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Last Updated: Friday, 5 May 2006, 15:37 GMT 16:37 UK
Profile: Margaret Beckett
Margaret Beckett
Mrs Beckett has sat on the front bench since 1984
Margaret Beckett is the Labour Party's great survivor.

It will come as no surprise to her colleagues that she has become the UK's first female foreign secretary - she has been a loyal servant to Tony Blair.

Mrs Beckett, like many in the Labour Party, has travelled a long way from a hard left stance in the early 1980s to become central to her prime minister's vision.

After Labour's general election victory in 1997, she was briefly trade and industry secretary, but moved in 1998 to become leader of the House of Commons, a role in which she earned many plaudits from all parties.

She was responsible for a fair degree of modernisation of Commons procedure, introducing the Westminster Hall chamber and deferred divisions.

After the 2001 election she became the first secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs.

Views softened

Born in Ashton-under-Lyne, Greater Manchester, in January 1943, she trained as an apprentice engineer before being drawn into politics.

A party official and special adviser to minister Judith Hart in the early 1970s, she became MP for Lincoln in 1974 and served as a government whip and then a junior education minister until she lost her seat in 1979.

Later that year, aged 36, she married Leo Beckett, chairman of her local Labour party.

He is a central member of her team.

She returned to the Commons as MP for Derby South in 1983 and has sat on the front bench since 1984.

As Neil Kinnock's spirit of reform took a hold of the party, the edge was taken off some of her harder left-wing beliefs.

Mrs Beckett served as deputy leader of the party - the first woman to do so - under the late John Smith, and was acting leader of the opposition for three months in 1994.

She stood for leadership of the party but was beaten by Mr Blair.

But during that time she was a driving force behind Labour's renewed energy.


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