Caring big hitter on party's right wing

As the party faithful set off for Blackpool Biddy Passmore profiles the education team vital to the Tories' future

Angela Browning, the party's junior education spokesman, hasn't had much time for her new duties recently. The freak storms that hit the South-west in early August flooded her Devon home. She has been homeless ever since.

But Mrs Browning, 50, looks like being a hard-hitting member of the Tories' education and employment team who will speak up for the unfashionable area of further education, which provided her training and her first job. She taught cookery in adult education before becoming a sales, management and training executive.

"FE is something of a Cinderella and people have to fund a lot of it themselves," she says, stressing her concern for the plight of the agricultural colleges she uncovered during her time as junior agriculture minister in the last government.

Mrs Browning, who entered Parliament in 1992 as MP for Tiverton (now Tiverton and Honiton) is generally regarded as a right-winger. A strong supporter of small business people, especially the self-made, she has voted to restore capital punishment for the killers of policemen, supported John Redwood in the recent leadership race and said in the run-up to the last election that she could not support a single European currency.

On the other hand, colleagues also describe her as "caring". She has long campaigned for the employment and civil rights of the disabled and, herself the mother of an autistic son, has taken an interest in children with special educational needs. She is a special counsellor to the National Autistic Society.

"She's a spunky lady, who's not afraid to speak her mind," says one admirer. "A good and quite amusing dispatch box performer, who had a good stint as agriculture minister."

But, asked about her view of Tory education policies in the run-up to the last election, Mrs Browning is the soul of discretion. "There is nothing we wouldn't wish to examine very carefully as part of our review," she says. "But we're still very committed to choice for parents and to as much autonomy as possible for schools. Those two principles prevail."

Her two sons, now 27 and 25, went to local primary schools and then a mixture of private and state secondary schools. Her list of interests in Who's Who includes theatre and opera and "supporting a family of keen oarsmen".

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