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Wednesday, 9 January, 2002, 11:19 GMT
Lord Wakeham - the 'Fixit' man
Lord Wakeham
Lord Wakeham: Carries the reputation of a political fixer
Once described as "a man so well connected that he probably networks in his dreams", former Tory Whip Lord Wakeham has a reputation for a low-profile, no-nonsense approach to problem solving.

His appointment, in 1999, to head a Royal Commission on Lords reform in 1999, was welcomed on all sides.

As chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, he already knew most of the personalities involved in the debate.

And his abilities as a pragmatic negotiator - which have earned him the nickname Mr Fixit - were expected to have a calming influence on the heated Royal Commission.

However, Wakeham's stated opposition to wholesale reform of the Upper Chamber raised a few eyebrows at the time.

And his report, when it appeared, two years ago, was attacked in some quarters for not going far enough.

His proposal that fewer than a quarter of Lords members should be elected came in for particular criticism.

Self-made man

Wakeham's initial ascent through the Tory ranks under Margaret Thatcher went largely unnoticed.

The Brighton bomb scene
The Brighton bomb shattered John Wakeham's life
It took a tragedy, in the form of the IRA's Brighton bombing, for him to reach the spotlight. Mr Wakeham's first wife Roberta was killed in the blast and he was trapped in the rubble of the Grand Hotel for seven hours.

Often referred to as a grandee of the Tory Party, he rarely turns down the opportunity to set the record straight.

John Wakeham entered politics at the relatively late age of 42, having started out as an accountant before making his reputation as a self-made businessman.

It's a long way from his original ambition, to become a writer. He gave up on the idea after his father bluntly told Wakeham junior he lacked the talent.

Before he entered the Commons in 1974, Mr Wakeham was a wealthy businessman with more than 60 directorships to his name.

Succession of top jobs

His business nous probably endeared him to Baroness Thatcher, whom he served as chief whip through the boom years of her rule in the 1980s.

Lady Thatcher
Wakeham had the reputation of Lady Thatcher's lieutenant
He went on to become Leader of the Commons in the late 1980s, piloting arrangements to televise Parliament.

He won further praise from his own side for successfully turning around the fated task of electricity privatisation in 1989, as energy secretary.

In 1992 he was appointed a life peer by John Major and took hold of the reins at the Press Complaints Commission in 1995.

In that role he has vigorously defended self-regulation for the newspaper industry, helping to beat back the threat of legislation.

It is a stance that earned him the jibe of sounding "like a eunuch" from Gerald Kaufman, the Labour chairman of the then National Heritage Select Committee.

But by his own admission, not everything Lord Wakeham touches turns to gold.

"The more people call you a fixer the more difficult it is to be the fixer next time," he said in 1996.

Recommendations ignored

Wakeham's 216 page report on Lords reform was produced in record time in January 2000.

The government has had nearly two years to study it.

But its White Paper, The House of Lords - Completing the Reform, at less than a quarter the length of Wakeham, has been accused of being short on specifics.

In several important respects, Labour has rejected Wakeham's recommendations and largely gone its own way.

This may have prompted the normally low-profile Wakeham to speak out.

See also:

09 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Wakeham attacks Lords reform
07 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Lords reform plans at-a-glance
07 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Q&A: House of Lords shake-up
20 Jan 99 | UK Politics
Radical shake-up of Lords
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