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October 6, 2000

Theresa May has struggled to make an impression as shadow education secretary over the past 15 months.

But this is not surprising given that she has spent most of the time since her appointment in June last year overseeing the rebuilding of a Conservative education policy shattered, like others were, by the general election defeat of May 1997.

It has been a long haul. The prototype policy for higher education emerged only last month - three-and-a-half years in the making. The policy is little more than a framework at present, but it has re-established Conservative momentum in higher education.

Added to this, May has faced what was, until recently, a seemingly unassailable Labour government. It has not helped that her political mark, education secretary David Blunkett, has proved able, popular and gaffe-free.

May has perhaps been wise to keep her head down and concentrate on policy. While the recent proposals for endowing (effectively privatising) universities may have raised eyebrows, the party's recognition of the urgent need to inject cash into universities and to free institutions from red tape has struck chords within the sector. As the Conservative Party's fortunes improve, we should see May grow in stature.

She was one of the few new Conservative MPs elected in 1997, after winning Maidenhead, a safe Conservative seat. She cut her political teeth on Merton Borough Council between 1986 and 1994, where she was chairwoman of education and eventually deputy group leader.

Hailing from a traditionally high church, Tory background - her father was a vicar - the then Theresa Brasier read geography at St Hugh's, Oxford. Her contemporaries included former shadow education secretary David Willetts and shadow higher education minister Damian Green.

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