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Wednesday, December 23, 1998 Published at 15:14 GMT


UK Politics

Shooting star in Blair's Cabinet

Stephen Byers: True Blairite

The rise of Stephen Byers to trade secretary is the latest step in a meteoric career of an MP who only entered Parliament six years ago.

The latest step up the ministerial ladder for the Tyneside North MP comes barely six months after he was promoted to become the chief secretary to the Treasury in the summer reshuffle.

Despite not having a long parliamentary background or highflying Oxbridge credentials, Mr Byers is a true Blairite.

North east bond

His bond with the prime minister was forged in the north east where Tony Blair, whose seat is Sedgefield in County Durham, and Mr Byers' DTI predecessor Peter Mandelson needed supporters to persuade neighbouring constituencies to modernise.

Mr Byers' Blairite credentials were established at the 1996 TUC Conference when, over a fish supper with lobby correspondents in Blackpool, he floated the idea that the Labour Party might cut its links with the trade unions.

The son of an RAF technician, Mr Byers attended Chester City Grammar School.

In 1968, the year of revolution across Europe, he moved to the local college of further education for his A-levels before taking a law degree at Liverpool Polytechnic.

He later became a law lecturer at Newcastle Polytechnic, during which time he joined the Labour Party.

Throughout the 1980s, Mr Byers was a councillor for North Tyneside before becoming MP for Wallsend in the 1992 election. He moved to his current seat at the last election, following boundary changes.

Prior to Labour's landslide victory, Mr Byers held the position of employment - a post once held by Mr Blair.

Eight times seven

His first government position was as minister for school standards, Mr Byers proved adept at dealing with teaching unions and working alongside the traditional David Blunkett.

At the DFEE, Mr Byers brought home key Blairite messages, such as improving the performance of state schools but in front of union audiences, he would begin his speeches instead by saying that teachers were doing "a very tough job in difficult circumstances".

However, his career has not been blunder free.

In 1997, he was asked to multiply eight by seven and came up with 54 instead of 56.

Mr Byers is praised for not taking himself too seriously and keeping a wide circle of friends from outside politics.

He is well-liked in his constituency and this year filled his house with local party activists to watch Newcastle United lose the FA cup.

A colleague once said of him: "Stephen does like to be at the centre of storms."



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