In the news

December 11, 1998

Lord Plant of Highfield, who is resigning as master of St Catherine's College to spend more time with his peerage, has claimed he would be terrible at being a minister.

He says he lacks the day-to-day-political skills and is too thin-skinned. Besides "it is impossible to be a minister and an academic at the same time". But he seemed to settle into the lordly benches as if they were made for him when he was created a peer in 1992.

Professor of politics at Southampton University for 24 years and a member of the Labour Party for more than 40, he headed Labour's electoral system working group under Tony Blair's predecessor, John Smith, and now chairs the Fabian Society's commission on taxation and citizenship.

In the past couple of years, he has shown himself a key member of the new Labour team. He was one of only a handful of academics who joined 90s luminaries such as actress Kate Winslet at a Downing Street party in July 1997. Under his leadership, St Catherine's also awarded an honorary fellowship to former student, now trade and industry secretary, Peter Mandelson.

But he voted against the party whip in February, wanting tougher competition laws for the newspaper industry, and has criticised the government's welfare-to-work programme and curb on lone-parent benefits.

He has also argued for keeping Oxbridge college fees, saying abolition "would be little short of destructive in terms of access".

Now 53, he was educated at Havelock School in Grimsby, King's College, London and Hull University, where he took a PhD. He started his career as a lecturer in philosophy at the University of Manchester.

He now plans to return to Southampton University as a research professor "where he will have greater flexibility to combine his public duties with academic research and graduate teaching". He may also have more time for his leisure interests of gardening and "listening to my wife playing the piano".

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