Stephen Byers

11th May 2001 at 01:00
STEPHEN Byers was Education Secretary David Blunkett's henchman in the early days of the Government's crusade to raise standards. Within days of taking office he was "naming and shaming" the worst-performing schools.

Tipped for stardom since winning his safe seat in Wallsend in 1992, the Trade and Industry Secretary was even spoken of as a successor to Tony Blair.

But his time at the DTI with the dramas and crises over closures and job losses at Rover, Ford and Vauxhall has spawned such acronyms as the Department for Tinkering and Ineptitude.

An infamous gaffe was prompted by a smart journalist who asked him to do a sum when he introduced yet more tests in schools: eight times seven equals... 54, he said.

Always a Blair loyalist, his move to the Treasury as Chief Secretary in the summer reshuffle of 1998 gave the Prime Minister a staunch ally in a department filled largely with Gordon Brown's friends.

But Mr Byers' stay was short as he stepped into Peter Mandelson's shoes at the DTI after his first fall from grace.

Ever the Europhile - he helped draft the Social Chapter for the Maastricht Treaty - his reign at the DTI has led to skirmishes with Mr Brown over the single currency.

Mr Byers first made his mark in Parliament with remorseless questioning on topics including league tables, the high costs of judges and the economics of the Asisted Places Scheme. As befits a New Labour man, he quickly shaved off his "soup-strainer" moustache and donned well-tailored suits By 1994, he was promoted to the Whips' office before joining David Blunkett's shadow education and employment team.

As opposition spokesman for industrial relations, his famed aptitude for spinning nearly caused an early downfall. He privately told journalists over a fish supper at a TUC conference that Labour was prepared to break traditional links with trade unions if they kicked up rough over pay. But he survived to become school standards minister after the election and now waits in the wings for the top education job.


Born 1953, Wolverhampton Educated Chester City grammar; Chester College of further education; Liverpool Polytechnic (LLB) 1977-92: senior lecturer in law, Newcastle Polytechnic 1980-92: councillor, North Tyneside 1982-85: chairman, education committee 1985-92: deputy leader of council 1990-1992: chairman, Association of Metropolitan Authorities education committee and chairman of the National Employers' Organisation for Teachers 1992-97: MP for Wallsend 1997-: MP for Tyneside North 1994-95: Opposition Whip 1995-97: Opposition spokesman on education and employment 1997-98: Schools standards minister July-Dec 1998: Chief Secretary to the Treasury 1998-: Secretary of State for Trade and Industry

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