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Last Updated: Friday, 5 May 2006, 19:09 GMT 20:09 UK
Profile: Hilary Armstrong
Hilary Armstrong
Hilary Armstrong has had an eventful time as chief whip
Hilary Armstrong was promoted into the Cabinet as chief whip following the 2001 election.

In her previous four years as minister for local government, she was responsible for introducing controversial new local government structures.

Her time as chief whip has been eventful.

She has had to deal with backbench revolts over domestic issues such as foundation hospitals and tuition fees, and also presided over the biggest government rebellion in March 2003 when 139 Labour MPs voted against the government's decision to go to war in Iraq.

Her struggles with an increasingly restless Parliamentary Labour Party in 2003/2004 came off the back of controversies over select committee membership and allegations of strong arm tactics with Labour dissenters over military action in Afghanistan in 2001-2.

But it was in February of this year that she really made the headlines when she lost the government a crucial vote on plans to introduce a new offence of inciting religious hatred.

The vote was lost by one - that of Prime Minister Tony Blair who she had "allowed" to miss the vote.

That prompted Tory leader to describe her as the first chief whip in history to put the prime minister in the frame for losing a key vote.

"An interesting career move, to say the least," he added.

Status retained

That "career move" may explain why she has now been moved into the newly-created post of social exclusion minister.

She has kept cabinet status as chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

The daughter of an MP, Ms Armstrong inherited her father's seat on his retirement in 1987 but already had her own track record as a campaigner for the North East.

She remains a doughty defender of the region's interests and supports radical reform of local government to combat the stagnation of one party rule.

She was parliamentary private secretary to the late John Smith during his time as Labour leader, and played a large part in his successful fight to institute one member one vote at Labour's conference.

Her union links also came in useful when she helped to shore up support for the rewriting of Clause IV.


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