In the news: Nick St Aubyn

February 9, 2001

They do not come much posher than Nick St Aubyn, MP for Guilford, the Tory Party's stalwart on the education select committee.

Mr St Aubyn, son of Baron St Levan, is the latest in a long line from his family to sit in Parliament.

Such a pedigree may seem at odds with the Conservative Party's postwar populism, but he has proved that there is still a place in the party for toffs with talent.

An initial supporter of the patrician Peter Lilley in the Tory leadership contest in 1997, Eton-educated Mr St Aubyn has done pretty well for himself under William Hague's leadership. His appointment as parliamentary private secretary to shadow chancellor Michael Portillo made sense, as Mr St Aubyn gained an MA in philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford before becoming a City banker.

Labour politicians on the select committee see it as no coincidence that Mr St Aubyn is creating such a fuss over this week's report on university access. The report makes no criticism of his boss's opposite number, chancellor Gordon Brown, in connection with the row over Oxford University and its rejection of state-school pupil Laura Spence.

Things came to a head last year when select committee chairman Barry Sheerman stopped Mr St Aubyn asking witnesses questions about Mr Brown accusing Oxford of elitism. He has registered his opinions in a minority report attached to the main select committee report.

As a member of the Liberal Club at Oxford, Mr St Aubyn's conversion to Conservatism seems to have had a great deal to do with Margaret Thatcher. He is a self-confessed child of the Thatcher revolution, even though he was 24 when she came to power in 1979.

Time will tell where his sympathies lie if there is ever a challenge to Mr Hague's leadership by heir apparent Mr Portillo.

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