set standards for well-run elections and are responsible for the conduct and regulations of referendum held under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act (2000).
  • A short biography of Sir John Holmes GCVO, KBE, CMG:
    • Sir John Holmes was educated at Preston Grammar School and Balliol College, Oxford. He joined the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 1973 and served in a wide range of diplomatic roles in London, Moscow, Paris, New Delhi and Lisbon.
    • In 1995, Sir John joined Prime Minister John Major in Downing Street as his Private Secretary (Overseas Affairs) and diplomatic adviser. He continued this role with Prime Minister Tony Blair from 1997 to 1999, becoming Principal Private Secretary, and was a key figure in the negotiation of the Good Friday Agreement.
    • In 1999, Sir John was appointed as the British Ambassador in Lisbon, moving to Paris as Ambassador from 2001 to 2007. He then served as UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, before taking over the post of Director of the Ditchley Foundation from fellow board member Sir Jeremy Greenstock. Sir John is married to Penny and they have three daughters.
  • For further information on the appointment of Dame Susan Bruce DBE see our press release here.