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Wednesday, 29 May, 2002, 10:36 GMT 11:36 UK
Profile: Andrew Smith
Andrew Smith, the new work and pensions secretary, proved himself a safe pair of hands at his Treasury job but he was haunted by his declaration in 1996: "Our air is not for sale".

Speaking as shadow transport spokesman, he was making plain Labour's opposition to Conservative plans for the privatisation of National Air Traffic Services (Nats).

But three years on his party conference rallying cry turned into a huge embarrassment when Labour switched policies and proposed a public-private partnership for Nats.

1987: Enters Parliament
1988-92: Labour education spokesman
1992-94: Shadow Treasury spokesman
1994-96: Shadow chief secretary to the Treasury
1996-97: Shadow transport secretary
1997-99: Employment minister
1999-2002: Chief secretary to the Treasury
It was a blip in what has otherwise been a competent if unsparkling career - as many commentators also portray the man.

Yet another New Labour high-flyer who rose swiftly after the 1997 election victory, 51-year-old Mr Smith came into his own as chief secretary to the Treasury.

Promoted to the post in October 1999, he told interviewers a month later of his determination to keep "an iron grip" on spending.

That was when Labour's two-year commitment to stick to Tory spending plans was still in place - and Mr Smith proved himself the perfect guardian of what was a key election pledge.

Oxford days

Born in Reading and grammar school educated, Mr Smith went to Oxford University, joined the Labour party aged 22 and was elected to the city council in 1976 three years later.

A pensioner couple
Mr Smith must tackle worries about saving for old age
In 1982 he chaired Oxford's "anti-Falklands-war committee", a stance reflected in his opposition to the Gulf War a decade later.

Entering Parliament in 1987, he defeated Oxford East's sitting Conservative MP Steve Norris with slim 1,288 majority.

Promotion was rapid and after stints as education and Treasury spokesman, he was appointed shadow chief secretary in 1994 under shadow chancellor Gordon Brown.

The same year Mr Smith did his future career prospects no harm when he supported Tony Blair for the party leadership and campaigned for the party to be modernised.

'Mr New Deal'

In 1996, despite being earmarked as a Brown loyalist, he began a stint outside the Treasury brief - first as transport spokesman.

Then in government as employment and disability rights minister he was given the task of introducing Labour's flagship New Deal job scheme.

The success he quietly made of the task was rewarded with promotion to the cabinet.

Along the way he picked up experience delivering programmes within budget and working across departments.

Tough talking

He was immediately thrown into the fray as chief secretary and has been heading the talks for this summer's comprehensive spending review.

Now he will be bargaining for money for his own department as he tries to continue Labour's work in tackling unemployment.

Mr Darling will also need to allay continued fears about the increasing trend of companies abandoning final salary pensions schemes.

Spice Girls

Despite an unstarry public demeanour his success defending policy in the media saw him appointed as Labour's one-man financial hit squad in his last job.

Outside work it seems Mr Smith is capable of confounding his bookish image.

He is married to Valerie, has one son and lists his likes as sport, walking and music - "rock and opera".

And he once confessed in an interview to knowing who the Spice Girls are.

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