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The Rt Hon. Michael Howard QC (born Michael Hecht, July 7, 1941) is MP for Folkestone and Hythe and the current Leader of the Opposition in the Parliament of the United Kingdom. A former long-time senior Minister in the Thatcher and Major Governments, he became leader of the Conservative Party on November 6 2003, having been the only candidate for the job after Iain Duncan Smith lost a vote of confidence on October 29 of that year.
Howard was born in Gorseinon, Swansea, Wales, where his Romanian Jewish shopkeeper father Bernard had moved as an asylum seeker in order to escape Nazi persecution. When he was six, the family name of Hecht was anglicised to become Howard . He attended a state school and Peterhouse, Cambridge and was President of the Cambridge Union Society in 1962. Howard was one of a cluster of bright Conservative students at Cambridge around this time, many of whom went on to hold high government office under Margaret Thatcher and John Major.
He was called to the Bar (Inner Temple) in 1964 and specialised in employment law and planning issues. In the 1966 election he fought the safe Labour seat of Liverpool Edge Hill , which led to his support for Liverpool F.C.. The late 1960s saw his promotion within the Bow Group where he became Chairman in 1970 shortly after the general election in which he was again defeated at Edge Hill. At the Conservative Party conference of 1970, he made a speech commending the government for curbing trade union power.
Howard was named as co-respondent in the high profile divorce case of former 1960s model Sandra Paul. She and Howard subsequently married in 1975 (her fourth marriage); their son Nicholas was born in 1976 and daughter Larissa in 1977. Unlike his Cambridge contemporaries, Howard found difficulty being selected for a winnable seat and so continued his career at the Bar where he became a Queen's Counsel in 1982. In one case he appeared against a younger barrister, Tony Blair, who was also taking up employment law. In June 1982, Howard was finally selected for the constituency of Folkestone and Hythe in succession to Sir Albert Costain, who was retiring. He won his seat in the general election of 1983 without difficulty.
Career in Government
Howard entered the Government early, 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 where he became involved in two major political controversies. On behalf of the Government, he accepted the amendment which became Section 28, and defended its inclusion.
He then guided through the House of Commons the Local Government Finance Act 1988 which brought in Mrs 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 was respected by Mrs Thatcher for minimising the rebellion against it within the Conservative Party. After a period as Minister for Water and Planning in 1988/89, in which time he was responsible for implementing water privatization in England and Wales, Howard was promoted to the Cabinet as Secretary of State for Employment in January 1990 when Norman Fowler resigned "to spend more time with his family". Howard therefore took on responsibility for legislation abolishing the closed shop. He campaigned vigorously for Mrs Thatcher in the leadership contest following her resignation in November 1990. He retained the same cabinet post under John Major and made many attacks on trade union power as part of 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. He undertook some diplomacy to encourage the United States to participate in the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, but was soon after appointed as Secretary of State for the Home Department 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 soundbite "Prison works". Howard repeatedly clashed with judges and prison reformers as he sought to clamp down on crime through a series of "tough" measures.
His reputation was dented in 1996 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. Subsequently questioned by Jeremy Paxman on the matter in 1997, Howard repeatedly failed to answer a question on whether he had involved himself in certain operational matters, by threatening to overrule decisions of the Director of the Prison Service, Derek Lewis. Howard merely repeated that he had "not overruled" Lewis, which was not disputed. In 2005, after a request by the Conservative Party under the new Freedom of Information Act, papers were released supporting Howard's view and showing that he had not threatened to overrule Derek Lewis.
First attempt to become Tory leader
After the 1997 resignation of John Major, he and William Hague announced they would be running on the same ticket, with Howard as leader and Hague as Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer. However, the day after they agreed this, Hague decided to run his own campaign. Howard also stood but his campaign was marred by a high profile controversy surrounding his record as Home Secretary.
When the first round of polling occurred in the leadership election, Howard came a disappointing fifth out of five candidates with the support of only twenty-three MPs. He withdrew from the race and endorsed William Hague, who was eventually elected leader. Howard served as Shadow Foreign Secretary for the next two years but in 1999 he retired from the Shadow Cabinet though remaining an MP.
Ann Widdecombe, his former junior minister in the Home Office, made a statement to Parliament 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 bitter and widely quoted comment that damaged his 1997 bid for the Conservative Party leadership. The comment was taken as a reference to his dour demeanour, which she was implying was sinister.
The fact that Howard has Romanian ancestry (his family were from Transylvania) has led to frequent comparisons with the mythical vampire Dracula. However character attacks on Howard have caused problems for those making the attacks, as the Labour Party found in 2005 when drafts of posters featuring Howard were criticised as employing anti-semitic stereotypes.
Interview on Newsnight
A further controversy came when a television interviewer, Jeremy Paxman, relentlessly asked him the same question (12 times in all, and not the widely believed 14 times) 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 revealed that the prolonged period where the question was repeated was in fact a "filler" to extend the interview, as technical reasons meant the next segment of that night's Newsnight was not ready for broadcast. While some praised the interview for journalistic toughness, others, including some in the BBC, criticised it as a theatrical stunt. The interview remains one of the most famous 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 it highlighted his toughness and refusal to be bullied into doing something he did not want to do, even by one of Britain's toughest interviewers. In a November 2004 interview (see below) Paxman returned to his question from 1997. Mr Howard was surprised, remarking, "come on, Jeremy, are you really going back over that again? As it happened, I didnít. Are you satisfied now?" 
Elected leader in 2003
After the 2001 General Election Howard was recalled to frontline politics when the Conservatives' new leader Iain Duncan Smith appointed him as Shadow Chancellor. After Duncan Smith was removed from the leadership by the parliamentary party, Howard was elected unopposed as leader of the party in 2003. Many commentators feel that he is more successful as Conservative Leader than Iain Duncan Smith was, although others suspect his close association with the former government of Margaret Thatcher could limit his popularity.
In February 2004, Howard called on Tony Blair to resign over the Iraq war, because he had failed to ask "basic questions" regarding WMD claims and misled Parliament . In July the Tory 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 sympathies in Washington, where President Bush refused to meet him; Karl Rove is reported to have told Howard: "You can forget about meeting the president full stop. Don't bother coming." 
Crossing swords with Paxman
In November 2004, Newsnight again concentrated on Howard with coverage of a campaign trip to Cornwall and an interview with Jeremy Paxman. The piece, which showed several members of the public were unable to identify Howard and those who were had no great support for him, was the subject of an official complaint from the Conservative Party. The party claimed that the Newsnight team only spoke to people who held opinions against Michael Howard or the Conservatives, and regarded Paxman's style as bullying and unnecessarily aggressive.
- Michael Howard MP official site
- Conservative Party: Michael Howard official profile of the Party Leader
- Guardian Unlimited Politics Ask Aristotle: Michael Howard
- They Work For You: Michael Howard
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Michael Heseltine | width="40%" style="text-align: center;" |Secretary of State for the Environment
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Iain Duncan Smith | width="40%" style="text-align: center;" |Leader of the British Conservative Party
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