The new ministers

May 9, 1997


TESSA Blackstone's appointment takes the tradition of appointing further and higher education ministers capable of holding their own intellectually with vice chancellors to a logical conclusion by giving the job to one of their number, writes Huw Richards.

Her appointment as minister in the Lords at the age of 54 is the latest prize in a career of serial achievement, following a decade as Master of Birkbeck College, London and a Labour life peer.

At Birkbeck she had to cope with a funding crisis provoked by an unexpected change in the formula weighting for part-time students, while her Lords career has incorporated spells as education and, for the past five years, foreign affairs spokesman.

But Baroness Blackstone was a well-established figure on the intellectual left long before 1987, first making her name with an LSE thesis on childcare in the 1960s. She left the Labour party in the late 1960s as a protest against restrictions on Commonwealth immigration introduced to keep out East-African Asians.

In the 1970s she worked for the government's Central Policy Review Staff, popularly known as "the think-tank" and made headlines with her review of the Diplomatic Service, which suggested that it could be conducted a great deal more economically. This was followed by appointments as professor of education administration at the Institute of Education and as a senior officer of the Inner London Education Authority.

But perhaps her greatest political influence has been on the left's think-tanks. She is a past chair of the Fabian Society and was the leading figure in the creation of the Institute for Public Policy Research, a major provider of Labour policy ideas over the last eight years. She is a Royal Opera House board member, a National History Museum trustee and a former chair of the BBC Advisory Council.

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