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Michael Howard QC (born 7 July 1941) is a Britishmarker politician. He served as the leader of the Conservative Party from November 2003 to December 2005. Prior to that, he held a number of cabinet posts in the governments of Margaret Thatcher and John Major.

Howard has served as a Member of Parliament since 1983, representing the constituency of Folkestone and Hythemarker.

Early life

Howard was born in Gorseinonmarker, Swanseamarker, Walesmarker, the son of Romanianmarker born shopkeeper Bernard Hecht. His mother, Hilda Kershion, was Welshmarker-born. When Howard was six, the family name Hecht was anglicised to Howard.

In 1952 Howard passed his Eleven-plus exam, and attended Llanelli Grammar School. He obtained eight O-levels five years later and then did his A-levels, which were good enough for him to go to Peterhouse, Cambridgemarker. Howard was President of the Cambridge Union Societymarker in 1962. After taking a 2:1 in the first part of the Economics tripos, he switched to Law and graduated with a 2:2 in 1962. Howard was one of a cluster of Conservative students at Cambridgemarker around this time, sometimes referred to as the Cambridge Mafia, many of whom went on to hold high government office under Margaret Thatcher and John Major. (See Cambridge University Conservative Association.)

Howard was called to the Bar (Inner Templemarker) in 1964 and specialised in employment and planning law. The late 1960s saw his promotion within the Bow Group, where he became Chairman in April 1970. At the Conservative Party conference in October 1970, he made a notable speech commending the government for attempting to curb trade union power, and called for state aid to strikers families to be reduced or stopped altogether, which the Thatcher government later did over a decade later.

Member of Parliament

Unlike his many Cambridge contemporaries, Howard continued his career at the Bar becoming a practising Queen's Counsel, a rank he attained in 1982, unlike many barrister-MPs (eg. Howard's contemporary Kenneth Clarke) who are awarded the title as an honorific despite no longer practising at the Bar. In June of that year Howard was selected for the constituency of Folkestone and Hythemarker in succession of the retiring Sir Albert Costain. He won his seat in the general election of 1983 without difficulty. Howard had previously twice fought and lost the safe Labour seat of Liverpool Edge Hill, in 1966 and 1970 (these early races led to his strong support for Liverpool F.C., which he retains to this day). In the 1970s Howard was a leading advocate of British membership of the Common Market and served on the board of the cross-party Britain in Europe group.

Howard was named as co-respondent in the high profile divorce case of 1960s model Sandra Paul, now Sandra Howard. She and Howard subsequently married in 1975; their son Nicholas was born in 1976 and daughter Larissa in 1977.

In government

Howard very quickly rose in the ranks of Government, becoming Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Trade and Industry in 1985 with responsibility for regulating the financial dealings of the City of London. This junior post became very important, as he oversaw the Big Bang introduction of new technology in 1986. After the 1987 election he became Minister for Local Government. Following a proposal from backbench MP David Wilshire, he accepted the amendment which would become Section 28 (prohibiting local governments from the promotion of homosexuality), and defended its inclusion. As party leader in March 2005, when the clause had been abolished, Howard told Johann Hari that it was of its time, and it would not be reintroduced by a new Conservative government.

Howard then guided through the House of Commons the Local Government Finance Act 1988. This act brought in Margaret Thatcher's new system of local taxation, officially known as the Community Charge but almost universally nicknamed the poll tax. Howard personally supported the tax and won the respect of Mrs Thatcher for minimising the rebellion against it within the Conservative Party. After a period as Minister for Water and Planning in 1988/89 during which he was responsible for implementing water privatisation in England and Wales, Howard was promoted to the Cabinet as Secretary of State for Employment in January 1990 with the resignation of Norman Fowler. Howard subsequently guided through legislation abolishing the closed shop and campaigned vigorously for Mrs Thatcher in the first ballot of the leadership contest in November 1990, although he told Thatcher a day before she resigned that he felt she wasn't going to win, and that John Major was better placed to defeat Michael Heseltine.

He retained his cabinet post under John Major and campaigned against trade-union power during the 1992 general election campaign.

His work in the campaign led to his appointment as Secretary of State for the Environment in the reshuffle after the election. In this capacity he encouraged the United States to participate in the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiromarker, but he was soon after appointed Home Secretary in a 1993 reshuffle initiated by the sacking of Norman Lamont. His tenure as Home Secretary was especially notable for his tough approach to crime, which he summed up in the sound bite, "prison works". Howard repeatedly clashed with judges and prison reformers as he sought to clamp down on crime through a series of "tough" measures, such as reducing the right to silence of defendants in their police interviews and at their trials as part of 1994's Criminal Justice and Public Order Act. Howard voted for the reintroduction of the death penalty for the killing of police officers on duty and for murders carried out with firearms in 1983 and 1990, though he voted against it for cold-blooded and premeditated murder in 1987 and 1990. However, in 1991 he changed his mind and became against the reintroduction of the death penalty, regardless of the crime, and voted against it again in February 1994.

