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Tuesday, March 9, 1999 Published at 09:29 GMT

UK Politics

Howard to quit shadow cabinet

Michael Howard made his name as home secretary

Shadow Foreign Secretary Michael Howard is to stand down from the opposition front bench at the next Conservative reshuffle.

The BBC's Nick Jones: "Tough law and order image went down well at conferences"
Mr Howard, 57, told The Times newspaper that 14 years on the frontbenches, in government and opposition, "was probably long enough for anyone".

The former minister said he wanted to speak on many topics other than foreign affairs.

As home secretary in the last government Mr Howard was a controversial figure, who faced numerous challenges to his decisions in the courts.

He has represented Folkestone and Hythe since 1983. Between 1990 and 1997, he served successively as the employment secretary and as the environment secretary before moving to the Home Office.

Young faces

Leading Conservatives pay tribute to Michael Howard
Conservative Central Office confirmed Mr Howard had told Tory leader William Hague he wanted to return to the backbenches at the next reshuffle.

The decision by Mr Howard follows speculation that some younger members of Mr Hague's shadow cabinet were anxious to get rid of members of previous Conservative governments.

They feared that former ministers from the Thatcher and Major administrations could be seen as a reminder of past failures.

However, Mr Hague has denied he had any plans to replace older members of the opposition front bench with younger faces.

The BBC's Nick Jones: 'Something of the night' about Mr Howard' Ann Widdecombe said
Mr Howard told The Times that he intended to be an active MP and to support his party leader from the backbenches.

Any ambitions he might have had to lead the party after John Major stepped down after the 1997 election defeat were damaged after a public clash with his former junior minister and now Shadow Health Secretary, Ann Widdecombe.

In a colourful and controversial assessment, she said the former home secretary had "something of the night" about him.

Mr Howard came fifth out of the five contenders in the leadership race.

[ image: Michael Portillo: Howard has an
Michael Portillo: Howard has an "image problem"
Former Tory Cabinet minister Michael Portillo said Mr Howard's decision was down to his "image problem".

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "He is a very intelligent man, very resourceful, and he has a lot of bright ideas.

"He has obviously had, let's be frank, an image problem.

"He may well feel he can do more good for the Tory Party from the backbenches and doing work on policies and thinking through ideas than he is now able to do on the front benches."

Another former Cabinet colleague, Sir Brian Mawhinney, paid tribute to Mr Howard's recent Commons performances saying: "He has been an excellent shadow foreign secretary.

"He's made Robin Cook look like one of the more pathetic foreign secretaries that this country has had in many years.

"But there comes a time when that pressure and the demands on time and family are such that politicians can, having honourably served their country and their party, think that it is time to allow others to take on that responsibility," he said.

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