Duncan Smith puts his trust in a 'Wet'

21st September 2001 at 01:00
Can Damian Green's moderate views prevail in a distinctly right-wing shadow cabinet? Biddy Passmore meets him

"Creating an education system in the round is one of the most important tasks facing any government," says Damian Green, the Conservatives' new education spokesman, "as important as the defence of the realm".

More important than cutting public spending? He does not answer the question directly but says: "Running the economy is a means to an end, which is creating a good society." But Mr Green has in the past repeatedly warned his party against pursuing its obsession with cutting public expenditure or a dogmatic belief that private is always better than public provision. In a shadow cabinet much criticised by moderate Tories for its right-wing hue, Mr Green, 45, is a shining exception: a friendly, respected and articulate "One Nation" Conservative.

A former financial journalist and speech-writer for John Major, the Ashford MP was a junior education and employment spokesman and then environment spokesman under William Hague. He supported Kenneth Clarke in the 1997 leadership election but switched his allegiance to Michael Portillo in the first round of this summer's leadership battle before backing Clarke in the final round.

On Tuesday, only days into the job (and meekly taking instructions from a media officer about how to be photographed) he stressed he was "not in a sensible position to do detailed policy".

In the coming months and years, the Tories will be conducting a thorough policy review of the kind that led Margaret Thatcher to victory in 1979. They will look at existing policies, such as "free schools", and other policies such as the vouchers favoured by Mr Duncan Smith. ("I've no fully formed thoughts on vouchers," says Mr Green.) Think-tanks, academics and - yes - teachers will all be consulted. A programme of school and college visits begins next week.

But Mr Green's broad approach to policy is clear: set measurable standards at the centre, then trust teachers to deliver them. He dislikes the idea that every public service has to be identical all over the country and welcomes local diversity. Labour, by contrast, he says wants a "central, Soviet-style plan".

Born in Wales, he was surrounded by education: his mother was a teacher, his uncle a head. His father was a journalist and the family moved to Reading when he became the first editor of the Reading Evening Post.

After grammar school in Reading, he took a first in politics, philosophy and economics at Balliol College, Oxford and became president of the Oxford Union.

He then spent many years as a financial journalist, with spells as business news editor on The Times and business editor of Channel 4. A period writing speeches for John Major was followed by two years in his Downing Street Policy Unit. He fought Ken Livingstone unsuccessfully for the Brent East seat before winning Ashford in 1997.

Married to a barrister, Alicia Collinson, (she does not like being called Mrs Green), he has two daughters aged seven and 11 at private day schools in London.

* Other members of the Tory front-bench education team are: Graham Brady, MP for Altrincham and Sale West (schools), Alistair Burt, MP for Bedfordshire North (higher education) and Eleanor Laing, MP for Epping Forest (pre-school). In the Lords, they are Baroness Blatch and Baroness Miller of Hendon.

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