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Number 10 tightens grip with well-connected Miliband

Karen Thornton, Warwick Mansell, Jon Slater and Cherry Canovan report on the fall-out from Stephen Byers' resignation

IF there was one person Tony Blair could have chosen to tighten his grip on education policy, David Miliband would appear to be it.

Mr Miliband, just 36 and one of New Labour's fastest-rising stars, was appointed this week as Estelle Morris's new deputy barely a year after entering Parliament in the safe seat of South Shields.

A former head of Number 10's policy unit, he is one of the Prime Minister's closest political lieutenants and is well-connected. At the policy unit, he was the boss of his successor Andrew Adonis, Mr Blair's key education adviser and chief author of last year's White Paper.

His appointment as Stephen Timms's successor will heighten speculation about the relationship between the Department for Education and Skills and Number 10. Controversial policies, including more faith schools, are thought to have been forced through with Prime Ministerial backing despite little enthusiasm from Ms Morris.

If Mr Miliband's credentials are impeccably Blairite, education, and speaking out against deprivation, have been key themes of his career. In the 1990s he was clerk to the Social Justice Commission, set up by the late Labour leader John Smith. The commission was instrumental in putting education at the heart of the party's strategy to tackle poverty and led to Tony Blair's famous "education, education, education" pledge.

More recently he was a largely silent member of the Commons committee which scrutinised the current education Bill.

Last month, he caused a stir after saying, in an opinion piece for The TES, that the Government should guarantee the best pupils from disadvantaged schools a place at a local university, regardless of their A-level grades.

His appointment was broadly welcomed this week by unions. David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said:

"There will be those who warn that this means more influence from Downing Street, but it does indicate the importance of education in terms of the Government's agenda. It's an impressive appointment."

Son of the former Marxist intellectual Ralph, Mr Miliband, an Arsenal fan, went to Haverstock comprehensive in Camden, north London, before gaining a first-class degree in philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford, followed by an MSc at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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