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Tuesday, 28 May, 2002, 16:24 GMT 17:24 UK
Profile: Stephen Byers
Stephen Byers

Stephen Byers was defiant to the last, standing in Downing Street and insisting that he was not a liar, and that those who knew him knew he was not a liar.

His resignation came after months of pressure that would have had most lesser men buckling under in the first few weeks.

Although his name became permanently prefixed by words like "beleaguered" and "embattled" Mr Byers' capacity for survival was akin to Houdini's ability to escape.


Once he had decided to stand by Ms Moore, he had lined himself up against vast swathes of media and political opinion

But from the moment he decided to stand by his former spin doctor Jo Moore last September he was living on borrowed time - his career an act of political survival that could rival the best Westminster has seen.

Ms Moore, who eventually had to quit, wrote an email on the afternoon of 11 September saying it was a good day to "bury" bad news.

Once he had decided to stand by Ms Moore, he had lined himself up against vast swathes of media and political opinion, including a number within his own party.

Within a few weeks Mr Byers was accused of pushing a senior civil servant out of his job for refusing to participate in a Ms Moore-devised smear campaign.

And then a dynamic looking decision to effectively close Railtrack could have put him back on track - but instead he was accused of misleading MPs and facing the wrath of both Railtrack bosses and shareholders.

Troublesome times

One of the rapidly promoted Blairite ministers, Mr Byers has had something of a knack for landing himself in trouble in the press.

Before Labour won power there was one famous occasion, a seafood dinner, in which he briefed lobby hacks that Labour would break all links with the unions.

Rover protests
Byers was criticised over his handling of the Rover debacle
Earlier this month he told a lunch gathering of female political correspondents that the government had a timetable mapped out for a euro referendum.

When that news, inevitably, leaked, he was slapped down by Downing Street.

But the decision to quit brings an end to what has been a painful slide in his political fortunes - all in contrast to the speed with which he rose to Cabinet rank.

Early career

Mr Byers took a while to get a seat at Westminster, largely because he lacked trade union sponsorship which is something of a must in the north east of England, but once he was there it was, by the standards of British politics, a rapid rise.

In less than seven years he was in the cabinet, prompting some speculation that he was Blair's natural successor - along with Chancellor Gordon Brown, of course
Stephen Byers
The 'faceless' minister came under pressure to ditch the moustache
.

All of that was before the Rover debacle which left workers at Longbridge fearing for their jobs after BMW made its shock decision to sell the British car manufacturer.

The trade secretary was inevitably a focus for angry, betrayed workers and there was suspicion as to when Mr Byers actually knew of the decision.

Blair-Brown, Byers-Milburn

Until then one of the favourite comparisons drawn by senior observers in the Westminster village was between Mr Byers and Health Secretary Alan Milburn, and Mr Blair and Mr Brown.

Mr Byers and Mr Milburn were elected in the same year (1992), were on the same wing of the party, were from the north east, shared an office and were great mates.

It is a situation that had uncanny similarities with the chancellor and the prime minister when they were first elected.

In April 2000 he was described as "faceless" in terms of his public profile - and perhaps now he wishes he still was

The Downing Street neighbours continued to work closely together but, by all reports, they are a great deal less matey following a spat about who should run for the party leadership in 1994.

Mr Byers beat Mr Milburn into the cabinet, and then went on to be trade secretary within six months.

He was then shunted sideways to become transport secretary in the post-election victory reshuffle.

In April 2000 he was described as "faceless" in terms of his public profile - and perhaps now he wishes he still was.

In his role as "outrider for the Blair project" he has asserted that "the reality is that redistribution of wealth is now less important than the creation of wealth".

Personal sacrifice

His support for the cause of New Labour is so great that he even made the personal sacrifice of losing his moustache - part of a wider cull of facial hair on the party's frontbench.

Another role that he has taken in the past is to voice support for the single currency.

Along with his boss, he has been one of the few Labour ministers prepared to speak out in favour of the euro.

Mr Byers was born in Wolverhampton and won a place at Chester City grammar, leaving early to take his A-levels at a local college because he hated the school.

He went on to gain a law degree at Liverpool.

His background is as a law lecturer and as a councillor in Newcastle.

His father was a RAF technician and his partner, Jan, is a lawyer.


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12 Apr 00 | UK Politics
01 Feb 01 | UK Politics
13 Apr 00 | UK Politics

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