Michael Howard QC MP, Business Speaker, Politics Speaker, Former Conservative Party Leader, Shadow Cabinet Opposition Leader, Queen's Council, Michael Howard was born in Gorseinon, Swansea, Wales, near to Llanelli. 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 FC. 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.

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Background

Michael Howard was born in Gorseinon, Swansea, Wales, near to Llanelli. 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 FC. 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.

Michael Howard is married to 1960s model Sandra Paul. Their son Nicholas was born in 1976 and daughter Larissa in 1977. During this time he 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 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.

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. 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 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 soundbite "Prison works".

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 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.

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. 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 managerial missteps, such as Duncan Smith's firing of David Davis as Conservative Party Chairman, and imposed discipline quickly and firmly, such as in the case of his removal of the whip from Ann Winterton following her telling of a racist joke. Additionally, he was perhaps helped by the Conservatives' exhaustion after thirteen years of turmoil within the party following Mrs Thatcher's overthrow, which left the party more willing to rally round a leader who could simply keep its respect.

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 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".

Michael Howard was named Parliamentarian of the Year for 2003 by The Spectator and Zurich UK. This was in recognition of his performance at the despatch box in his previous role as Shadow Chancellor.

The day after the May 2005 general election, Howard stated in a speech in the newly-gained Conservative seat in Putney 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 Hythe had been heavily targeted by the Liberal Democrats as the most sought after prize of their "decapitation" strategy of seeking to gain the seats of prominent Conservatives. In the event Howard almost doubled his majority to 11,680, whilst the Liberal Democrats saw their vote fall.

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