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RUC Reform Tuesday, 6 June, 2000, 18:16 GMT 19:16 UK
Chris Patten: Squaring up to change
Chris Patten
Chris Patten has never shied away from controversy. As a Conservative minister he was responsible for the poll tax.

As the last UK governor of Hong Kong, he negotiated the handover of colony to China - whose leaders were reported to have nicknamed him "Fatty Pang" among other colourful phrases.

So when he was made the chairman of the Independent Commission on Policing in Northern Ireland, many saw Mr Patten as an ideal candidate.

Mr Patten said the report, which made 175 recommendations for change to the RUC, tried to "ensure that any past mistakes are not repeated and to minimise any prospect of abuses such as those alleged to have taken place in the past".

"We are not here to praise or to blame, but rather to look to the future," he said.

A Catholic, Mr Patten's great grandfather was a refugee from the Irish potato famine.

He also served as junior minister for Northern Ireland under Margaret Thatcher from 1983 to 1985.

Mr Patten entered politics early. As an Oxford graduate, his first job was in the Conservative Party research office in 1965.

He was elected MP for Bath in 1979 and during his time in Parliament was described as brilliant centre-left highflyer but who "may lack sharp enough elbows or rough enough knuckles" to succeed.

As a junior minister for Northern Ireland, he defended the right of Londonderry City Council to change its name to Derry and said that IRA housing rackets were "extremely worrying".

He later moved to the Department for Education before becoming overseas development minister and then environment secretary where he had to defend the poll tax and water privatisation.

He was made party chairman under John Major and is credited with securing the Conservatives' election victory in 1992.

But, despite the 1992 Tory victory, Mr Patten was among the political casualties, losing his seat to Liberal Democrat Don Foster.

It was the first time the politician had been seen publicly crying.

In 1997, he again publicly shed a tear as he watched the UK flag came down for the last time over Hong Kong.

What was seen as weak by some has not detracted from his reputation.

His tough and measured stand in the Hong Kong negotiations won him many admirers.

Upon his return from Hong Kong, Mr Patten dismissed rumours he wanted to return to Parliament. Instead Tony Blair appointed him to head the Independent Commission on Policing in Northern Ireland and to the European Commission.

After the RUC report, Mr Patten focused full time on his job as commissioner for foreign affairs within the EU.

The position, which includes the issue of the enlargement of the EU, will no doubt prove as daunting and problematic as his previous roles.

Read BBC News Online's full special report on policing reform in Northern Ireland

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