In the news: Mike O'Brien

April 18, 2003

Foreign Office minister Mike O'Brien is well remembered at his alma mater, Staffordshire University.

"It was North Staffs Polytechnic then, and in 1972 we set up a BA in modern studies and in 1973 Mike enrolled," said his old tutor, Owen Ashton. "In his third year I taught him popular politics, 1880-1914, and I like to think I grounded him well in Labour Party history."

"I always felt he was the least likely to be an MP as he was so sincere," he added.

Mr O'Brien, MP for Warwickshire North since 1992, has been parliamentary under-secretary of state in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office since 2002.

He was a casualty of the Hinduja affair - he insisted that he had spoken to Peter Mandelson about a passport application by one of the billionaire Hinduja brothers - and was sacked as a home office minister in 2001.

But 2002 saw Jack Straw come to his rescue and he became minister for the Middle East. He recently went to Syria and Iran to maintain dialogue and has become one of the government's most high-profile figures in recent weeks. He has also launched a review of the vetting of overseas students.

Mr O'Brien won plaudits from Alistair Campbell, the prime minister's director of communications, for his calm response to Clare Short's resignation threat. As well as doing a PGCE, Mr O'Brien trained as a solicitor in the late 1970s and was a lecturer in law at Colchester College of Further and Higher Education for most of the 1980s. He was a branch secretary for lecturers' union Natfhe in the late 1980s.

Mr O'Brien, who is frequently referred to as the "silver-haired former lawyer", was born the son of a railwayman and educated at St George's School and Blessed Edward Oldcorne School.

Staffordshire had hoped to award Mr O'Brien an honorary doctorate but business at the House kept him away. "He is still on the list," Professor Ashton said.

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