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Thursday, July 29, 1999 Published at 16:43 GMT 17:43 UK


The first lady of sport

Kate Hoey drew up wide-ranging proposals on anti-hooliganism

Love him or loath him outgoing sports minister Tony Banks was never far from the headlines.

With an opinion on anything and everything in the world of sport and beyond, he was, and remains, an immensely quotable politician, forever unafraid to court controversy.

In such circumstances, one may have expected Prime Minister Tony Blair to choose a 'safer' pair of hands as his replacement. Someone perhaps more willing to tow the party line.

The reality could not be more different. Kate Hoey, the incoming minister, is Euro-sceptic, pro-foxhunting and hit the headlines with her criticism of the clampdown on the anti-handgun laws.

Political maverick

Regarded as fiercely independent in her views, she is as much a political maverick as her predecessor - though perhaps less prone to the type of sporting gaffe that became Mr Banks' trademark.

[ image: Tony Banks (right) is leaving to promote England's 2006 World Cup bid]
Tony Banks (right) is leaving to promote England's 2006 World Cup bid
As the first woman sports minister, Ms Hoey - Northern Ireland High Jump champion of 1965 - is likely to continue Mr Banks' mission in raising the profile of the department.

But Ms Hoey is a different type of politician. She is as removed from Mr Banks' 'Old Labour' tendencies as any MP in the House of Commons and she is certainly not one of 'Blair's Babes'.

Neil Kinnock nicknamed her 'Ho Ho Ho Hoey' and catapulted her into Lambeth as one of the first new breed of women MP's.

Her speech in defence of foxhunting won her the Spectator Award for best debater. The Tories respect her at the despatch box because she is honest enough to admit when she does not know the answer, and television shows want her on their sofas.


Ms Hoey is undoubtedly a respected politican, but she is clearly too strong-willed to compromise her principles.

Mr Blair was said to be nervous about having her in his government at all, until another maverick Frank Field left and she was brought in as a replacement 'free-thinker'.

Ms Hoey wanted the sports portfolio, but when her time came she was instead sent to the Home Office. She rejected calls that she was disappointed.

"I have to miss football matches to speak to magistrates," she said. "But the job is riveting."

Nevertheless, even there she failed to relinquish her sporting ties completely.

She was given the job of clamping down on football hooliganism and brought in one of the most far-reaching anti-hooligan packages ever considered by a government.


Ms Hoey is a self-confessed team player, a factor she puts down to her 1989 by-election.

"After that I feel can face anything," she said. "It was so acrimonious. I was one of Neil (Kinnock's) first imposed candidates and the hard-left in Lambeth thought I was rat-poison.

"The first few months were miserble. I could either agree with everything they said or I could tackle them head on _ so I went for the jugular.

"I was heckled and screamed at. Life in Westminster has been a picnic in comparison."

Ms Hoey herself will undoubtedly be delighted by her appointment. She has always hankered after the sports portfolio and now she has it to call her own.

Sports fans should not fear, as she said herself: "I have always been sports mad.

"I try to run a few miles as often as I can. I even got told off for running in the corridors of the Commons."

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