Infamous interview on Newsnight

His reputation was dented on 13 May 1997 when a critical inquiry into a series of prison escapes was published. In advance of the publication Howard made statements to assign blame to the prison service. A further controversy came when a television interviewer, Jeremy Paxman, relentlessly asked him the same question (12 times in all, 14 if including two earlier inquiries that were worded somewhat differently) during an edition of the Newsnight programme. Asking whether Howard had intervened when Derek Lewis sacked a prison governor, Paxman asked: "Did you threaten to overrule him?" Howard did not give a direct answer, instead repeatedly saying that he "did not overrule him", and ignoring the "threaten" part of the question.

The BBC subsequently asserted that the repetition of the question was in fact a "filler" to extend the interview, as the next segment of Newsnight was not ready for broadcast. This explanation however must be considered in light of Paxman's use of the same questioning technique with a number of evasive interviewees. The interview remains one of the most infamous in broadcasting history. In the longer term its precise impact on Howard's reputation remains disputed. Some suggest that it highlighted his arrogant refusal to answer the question; others suggest that it highlighted his resilience and refusal to be bullied, even by one of Britain's toughest interviewers. However, in the same interview, an incredulous Paxman also asked him, 'Do you seriously expect to be leader of your party?'.

First attempt to bid Leadership

After the 1997 resignation of John Major, Howard and William Hague announced they would be running on the same ticket, with Howard as leader and Hague as Deputy Leader and Party Chairman. However, the day after they agreed this, Hague decided to run on his own. Howard also stood but his campaign was marred by attacks on his record as Home Secretary.

Howard came in last out of five candidates with the support of only twenty-three MPs in the first round of polling for the leadership election. He then withdrew from the race and endorsed the eventual winner William Hague. Howard served as Shadow Foreign Secretary for the next two years but would retire from the Shadow Cabinet in 1999, though remaining an MP.

"Something of the night about him", claims Widdecombe

Six days after the Derek Lewis incident on Newsnight, Ann Widdecombe, his former minister of state in the Home Office, made a statement in the House of Commons about the dismissal of then director of the Prison Service, Derek Lewis, and famously remarked of Howard that "there is something of the night about him", a widely quoted comment that may have contributed to the failure of his 1997 bid for the Conservative Party leadership. The comment was taken by some as a reference to his dour demeanor, which was implied was sinister and almost Dracula-like, and related to his Romanian ancestry.

Leader of Opposition

After the 2001 General Election Howard was recalled to frontline politics when the Conservatives' new leader Iain Duncan Smith appointed him Shadow Chancellor. His performances in the post won him much praise, indeed under his guidance the Conservatives decided to debate the economy on an 'Opposition Day' for the first time in several years. After Duncan Smith was removed from the leadership, Howard was elected unopposed as leader of the party in November 2003. As leader, he faced much less discontent within the party than any of his three predecessors and was seen as a steady hand. He avoided repeating such managerial missteps as Duncan Smith's firing of David Davis as Conservative Party Chairman, and imposed discipline quickly and firmly; he removed the party whip from Ann Winterton following her telling of a tasteless joke. His performances against Tony Blair at the dispatch box were more effective than those of his predecessor as leader. He was perhaps helped in all this by the Conservative Party's exhaustion after thirteen years of party turmoil following Margaret Thatcher's overthrow, years which had left the party more willing to unite and rally round a leader.

In February 2004, Howard called on PM Tony Blair to resign over the Iraq war, for failing to ask "basic questions" regarding WMD claims and misleading Parliament. In July the Conservative leader stated that he would not have voted for the motion that authorised the Iraq war had he known the quality of intelligence information on which the WMD claims were based. At the same time, he said he still believed in the Iraq invasion was right because "the prize of a stable Iraq was worth striving for". His criticism of Blair did not earn Howard any sympathy in Washington DC, where President Bush refused to meet him. Karl Rove is reported to have told Howard, "you can forget about meeting the president. Don't bother coming." Howard only gave a lukewarm response to Bush's re-election as President in November 2004.

Michael Howard was named 2003 Parliamentarian of the Year by The Spectator and Zurich UK. This was in recognition of his performance at the dispatch box in his previous role as Shadow Chancellor. However, 12 months after he became party leader, his personal popularity with the public had not increased from that of several years before.

Crossing swords with Paxman again

In November 2004, Newsnight again concentrated on Howard with coverage of a campaign trip to Cornwallmarker and an interview with Jeremy Paxman. The piece, which purported to show that members of the public were unable to identify Howard and that those who recognised him did not support him, was the subject of an official complaint from the Conservative Party. The complaint claimed that the Newsnight team only spoke to people who held opinions against either Michael Howard or the Conservatives, and that Paxman's style was bullying and unnecessarily aggressive. Paxman returned to his question from 1997, and Howard was surprised, remarking: "Oh come on Jeremy, are you really going back over that again? As it happens, I didn't. Are you satisfied now?" Secret Home Office papers released in 2005 under the Freedom of Information Act failed to corroborate this last quote.

