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Wednesday, August 4, 1999 Published at 12:11 GMT 13:11 UK

UK Politics

Reid tipped for defence job

John Reid: Labour right-winger with a communist past

Scottish Secretary John Reid is widely predicted to become the new defence secretary, following George Robertson's departure to Nato.

For the 52-year-old Scottish MP the move would be a triumphant return to the ministry where he began his ministerial career as Mr Robertson's number two after Labour's 1997 election victory.

The Labour right-winger is said to have greatly impressed the prime minister with his performance as armed forces minister, a role in which he was deeply involved in the government's Strategic Defence Review.

As a result he replaced Gavin Strang as transport minister in the July 1998 reshuffle. It fell to him to try to pacify angry hauliers following tax increases in this year's Budget, while at the same time condemning truckers' protests against the rises.

Devolution role

Mr Reid took on another tricky job in May this year when he was promoted to become the post-devolution Scottish secretary, after Donald Dewar was elected as first minister of the Scottish Parliament.

[ image: A rising star of Tony Blair's frontbench team]
A rising star of Tony Blair's frontbench team
This has involved manoeuvring his way through the complexities of acting as the liaison between Westminster and the new legislative body in Edinburgh.

Mr Reid has repeatedly denied newspaper reports that he is involved in a power struggle with Mr Dewar.

"Donald is in charge of devolved affairs and I am Scotland's representative in the Cabinet. We have different roles," he said recently.

He has also suggested that the Boundary Commission should consider cutting the number of Scottish MPs at Westminster because of the devolution of powers to Scotland.

Red rocker past

Mr Reid, who was an adviser to former Labour leader Neil Kinnock, is solidly on the right of the Labour Party.

But it was not always the case. There may be raised eyebrows in Washington if its British ally appoints a defence secretary who was a member of the Communist Party from 1973 to 1975 - and who after joining Labour in the late '70s remained a supporter of nuclear disarmament for many years.

The son of a postman and a factory worker, he has also played in rock bands and worked in labouring jobs.

After graduating from the University of Stirling with a PhD in Economic History he worked as a union official.

In 1987 he was elected as MP for Motherwell South. He held that seat for 10 year before transferring to Hamilton North and Bellshill at the last general election.

In opposition he was a Labour spokesman on children and defence.

Mr Reid has two sons. His wife Cathie died last year.

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