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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 June, 2003, 17:14 GMT 18:14 UK
Lordly heights for Blair's friend
Lord Falconer at the Millennium Dome
The Dome proved troublesome for Lord Falconer
Cabinet newcomer Lord Falconer, who will head a new department of constitutional affairs, is probably the ultimate example of a "Tony's crony".

Charlie Falconer was a childhood friend of the prime minister and the pair later shared a London flat in the early days of their legal careers.

Like the outgoing Lord Chancellor Lord Irvine, Lord Falconer has never been elected and was promoted to the Lords soon after Labour came to power in 1997 because Mr Blair wanted him in government.

His most high profile job was taking ministerial responsibility for the "poisoned chalice" of the Millennium Domen after Peter Mandelson's first resignation.

Courtships

Lord Falconer's biography clearly explains his close personal links with Mr Blair, but the relationship between the two men got off to a rocky start.

In the 1960s, Blair was a pupil at Edinburgh's Fettes school - the "Scottish Eton", as it is known - while Falconer was at another private school nearby, Trinity College, Glenalmond.

Tony was dating a fellow student, Amanda Mackenzie Stuart, whom Charlie fancied. "We got on very, very badly", he once said.

Falconer replaces Irvine on the Woolsack in the Lords
When Tony and Amanda broke up, however, Amanda and Charlie got together.

While Blair went to Oxford, Falconer went to Cambridge. But they met up again in 1976 when they found themselves both working as barristers in the same building.

Soon afterwards, Blair moved into Falconer's flat in Wandsworth, south London, making them both activists in the same local Labour Party.

They shared a passion for rock music, and Lord Falconer is still proud of the fact that he can tell you the names of the B-sides of practically every hit single of the 1960s.

His career in commercial law prospered. In 1985 he married Marianna Hildyard, another successful barrister whose diplomat father had been British ambassador to Mexico.

They became neighbours of the Blairs in fashionable Islington and the four legal eagles became dinner companions.

Wealth backlash

By the 1990s, Lord Falconer's earnings alone were reckoned to be around 500,000 a year.

His reputation was of a man with a razor sharp mind, who could both master a brief and get to the nub of a problem very quickly.

All who work with him in government, regardless of their politics, agree he is an engaging personality and entertaining raconteur.

His wealth, though, has caused him political problems.

Just before the 1997 election made a bid for political legitimacy by trying to be selected as Labour's parliamentary candidate in Dudley East.

He was advised by the selection panel to withdraw his four children from fee-paying schools.

When he refused he was told Labour was not in the business of fielding candidates who spent more in a year on buying their children out of state education than most people earned in the same period.

He later was asked by an angry pensioner whether he could live on her benefit of less than 100 a week. He claimed he could.

Justice changes

Lord Falconer's legal prowess was well-harnessed in his first government job - as solicitor-general.

A move to the Cabinet Office in 1998 saw his power increase, despite opposition MPs continually pressing him to resign over the Dome debacle.

At one point he was on no less than 14 cabinet sub-committees where many key government decisions are made.

In 2001, he was shuffled across to be minister of housing, planning and regeneration, where he had to fend off green campaigners' attacks on government planning policy.

But a year later, he was back on a legal brief when he was made minister of state for criminal justice, sentencing and law reform in David Blunkett's Home Office.

In his new jobs, he will be expected to provide a voice for the judiciary as the justice reforms he helped design, including restricting the right to jury trial, start being rolled out.




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