The new ministers

May 9, 1997

ANDREW SMITH: MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND DISABILITY RIGHTS

FIVE YEARS ago Andrew Smith was hoping for a ministerial post in the Department for Education and Science. Then he was thwarted by the 1992 general election result.

Now the 1997 result gives Mr Smith, 46, a leading post in the successor DFEE as the minister for employment and disability rights, with responsibility for Labour's Welfare to Work programme.

Winning Oxford East in 1987, one of the few Labour gains at that election, he was rapidly brought onto the front bench as spokesman for further and higher education - an appointment reflecting a background as holder of an Oxford masters in sociology, part-time Open University tutor and chair of governors (1987-93) of Oxford Brookes University.

As shadow further and higher education spokesman he showed himself a cautious, disciplined, safe pair of hands - laying into the government's student loan plans, at the same time promising. while carefully never clearly defining, "a fairer system of grants" when Labour won power.

John Smith recognised his competence by promoting him into the treasury team in 1992. But the real upward leap came in 1994 with the election of Tony Blair as leader. He elevated Mr Smith, an enthusiastic Blair loyalist who had yet to run for the Shadow Cabinet, let alone win election to it, to be shadow chief secretary to the Treasury and then in 1996 moved him to the transport brief.

That meteoric ascent has partially stalled this year. His party conference promise not to privatise air traffic control was retrospectively elevated to gaffe status by a change of policy and he was denied full Cabinet status by the need to fit 26 claimants into 22 jobs.

With ultra-bright members of the 1992 intake rising fast behind him, he will have to impress in the employment brief to make sure of reaching the heights that seemed certain three years ago.

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