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Race to find seat for the Shadow

Labour party managers are understood to be making an eleventh-hour bid to find their further and higher education spokesman Bryan Davies a seat to fight after he lost out to Tory defector Alan Howarth in the race for Newport East.

Mr Davies's Oldham seat is being abolished under the Parliamentary boundary changes. There are no guarantees that he will find another as it could depend on the constituency of a retiring MP accepting him as a last-minute candidate. The party is sensitive to possible accusations of candidates being "parachuted in" - a claim made over Mr Howarth - and will want to be seen to go through the democratic selection process.

The loss of Mr Davies would be quickly felt. One of the more experienced shadow ministers, he saw the 1991 Further and Higher Education Bill through the House of Commons to the 1992 Act. He was a lecturer before becoming an MP and is respected by colleges.

After Mr Howarth was nominated to fight the Newport East seat - where retiring MP Roy Hughes has a 9,899 majority - Mr Blair made it plain he wanted him in the House, possibly as a minister.

There is bound to be conjecture that were Mr Davies to fail in his bid for a seat, Mr Howarth - a former higher education minister - might be considered for a minor education and employment post. Immediately after his acceptance for Newport East, Mr Howarth continued his electoral bid, weighing in on further and higher education during Welsh questions at the Commons. He criticised Welsh Secretary William Hague for failing to back HE in Newport.

Afterwards, he told The TES: "We have the Korean firm LG preparing to recruit 6,000 staff and we want them to be trained locally." Mr Howarth was concerned, too, that Government policies had also pushed Gwent Tertiary College, which has major budget problems, to near crisis. The college is laying off 69 management staff as part of an austerity package (see page 30).

"No one is in a position to promise huge amounts of extra funding. But it is important to get the right priorities."

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