Mischievous voices at Westminster have suggested that Lord Forsyth of Drumlean is not particularly thrilled to have been selected for the honour of leading the Conservative Party line on the higher education bill in the House of Lords.
Seven years after losing his Cabinet post as Scottish Secretary in John Major's government and his seat in the House of Commons on the fateful night of the 1997 general election, Lord Forsyth has been thrust back onto the front bench of politics through the illness of the Tories' Lords education spokeswoman, Baroness Blatch.
In his distinguished ministerial career, Lord Forsyth has never served in the education department. He has to defend, in the absence of a Tory higher education policy, a general anti-top-up fees line when many of the most senior Tories in the Lords are unapologetic fans of the government's policy, so it is easy to see why he may not be relishing his new role.
But as the bill began its committee stage in the Lords this week, he appeared to be warming to the task. "I've taken more than a dozen bills through Parliament in my time," he said. "And I'm amazed how many loose ends have been left and how ill thought-out some of the issues are." In a House of Lords where Labour is outnumbered by Tories, he is relishing the opportunity to "push the government hard" on key issues - notably the role of access regulator Offa and the anomalous position of Scottish universities not covered under the bill.
Lord Forsyth (Michael to his friends) is a graduate of St Andrews University, and was a 1970s leader of the notorious Federation of Conservative Students, closed down in the 1980s by Norman Tebbit. He is deputy chairman of investment banking behemoth JP Morgan.
His recreations include skiing, amateur astronomy and fly fishing - something he was doing last week, without a mobile phone, when The Times Higher was trying to reach him about his bill amendments.
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