2005 Election

In the May 2005 general election Michael Howard's party failed to unseat the Labour Government, although the Conservatives did gain 33 seats—five from the Liberal Democrats -- and Labour's majority shrank from 167 to 66. The Conservative share of the national vote increased by 0.6% from 2001 and 1.6% from 1997. The party ended with 34% and within 2% of Labour on 36%. Commentators pointed to the state of Britain's constituency boundaries coupled with the first-past-the-post British voting system and the distribution of votes within constituencies, which together heavily favour the Labour Party. It is estimated that changes proposed by the Boundary Commission for England would result in a gain of 10-20 seats for the Conservatives with no change in the vote. Despite the third consecutive defeat, Howard received much praise for the election results, which bought forward strong elections policy on crime, immigration and tax freedom day.

The day after the election, Howard stated in a speech in the newly gained Conservative seat in Putneymarker that he would not lead the party into the next General Election as he would be "too old", and that he would stand down "sooner rather than later", following a revision of the Conservative leadership electoral process. Despite the election of a third consecutive Labour government, Howard described the election as "the beginning of a recovery" for the Conservative party after Labour's landslide victories in 1997 and 2001.

Howard's own constituency of Folkestone and Hythemarker had been heavily targeted by the Liberal Democrats as the most sought after prize of their failed "decapitation" strategy of seeking to gain seats from prominent Conservatives. Yet Howard almost doubled his majority to 11,680, while the Liberal Democrats saw their vote fall.

Criticism of 2005 campaign

During the 2005 campaign, Howard was criticised by some commentators for conducting a campaign which addressed the issues of immigration, asylum seekers and travellers, when he himself was the descendant of immigrants. Others pointed out that the continued media coverage of such issues created most of the controversy and that Howard merely defended his views when questioned at unrelated policy launches.

Some evidence suggested that the public generally supported policies proposed by the Conservative Party when they were not told which party had proposed them, indicating that the party still had an image problem. Conservative John Major's 30% lead in 1992 amongst the sought after ABC1 voters (e.g. doctors, lawyers, students, managers) had all but disappeared by 2005; it is widely-believed that the focus of the 2005 campaign on issues such as immigration and crime did not reverse the Conservatives's reputation as "the nasty party", and did not return many educated professionals to the party.

The campaign focus on immigration may have been influenced by Howard's election adviser Lynton Crosby, who earlier had run similar tactics in Australian elections. Whether the hiring of Crosby was a good idea or not in hindsight, his organisation of the campaign was credited with making the Conservative election drive much more professional and organised than at the previous election. Crosby was later re-hired by the Conservative Party to run their successful campaign in the 2008 London Mayor election.

In the lead up to the election campaign, Howard continued to impose strong party discipline, controversially forcing the deselection of Danny Kruger (Sedgefield), Adrian Hilton (Slough) and Howard Flight (Arundel & South Downs).

Cash for Peerages

On 23 October 2006, Michael Howard revealed that he had voluntarily been questioned as a potential witness concerning the Cash for Peerages investigation surrounding fundraising and the 2005 election campaign. He was not suspected of any criminal activity, was not accused of any criminal activity and gave evidence purely as a witness in an investigation focussing primarily on the Labour Government's use of the peerages system and their party fundraising.


Despite announcing after the 2005 General Election that he would vacate the role of party leader, Howard performed a substantial reshuffle of the party's front bench on the 10 May in which several rising star MPs were given their first shadow portfolios, including George Osborne and David Cameron. This move cleared the way for David Cameron (who had worked for Howard as a Special Adviser when the latter was Home Secretary) to run for the Conservative Party leadership.

The reforms to the party's election process took a number of months and Howard remained in his position for six months after the elections. During that period, he enjoyed a fairly pressure-free time, often making joking comparisons between himself and Tony Blair, both of whom had declared they would not stand at the next General Election. He also oversaw Blair's first parliamentary defeat, when the Conservative Party, the Liberal Democrats and sufficient Labour Party rebels voted against government proposals to extend to 90 days the period that terror suspects could be held for without charge. Howard stood down as leader in December 2005 and was replaced by David Cameron.


Howard announced on 17 March 2006 that he will be standing down as MP for Folkestone and Hythe at the next election, expected to be held in 2010. On 13 July 2006 the Conservatives selected Damian Collins to stand in his place at that election.

On 19 June 2006 the International Herald Tribune reported that Michael Howard would become chairman of Diligence Europe, a private intelligence and risk assessment company founded by former CIA and MI5marker members.

On 22 February 2007, Howard became an Honorary Patron of the University Philosophical Society.

See also


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