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Thursday, 22 March, 2001, 16:01 GMT
Oliver Letwin: Treasury spokesman

By BBC News Online's Ray Dunne

Oliver Letwin is considered by some to be one of the rising stars of the Conservative Party.

Elected for the first time in 1997, he has a strong Thatcherite background and has risen quickly up the ranks.

After teaching at Cambridge, Mr Letwin worked in Mrs Thatcher's policy unit in Downing Street between 1983 and 1986. He has described himself as "a radical Thatcherite" and a devout admirer of the former prime minister.

Widely admired within the party he is regarded as both an intellectual and modest. He is a member of the right-wing No Turning Back group.

No 10 experience

A member of the Conservative Party since 1982 when he was 26, Mr Letwin served as special adviser to then education secretary Sir Keith Joseph before moving on to Downing Street.

He first ran for office in the 1987 general election, unsuccessfully fighting Labour's Diane Abbott in London's Hackney North and Stoke Newington.

Privatising the world

There can be little doubt that Mr Letwin is on the right of the Conservative Party.

He believes in tight monetarist policies and in 1988 published an article calling for the NHS to be turned into an independent trust and for the private sector to have a greater role in the delivery of healthcare.

As if to confirm those credentials, he published a book that same year entitled Privatising the World.

Versus Hague

He was once earmarked to contest the seat currently held by party leader William Hague.

In 1988, he was said to Mrs Thatcher's preferred candidate to replace Sir Leon Brittan in Yorkshire's Richmond constituency. However, the local party thought differently and opted for Mr Hague.

He contested the Hampstead and Highgate seat for the Conservatives in the 1992 general election, during which he defended the poll tax. He lost out to Labour.

Working in Mrs Thatcher's policy unit, Mr Letwin played a key role in drawing up the ill-fated policy. He defended that tax as a "completely misunderstood phenomenon".

Safe seat

In 1997, he fought the safe Tory seat of Dorset West and fought off a strong swing to the Liberal Democrats.

Within a year of entering parliament, he was appointed party spokesman on constitutional affairs and has been shadow chief secretary to the Treasury since 1999.

He has spoken out strongly on education and agriculture issues and has criticised what he perceives is the move towards a federal Europe and is an ardent Eurosceptic.

If he can hold off the Liberal Democrats and retain his seat, Mr Letwin is tipped to go far in a future Conservative shadow or government cabinet.

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