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Wednesday, 7 March, 2001, 10:45 GMT
Peter Ainsworth: Shadow Culture, Media & Sport

By BBC News Online's Ray Dunne

Peter Ainsworth was a little-known MP when he was appointed shadow culture secretary in William Hague's frontbench reshuffle in June 1998.

Six months into his new job he still had a low profile, with just one in four local Conservative Party chairman able to link him with his portfolio.

That profile has improved over the past two years as a result of strongly worded attacks against the government over the Millennium Dome and the saga surrounding the award of the new lottery licence.

In the past 12 months, he has denounced the government's handling of the Dome as "a source of national embarrassment" and dubbed Culture Secretary Chris Smith "unfit for office" and the "minister for fiascos".

Safe Tory seat

Elected in 1992, Mr Ainsworth took over the safe Tory seat of Surrey East from former minister Geoffrey Howe, now Lord Howe.

A former merchant banker, he maintained a low profile in his first five years in parliament, serving as parliamentary private secretary to now disgraced former minister Jonathan Aitken and later Virginia Bottomley, while she was national heritage secretary.

He worked as an assistant whip in the final year of the last Conservative government and was promoted to deputy chief whip when Mr Hague became party leader in 1997.

Mr Ainsworth's Tory credentials are strong. He joined the party as a schoolboy and later became president of the Oxford University Monday Club - a fringe right wing group.

By 1981, he was vice-chairman of Chelsea Conservatives in London moving to the nearby association in Battersea four years later.

He was elected to the Tory flagship council of Wandsworth in May 1986 and worked his way up to become chairman of its Conservative group by 1990.

Environment record

Mr Ainsworth has a strong record on the environment. His maiden speech in the Commons concerned the threat of a growing M25 to the countryside.

He introduced a private member's bill, which was adopted by the then Conservative government but failed to reach the statute books, within months of arriving in parliament aimed at protecting hedgerows.

The bill resulted in him being named Campaigning Politician of the Year by Green magazine in 1993.

His efforts to stop the widening of the M25 saw Country Life magazine name him as Country Parliamentarian of the Year in 1995.

In recent months, he has hit the headlines after admitting along with other Tory frontbenchers to smoking cannabis.

Those admissions forced the party to backtrack on a zero tolerance anti-drugs policy.

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