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Where are they now

She launched the literacy and numeracy strategies. But this Tory caning enthusiast is now content to take a back seat in politics

Her claim to fame?

Energetic education secretary in John Major's government, responsible for introducing literacy and numeracy strategies, and nursery vouchers, though she wasn't that keen on them, unlike the PM. She supported selection, opting out and caning: "I have never considered corporal punishment particularly harmful." Defended publication of school league tables. Fought the Treasury, in vain, for more money for education.

Was she popular?

Definitely, at first. She started with one huge advantage: she was not John Patten.

Did it last?

No. Delegates at the teacher union conferences gave her a hard time, she recalls in her memoirs Shephard's Watch: Illusions of Power in British Politics.

Any other political milestones?

The first woman Treasury minister, then first woman minister for agriculture, a job she'd wanted since the age of five.

Any memorable decisions?

In 1998 the BSE inquiry disclosed that the agriculture ministry, under her leadership, had scuppered tighter anti-BSE regulations.

Any other gaffes?

Well she hailed a certain Jeffrey Arcer as an excellent future London mayor.

What about political ambitions?

She supported Peter Lilley for leadership, as his deputy in the Lilley and Gilly Show, switching to Hague as part of a "stop Redwood" campaign. Seen by some top Tories as a successor to Major in the mid-90s. But stepped down from the front bench in the May 1999 reshuffle. "A souffle of a politician who rose rapidly under Major and subsided under Hague," (Roth's Parliamentary Profiles) What is she doing now?

Spending more time with her constituents. Her majority was slashed to 2,464 in May 1997. "I am very busy preparing for the next election," she said.


Born 1940, to Norfolk farmers. Educated at Walsingham girls' high school; then modern languages at Oxford

1975: wed headteacher Thomas Shephard

1963-75: education officer and school inspector

1965-87: extra-mural lecturer,Cambridge University

1987: elected MP for South West Norfolk

1990-92: Treasury minister

1992-93: Employment Secretary 1993-94: minister for agriculture

1994-97: Secretary of State for Education (and, from 1995, Employment)

1997-98: shadow leader of the Commons

1998-99: shadow environment secretary

Diane Spencer

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