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Saturday, 17 February, 2001, 12:32 GMT
Francis Maude: Foreign Affairs

Mark Mardell

Francis Maude has all the qualities that Conservative foreign secretaries used to possess in the old days.

He is intellectually at ease with the knottiest problem, socially well connected, the son of a former cabinet minister and, after a spell in a merchant bank, well heeled as well.


Unlike so many of his senior colleagues he was untainted by participating in John Major's government, having had the foresight to lose his seat in the 1992 election

With a certain languid charm he will conduct meetings, shoes kicked off, half lying on the sofa in his office.

Unfortunately for Mr Maude, he is not foreign secretary but shadow foreign secretary.

For that you need not the poise of a fencer but the low down dirty skills of a knife fighter.

Although there are recent signs that he is developing some of these, he cannot claim many victims twitching at his feet.

Untainted

But he is a man the Conservatives will be relying on in the general election, as he will be fronting the all-important morning news conferences alongside Michael Portillo.

Michael Heseltine
Maude was the first to tell Thatcher she would lose to Heseltine

Although he was the first minister on that fateful night in 1990 to tell Lady Thatcher that she could not beat Michael Heseltine's challenge, he had been one of the driest in her government.

Unlike so many of his senior colleagues he was untainted by participating in John Major's government, having had the foresight to lose his seat in the 1992 election.

City career followed politics

He instead occupied himself at Morgan Stanley, where reports came back to his colleagues that he was enjoying the money and the travel.

All importantly he wisely limited himself to very few comments from the sidelines, at a time when it seemed being incontinently critical of the government was an important test of being a Conservative.


When there is periodic dissatisfaction with William Hague, Mr Maude's name continues to crop up

After the 1997 general election it was clear that he was going to be a big player.

He became shadow chancellor in 1998 in the wake of Peter Lilley's departure for too decisively rejecting the legacy of Thatcherism, something Mr Maude could be trusted not to do.

That did not mean he was any more effective tackling Gordon Brown at the despatch box, but that was at a time when it was almost regarded as faintly embarrassing, if not actually lesse majeste to criticise the government, even if you were a member of the opposition.

Move over for Portillo

Michael Portillo
Maude was brushed aside to make way for Portillo

When Michael Portillo was catapulted back into politics and needed a big job Mr Maude was shuffled sideways and slightly downwards into his current post.

Some might have resented this but the two men, natural ideological soul-mates, have apparently formed a close alliance.

When there is periodic dissatisfaction with William Hague, Mr Maude's name continues to crop up.

His allies say he is a more appealing figure than others and point out that he is the only one of the senior leadership team who has children.

As he has five of them perhaps he could loan them out to Messrs Portillo, Hague and Miss Widdecombe to improve their image.

Those closest to the leader are rather aghast that the two most senior members of the team appear to be friends rather than enemies.

Nice work

When Willam Hague floundered in the Commons attacking the Nice treaty, his friends in Tory central office briefed the newspapers and blamed Mr Maude's approach.

It is perfectly true that his approach was honest rather than good tactics.


With a certain languid charm he will conduct meetings, shoes kicked off, half lying on the sofa in his office

By arguing in advance that Labour should sign up to nothing when it was perfectly clear they would sign up to something he had thrown away a perfectly good chance to react with horror to the details on the day.

But his passions could be the making of the man.

Like most of the parlimentary Conservative party Mr Maude hates the idea of Britain joining the euro.

He is certainly clever enough to score debating points, but recently surprised those used to his laid back style by wrong footing and then thoroughly roughing up Trade and Industry Secretary Stephen Byers during a Newsnight debate on the single currency.

Is that perhaps a glimmer of steel I see in his hand?

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