Adonis began his career as an academic at Oxford University, before becoming a journalist at the Financial Times and later The Observer. Adonis was appointed by Prime Minister Tony Blair to be an advisor at the Number 10 Policy Unit, specialising in constitutional and educational policy, in 1998. He was later promoted to become the Head of the Policy Unit from 2001 until being made a life peer in 2005, when he was appointed to the Government soon after as Minister of State for Education. He remained in that role when Gordon Brown became Prime Minister in 2007, before becoming Minister of State for Transport in 2008. In 2009, he was promoted to the Cabinet as Secretary of State for Transport, a position he held until 2010.
Adonis has worked for a number of think tanks, is a board member of Policy Network and is the author or co-author of several books, including several studies of the British class system, the rise and fall of the Community Charge, and the Victorian House of Lords. He has also co-edited a collection of essays on Roy Jenkins. He was educated at Kingham Hill School and at Keble College and Nuffield College at Oxford.
Adonis's father, Nikos, emigrated from Cyprus as a teenager, becoming a waiter in London, where he met Adonis's English mother. His mother left the family when he was three and has had no communication with him since. Shortly thereafter, Adonis was placed in care and lived in a council children's home until the age of 11, when he was awarded a local education authority grant to attend Kingham Hill School, a boarding school in Oxfordshire.
Adonis gained admittance to Keble College, Oxford, where he graduated with a First Class Bachelor of Arts degree in Modern History. He subsequently gained a doctorate with a thesis on the British aristocracy of the late 19th century at Christ Church, before being appointed to a Fellowship in History and Politics at Nuffield College.
From 1991 to 1996, he was an education and industry correspondent at the Financial Times, eventually becoming their public policy editor. In 1996, he moved to The Observer to work as a political columnist, leader writer and editor.
From 1987 until 1991 Adonis was an Oxford City Councillor for the Social Democratic Party and later the Liberal Democrats, representing the North Ward. In 1994, he was selected by the Liberal Democrats as their Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for the Westbury Constituency, but he resigned after 18 months. The following year, he joined the Labour Party.
During the mid- to late-1990s, he was politically active in Islington North, the constituency represented by Jeremy Corbyn, and was selected to contest St George's Ward for Islington London Borough Council in 1998. He withdrew from the process before the election, however, upon being offered a position in the Number 10 Policy Unit as a constitutional and educational policy advisor in 1997. He remained in this role until 2001, when he was promoted to become Head of the Policy Unit.
On 16 May 2005 he was created a life peer as Baron Adonis, of Camden Town in the London Borough of Camden, elevation to membership of the House of Lords making possible his appointment as a Government Minister without ever having been elected to Parliament.
Following his appointment to the House of Lords, Adonis became the Minister of State for Education in the Department for Education and Skills, which was later renamed the Department for Children, Schools and Families. He was closely involved in the London Challenge. Having been the architect of the academies policy in the Policy Unit, Adonis was also able to be the driving force in Government behind the programme, which replaced failing and under-performing comprehensive schools with all-ability, independently managed academies, run on a not-for profit basis. By the time he left the Department in October 2008, 133 academies were open and 300 more were in the pipeline. Independent studies by the National Audit Office and the London School of Economics attest to the success of academies in raising educational standards.
Adonis also encouraged state schools to adopt practices of the private sector and generally believed in giving individual schools more independence and autonomy from central government and the local education authorities. His criticism of under-performing comprehensives made him unpopular with some trade union members and some on the Labour Party's left-wing. Adonis was also popular with some Opposition politicians, in particular the then-Conservative Education Spokesman Michael Gove, who once declared, "We are on the same page as Andrew Adonis."
Having initially kept his position when Gordon Brown became Prime Minister, on 3 October 2008 Adonis was reshuffled to the Department for Transport to become Minister of State. In May 2009, while reviewing potential cycle "super highways" with Kulveer Ranger and Mayor Boris Johnson, the group had a "near-death" experience when a passing lorry's back door 'suddenly flew open, dragged a parked car into the street and smashed into another – just feet from the group'. On 5 June 2009, Adonis was promoted to the Cabinet as Secretary of State for Transport and was sworn in as a Member of the Privy Council of the United Kingdom. In this role, he pioneered the plan for High Speed 2, the proposed high-speed railway line from London to Birmingham and the north of England. The plan was published shortly before the 2010 election, and has since been adopted and taken forward, largely unchanged, by the coalition government. Adonis also planned and announced the electrification of the Great Western Main Line from London Paddington to Bristol, Cardiff and Swansea, and the electrification of lines in the north-west from Manchester to Liverpool and Manchester to Preston. This electrification programme, except for the Cardiff to Swansea section of the Great Western, is also being taken forward by the coalition government.
