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Anti-hunt MP with zeal for teaching

Fox-hunting is not the only thing on ex-lecturer Mike Foster's mind. Steve Hook reports

"WHEN my pager's not attached to me I sometimes feel as though I'm missing part of my anatomy," says Mike Foster, who admits to having been bamboozled by the range of subjects on which Labour MPs are updated by the Millbank machine.

Of all the issues which have crossed his desk, fox-hunting has been the one to propel him from back-bench obscurity in his first term as MP for Worcester, a mainly urban constituency where the unspeakable seldom come into contact with the uneatable. His role as champion of the anti-hunt lobby came about more through circumstance than any deep-seated personal opposition to blood sports.

"I suppose you either think fox-hunting is cruel or you don't. I happen to think it is. When I stood for election to Parliament, I was against fox-hunting, while my three opponents were not. And at the end of the day you have to stand by the things you said when you were asking people to vote for you.

"When I got the chance to put forward a private member's Bill, I asked my constituents what they would like me to do with this opportunity, through the local newspaper. The overwhelming response was that they wanted me to do something about fox-hunting.

"But it's not the most important issue in the world and it doesn't affect the number of people who are involved in FE."

His background and political interests are firmly steeped in further education. He was an FE college lecturer for six years. As an MP, he is a member of the education and employment select committee and secretary of the all-party FE group.

Mr Foster, 37, was brought up in Great Wyrley, Staffordshire, where mining and manufacturing had been the traditional sources of employment.

His mother was a teacher and his father worked in the car industry for 40 years until las May. He was based at Castle Bromwich, working on Jaguars. It was at the same factory where, armed with an economics degree from Wolverhampton Polytechnic, his son took a job as a finance officer, becoming a shop steward in the Transport and General Workers Union.

"Where I grew up, you weren't going to vote anything other than Labour," he said. "But my parents weren't particularly political when I was growing up. Like a lot of people, they were quite cynical about politicians generally."

With sponsorship from Jaguar, he specialised in management accountancy training, going on to teach core accountancy, economics and statistics at Worcester College of Technology from 1991-97. He was election agent for schools minister Jacqui Smith, in Redditch, in 1992.

"My interest in politics started at about the age of 11, when we had mock-elections at school. But I'm not like William Hague. I didn't spend my childhood reading Hansard. Politics wasn't about that for me. It was more the idea of being an activist that interested me. I was part of the Band Aid generation. You'd see World in Action or something like that and you'd get angry about something and wonder what you could do about it.

"But you don't just decide you want to be an MP. If you are in one of the two major parties, there's only 300 jobs going per election. Very few opportunities arise. So, in the meantime, you've got to make sure you have a career. A real job. For me, a real job meant teaching. That experience of further education has proved really valuable in the committee work I've done since being elected.

"The committee work is intellectually rigorous and I would say it has been a particularly useful experience in terms of my own development. Ministers have to respond to us. When you've actually worked in FE, it can be extremely exciting to find yourself in this position."

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