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Wednesday, October 28, 1998 Published at 12:33 GMT

UK Politics

Paul Boateng: From Benn supporter to Blairite

An inadvertent beneficiary of Ron Davies' misfortune

In politics as in life, one man's tragedy is often another's gain. One of the knock-on effects of Ron Davies' sudden resignation as Welsh Secretary is promotion for Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health Paul Boateng.

Prime Minister Tony Blair chose Mr Boateng, the MP for Brent South, to fill the shoes of Alun Michael at the Home Office now that he has become the new Welsh Secretary.

The move is a considerable promotion for Mr Boateng from being a junior health minister to what is, for New Labour, a key position in a key department.

Mr Boateng, born in Hackney and of Ghanaian and Scottish descent, first came to prominence in London in the late 1970s as civil rights lawyer, based in Lambeth and a familiar figure on protests at police activities in the city.

[ image: Ken Livingstone was his leader on the GLC]
Ken Livingstone was his leader on the GLC
He started to establish a national reputation after he was elected to the Greater London Council in 1981.

It was the start of the GLC's heady days with Ken Livingstone as its leader.

Like many Labour figures who are now models of Blairite respectability, the Mr Boateng was a keen and energetic supporter of radical left-wing causes back then.

He backed Tony Benn as deputy Labour leader in 1981 when the left-winger challenged Denis Healey for the position.

While on the GLC, the new home affairs minister became chairman of its police committee, in which role he campaigned for greater accountability and control over the Metropolitian Police, and vice-chair of its ethnic minorities committee.

He continued to be a persistent critic of the police, especially in relation to their dealings with the black and Asian communities.

At the count on the night of the 1987 election, Mr Boateng - overcome with elation at having just been confirmed as the MP for Brent South - famously declared: "Today Brent South, tomorrow Soweto!"

He is probably embarrassed by that old footage now.

But perhaps not as embarrassed as at the footage of his appearance the following year at a GLC pantomime during which he wore a bulging jockstrap - and little else.

But of the new parliamentary intake, Mr Boateng was one of those to whom the tag of "man to watch" was attached. And like many of his colleagues, he undertook the long march to moderation.

In 1989 he was talent-spotted by then-leader Neil Kinnock and put on the front bench as a junior Treasury spokesman.

[ image: In opposition he was deputy to Lord Irvine - but they had a falling out]
In opposition he was deputy to Lord Irvine - but they had a falling out
After the 1992 election, he became shadow spokesman on the Lord Chancellor's Department.

He kept that position right up to the last election, and it came as a surprise when Tony Blair then appointed him junior minister for social care and mental health.

A falling-out with Lord Irvine - shadow Lord Chancellor before the election and now, of course, the real thing - was thought to be behind the shift.

Now Mr Boateng, married with six children (some of whom he sent to private schools), a Christian Socialist, and the first black person to serve as a government minister, is firmly back on track for a political career at the forefront of New Labour.

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