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Monday, May 17, 1999 Published at 10:35 GMT 11:35 UK


UK Politics

Liddell's 'no-nonsense' approach

Helen Liddell takes on the opposition at Westminster

Helen Liddell, who has been named as the new transport minister, has had a turbulent time since she took up the post of deputy Scottish secretary in July last year.

The move followed an impressive stint at the Treasury where her no-nonsense style was put to use naming and shaming financial institutions accused of mis-selling pensions.

She continued her combative approach at the Scottish Office where as education minister and deputy to Donald Dewar she took on the teachers and the Scottish National Party.

Mrs Liddell locked horns with Scotland's teaching unions over the implementation of the new "Higher Still" courses for secondary pupils, demanding the programme start on schedule despite protests from teachers over lack of resources.

SNP criticism

And her gloves-off approach to the SNP earned her the monicker of "Nat-basher-in-chief".

But she faced fierce criticism from the SNP for her decision not to stand for the Scottish Parliament and played almost no public part in Labour's election campaign.

Mrs Liddell first entered Parliament in 1994 at the Monklands East by-election caused by the death of Labour leader John Smith.

It was a bruising fight in which she faced a ferocious challenge from the nationalists, particularly over alleged skulduggery in the local Labour-ruled council, which later prompted the "Monklandsgate" inquiry by Labour.

But she managed to see off the SNP, although the price was a narrow majority of less than 2,000.

Labour roots

Mrs Liddell, 49, comes from the Scottish Labour heartland of Lanarkshire, and her first job was in the economics department of the Scottish TUC.

She worked for two years as economics correspondent for the BBC in Scotland and was later, for 11 years, general secretary of the Labour Party in Scotland.

During that period, the Labour Party in England was tearing itself apart with left-right divisions, but it avoided that fate in Scotland and her no-nonsense style had much to do with that.

Married with two children, she later worked as personnel director for the Scottish Daily Record and Sunday Mail at the time the newspapers were owned by Robert Maxwell.

She was re-elected in 1997 to the new Airdrie and Shotts constituency, with a majority of more than 15,000.



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