Adonis was a key figure in the aftermath of the 2010 general election, which produced a hung parliament. He was reputed to favour a Lib-Lab deal and, given his Liberal background, was a member of Labour's negotiation team that attempted, ultimately in vain, to form a government with the Liberal Democrats. After the Liberal Democrats formed a coalition government with the Conservative Party, Adonis stepped down from frontline politics.
Adonis later returned to active politics in 2012 as part of Ed Miliband's Shadow Cabinet reshuffle. He worked with Shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umunna on crafting Labour's industrial strategy, and has also taken up roles as Shadow Minister for Infrastructure in the House of Lords, and overseeing the Armitt Review looking at future infrastructure plans for the Labour Party.
In July 2010, Adonis became the Director of the Institute for Government, an independent charity with cross-party support and Whitehall governance working to improve government effectiveness. Adonis left the Institute for Government in January 2012 in order to become Chair of Progress, an internal Labour Party organisation. Having already been appointed President of the Independent Academies Association, in 2012 Adonis was also appointed a Liveryman Honoris Causa of the Worshipful Company of Haberdashers, one of the major charitable promoters of academies.
He is also a Trustee of Teach First, the charity which recruits graduates to teach in state schools, a Trustee of the vocational education charity Edge, and a Governor of the Baker-Dearing Trust, which supports the establishment of University Technical Colleges, technical schools for 14- to 18-year-olds. He has been a Director of RM Plc since October 2011. His book on education reform – Education, Education, Education – was published by Biteback in September 2012. In November 2014, he was appointed visiting professor at King's College London.
Adonis considered standing to be Labour's candidate for Mayor of London in 2016, but ended his putative campaign in February 2015, endorsing Tessa Jowell.
In October 2015, he resigned the Labour Party whip in the House of Lords to sit as a non-affiliated Peer and lead a newly created National Infrastructure Commission.
Adonis was formerly married to Kathryn Davies, who was once a student of his; the couple had two children. Adonis and Davies divorced in 2015.1963–2005: Mr Andrew Adonis
2005–2009: The Right Honourable The Lord Adonis
2009–: The Right Honourable The Lord Adonis PC
Andrew Adonis (Editor), Keith Thomas (Editor) (2004). Roy Jenkins: A Retrospective. CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
Andrew Adonis, Stephen Pollard (1997). A Class Act: Myth of Britain's Classless Society.
David Butler, Andrew Adonis & Tony Travers (1994). Failure in British government : the politics of the poll tax.
Andrew Adonis (1993). Making Aristocracy Work: The Peerage and the Political System in Britain,.
Andrew Adonis (Editor), Andrew Tyrie (Editor) (1989). Subsidiarity: no panacea. CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
Andrew Adonis (Editor), Tim Hames (Editor) (1994). The Thatcher-Reagan Decade in Perspective. CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
Andrew Adonis (2012). Education Education Education: Reforming England's Schools.
Adonis, Andrew (2013). 5 Days in May: The Coalition and Beyond. Biteback Publishing. ISBN 978-1849545662.
Ben Pimlott The Queen: A Biography of Elizabeth II – book review, 1996, Andrew Adonis
Our progressives only look dead (prospects for a revival of progressivism in the United Kingdom), 1996, Andrew Adonis
Christopher Booker and Richard North The Castle of Lies: Why Britain Must Get Out of Europe – book review, 1996, Andrew Adonis
Anthony Barnett This Time: Our Constitutional Revolution – book review, 1996, Andrew Adonis
Shirley Williams Climbing the Bookshelves: the Autobiography – book review, 2009, Andrew Adonis
Roy Hattersley David Lloyd George: the Great Outsider – book review, 2010, Andrew Adonis
David Laws 22 Days in May: The Birth of the Lib Dem-Conservative Coalition – book review, 2010, Andrew Adonis
Chris Bowers Nick Clegg: the Biography – book review, 2011, Andrew Adonis