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Monday, 22 October, 2001, 13:22 GMT 14:22 UK
Low-key rise to top table
Hilary Armstrong and colleagues
Hilary Armstrong and cabinet colleagues
Nyta Mann

Hilary Armstrong's rise to the cabinet has been a low-key one.

Though the former deputy headmistress is a far from household name, successive Labour leaderships have been able to count on her as a modernising loyalist and able fixer.

Neil Kinnock saw her as reliable, lifting her from the backbenches within a year of her arrival at Westminster.

Her energetic lobbying of her sponsoring trade union, MSF, swung the crucial one-member-one-vote vote for John Smith at Labour's 1993 party conference.

And Tony Blair put her into the cabinet as chief whip after his June general election victory.

Inherited father's seat

Ms Armstrong was first elected an MP in 1987, inheriting her father's safe Durham North West seat. But she was in the thick of Labour's north east contingent long before her arrival at Westminster.

The late John Smith
The late John Smith: Hilary Armstrong was his parliamentary aide
She joined the Labour Party at 15 and before long was a member of its northern regional executive committee, and of the northern regional women's committee.

She was also secretary of the Sunderland North party and became a Durham councillor, before securing the selection for her father's constituency on his retirement.

Before becoming an MP she was a lecturer in community work at Sunderland Polytechnic, and before that a social worker.

Her earlier employment included being deputy head of Murray Girls' High School in Kenya during a spell of VSO from 1967-69.

Husband figured in 'crony' row

Once in parliament she became junior education spokeswoman under Jack Straw from 1988 to 1992. When John Smith was elected leader he made her his parliamentary private secretary - unpaid bag-carrier.

She backed Mr Blair in the 1994 leadership contest; he put her in the Treasury team once he got it. On Labour's 1997 victory she became a local government minister.

Her husband, Professor Paul Corrigon, has in recent months got himself caught up in a "New Labour cronyism" row.

As well as being Health Secretary Alan Milburn's special adviser, Mr Corrigon helps run the New Local Government Network - the campaigning group which among other things wishes to extend the role of the private sector in local authority services.

Modernising credentials

Her modernising credentials stretch back a considerable way.

As well as her "Omov" spurs from the early 1990s, she supported the drive for more women MPs when Labour was in the midst of implementing its controversial policy of all-women shortlists for parliamentary selections ahead of the 1997 contest.

As a member of Labour's ruling national executive committee - the union block vote won her a place in the women's section in 1993 - she served on its by-election panel, weeding out "unsuitable" candidates and ensuring acceptable ones were chosen.

She is also, like Mr Blair and several other modernisers, an "out" Christian Socialist.

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