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Friday, 6 July, 2001, 13:09 GMT 14:09 UK
Lilley: Man of ideas
Peter Lilley
Lilley: Demoted after controversy in 1999
The last time the Conservative leadership was up for grabs, Peter Lilley was in the race himself.

Four years on, he is taking more of a back seat role as a prominent supporter of Michael Portillo but he has thrown a big issue into the leadership battle with his call for cannabis to be legalised.

Tory MPs have been keen to quash suggestions his comments could create split on a defining issue between the authoritarian and libertarian Conservatives.

It was a divisive Conservative row which was blamed for Mr Lilley's demotion from William Hague's shadow cabinet in July 1999.

Past controversy

It came when Mr Lilley was accused of trying to bounce the shadow cabinet into abandoning Thatcherism with a speech in April that year.

In it, he said: "We will only [renew public confidence] if we openly and emphatically accept that the free market has only a limited role in improving public services like health, education and welfare."

Nigel Lawson
Lilley worked closely with Nigel Lawson
It was probably his most high profile performance since he sang a critique of new Labour at previous year's party conference to the tune of Land of Hope and Glory.

Mr Lilley's comments forced William Hague to make an unscheduled address to Conservative backbenchers in an attempt to put a lid on the affair.

Economist background

Coinciding with celebrations to mark the 20th anniversary of Baroness Thatcher's election victory, it was given added force because Mr Lilley had been one of the Tories' leading monetarists.

The demotion has moved Mr Lilley away from political prominence for the last two years.

But being away from the frontbench for the first time in more than a decade did give him the chance to begin his year-long review of the cannabis laws.

William Hague
Hague made Lilley shadow chancellor
A leading think tank has now published the fruits of his research - a reminder of his time as research director at Conservative Central Office.

He held that job before his election as MP for St Albans in 1983, although he fought the Hitchin and Harpenden seat at the last election after a boundary change.

An economist by profession, he had made his reputation combating fraud in the social services, with a series of measures to restrict benefits only to those entitled to them.

Within a year of coming to Westminster, he was made parliamentary private secretary to Nigel Lawson and survived at the Treasury, where he was promoted to financial secretary, until 1990.

Cabinet promotion

That year he was appointed secretary of state for trade and industry and in 1992, until the Tories lost power, he held the position of social security secretary.

On the Conservative frontbenches he launched attacks on single mothers who "get pregnant just to jump the housing list", on "benefit tourists" coming to the UK armed with a spongers' phrasebook to claim the dole.

And he railed against the EU's scope to force "policies made by foreigners, for foreigners, which only foreigners can change" on the UK.

Trailing in fourth place in the 1997 leadership election, Mr Lilley joined William Hague's team as shadow chancellor.

Following the Tories' election defeat, he came in fourth place in the Tory leadership contest won by Mr Hague.

But Mr Lilley was retained by Mr Hague as shadow chancellor until 1998 when the Tory leader promoted him to the position of deputy leader, a post which had been in abeyance since Willie Whitelaw held it in the 1970s.

Michael Portillo has said he wants fresh thinking on his frontbench if he wins the leadership.

Mr Lilley's pamphlet shows he clearly is prepared for radical changes in Tory policy and may raise speculation that he could return to the political frontline under Mr Portillo.

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See also:

30 Mar 99 | UK Politics
Blue Peter's recipe for victory
15 Jun 99 | UK Politics
Lilley sacked in Tory reshuffle
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