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The return of the native minister

Ngaio Crequer, profiles new ministers for lifelong learning and employment

What is the difference between a Tory education minister, name of Howarth, and a Labour employment minister, name of Howarth? Unless all the propaganda was right, and there is no difference between the two parties, Alan Howarth will soon show us.

Mr Howarth famously crossed the floor of the Commons two years ago, and the former Tory minister for further and higher education joined Tony Blair's Labour party. His new party found him a seat and his new leader has made him Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Employment in the Department for Education and Employment.

As a Tory education minister he was quiet, courteous, loyal but laid-back. He seemed disengaged, but pundits put it down to his belief in his own cleverness over others, and an unease with his political masters.

His new responsibilities include employment policy and Job Seekers. Look at some of the speeches he made in the Commons while still a Tory, raging against the illiberal views (as he saw it) of his then party's ministers, in home affairs, job-seeking, civil rights, and you see that he was deeply troubled.

He has stressed since that in education, employment, across the spectrum, a decent society should offer equal opportunities and all the help it can to those who are disadvantaged. Now's his chance.

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