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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 February, 2004, 15:29 GMT
Profile: Michael Howard
Mr Howard is seen as a Tory big hitter
When Michael Howard replaced Iain Duncan Smith, unopposed, as Tory leader in November 2003 it marked the culmination of a remarkable political rebirth.

Four years ago, the former home secretary stepped down from the Conservative frontbench after 14 years in the spotlight, apparently leaving front line politics for good.

Two years later, after Iain Duncan Smith's election as party leader, Mr Howard, still regarded as one of the Tories' really big hitters, was dramatically brought back as shadow chancellor.

The right-winger's appointment came as a surprise to some observers, but few at Westminster doubt the Folkestone and Hythe MP's political abilities.

MICHAEL HOWARD
Born: 7 July 1941
Elected to Folkestone and Hythe in 1983
Appointed as a minister in 1985
Served as home secretary 1993-97
Failed in 1997 party leadership bid
Currently shadow chancellor

His first 100 days as leader saw him outline his "British dream" which would allow people to succeed on the basis of their own talents and efforts.

He pushed for "smaller government and bigger people" in attacks on red tape.

Mr Howard's confrontations with Tony Blair at prime minister's questions also won praise from pundits.

But he was accused by some of adopting the wrong tactics in questioning the prime minister's integrity before Lord Hutton's report was published - this left him struggling to attack when it cleared Mr Blair of duplicity.

'Something of the night'

Mr Howard is still remembered as a tough and uncompromising home secretary whose clarion call was "prison works", a message which will no doubt go down well with the party grassroots.

The leadership challenge marked a change of heart on his part. In November 2002 he told BBC News Online: "I will never stand again for the leadership of the Conservative Party."

Asked if that meant he was ruling himself out completely, whatever the circumstances, he said: "That's right."

He did stand for the leadership in 1997 after John Major stepped down.

That bid was unsuccessful, in part, it was suggested, by the words of his former ministerial colleague, Ann Widdecombe, who said he had "something of the night about him".

The leadership contest also saw the famous encounter between Mr Howard and BBC Newsnight's Jeremy Paxman in which the presenter asked him the same question 14 times over the departure of prison service boss Derek Lewis during Mr Howard's time as home secretary.

Mr Howard was born into a Jewish family in south Wales in 1941.

His father Bernard had left Romania between the World War I and World War II, setting up a clothes shops in Llanelli and Carmarthen.

Mr Howard remains an observant Jew who attends a liberal synagogue on Jewish high holidays.

Football fan

He attended Llanelli Grammar School, where, in this hotbed of rugby union, he is said to have asked his headmaster if he and other sixth formers could play football instead.

You can never be an alibi, hardly ever an asset and often a liability
Sandra Howard

He remains a keen football fan, sometimes offering his coaching skills to the MPs' football team and remaining an avid Liverpool fan.

There are other Merseyside connections - Mr Howard's first, unsuccessful attempts to enter parliament were in Liverpool Edge Hill in 1966 and 1972, while he is a big fan of the Beatles.

Indeed, he and former model wife Sandra - who have a son, daughter and a stepson from one of her three previous marriages - have named their cats Martha and Prudence after Beatles' songs.

Mr Howard left Wales for Cambridge University - a contemporary of Kenneth Clarke - enjoying a stint as president of the Union in 1962.

Rapid

First reading economics, he later switched to law, and was a member of the so-called "Cambridge mafia" which played a leading role in the Tory governments under Margaret Thatcher and John Major.

After graduating he spent a gap year in the US - developing a lifelong love of baseball and the Boston Red Sox - before being called to the Bar on his return to the UK.

He met his future wife at a Red Cross Ball. Discussing literature, she revealed she had not read one of his favourite books, F Scott Fitzgerald's Tender is the Night.

Mr Howard delivered a copy to her the next day.

After being called to the Bar, he rose to become a QC, but retained his political ambitions.

Mr Howard, who is also a keen follower of horse racing, entered Parliament at the third attempt, taking the seat of Folkestone and Hythe during Margaret Thatcher's landslide election victory in 1983.

His ministerial career got off to a rapid start. By 1985 he was a junior minister at the Department of Trade and Industry.

Tussles

He was promoted further once John Major took over from Baroness Thatcher in 1990, serving as employment and environment minister, before becoming home secretary in 1993.

During his time in the post Mr Howard introduced private prisons and tough mandatory sentences, and he oversaw a 15% fall in crime.

He also tussled with Tony Blair in the Commons for a brief period when Mr Blair was shadow home secretary.

Like many home secretaries of all shades, Mr Howard attracted criticism both from professional bodies and even his Tory predecessors.

Harried

His plans to remove the right to silence came in for strong criticism from judges.

His proposed reforms of the police force drew fire from former Tory Home Secretary Sir Willie Whitelaw who said they would politicise the police "to an unacceptable degree".

But his tough stance was appreciated by Tory activists, who enjoyed his uncompromising party conference appearances.

After the Tories lost power in 1997, and Mr Howard's unsuccessful bid to become party leader, William Hague handed him the post of shadow foreign secretary.

He was regarded as having performed well in the role, as he harried his then opposite number, Robin Cook.

When he stepped down it was believed he was quitting after realising his long-term party leadership hopes were over amid calls for new faces on the opposition frontbench.

So his re-appointment to the shadow cabinet in 2001 took observers by surprise, and heartened right-wing Eurosceptics in the party.

Loyal

On his return, Mr Howard was regarded as one of Mr Duncan Smith's most effective operators.

He won particular plaudits for his Commons performance in 2003 attacking the government's decision to delay a decision on joining the single European currency.

As Mr Howard savaged Chancellor Gordon Brown some Tories were asking themselves whether he really should be leading the party instead of Mr Duncan Smith.

But throughout the Tory leader's woes, Mr Howard remained steadfastly loyal in his public pronouncements.

While the Westminster rumour mill went into overdrive some sought to claim there were differences between the two men over tax policy.

At the party conference Mr Howard distanced himself from the reports with a rallying cry behind his leader.

But once Mr Duncan Smith failed to win enough backing in a confidence vote amongst Tory MPs, it was Mr Howard who swiftly saw rivals step aside and back him - in the end he was appointed unopposed.




WATCH AND LISTEN
Michael Howard:
Key interviews, reports and speeches



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