Michael Howard (born July 7, 1941) is a member of the Parliament of the United Kingdom and current leader of the Conservative Party. He was Home Secretary from 1993 to 1997. 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.
Howard was born in Llanelli, Wales as the son of a Romanian Jewish shopkeeper. The family name of Hecht was anglicised to become Howard. He attended Peterhouse, Cambridge and was President of the Cambridge Union in 1962. A barrister, he became a QC in 1982 and won his seat in the general election of 1983, entering Parliament as member for Folkestone and Hythe.
He became Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Trade and Industry in 1985, Minister for Local Government in 1987, Minister for Water and Planning in 1989, Secretary of State for Employment in 1990, Secretary of State for the Environment in 1992 and Secretary of State for the Home Department in 1993. Since the defeat of the Conservative government in 1997 he has been an opposition frontbencher.
Ann Widdecombe, his former junior minister in the Home Office, once famously remarked "there is something of the night about him", a bitter and widely quoted comment that fatally damaged his 1997 bid for the Conservative Party leadership. The comment was taken as a bitchy reference to his dour demeanour, which she was implying was sinister and almost Dracula-like, as well as linking in to his Romanian ancestry.
Howard's most embarrassing moment as Home Secretary came when a television interviewer, Jeremy Paxman, relentlessly asked him the same question (14 times in all) during an edition of the Newsnight programme. Asking whether Howard had intervened when the then Director of the Prison Service, 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.
(It was later revealed that Paxman's apparent tough questioning was due to technical problems in the studio which delayed the broadcast of the next segment of the programme, leading Paxman to stall by simply theatrically repeating the same question and Howard, having given an ambiguous answer once, left repeating the answer every time.)
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 later served in Iain Duncan Smith's Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Chancellor, and after Duncan Smith was sacked by the party, was elected unopposed as leader of the party.
Michael Howard was named Parliamentarian of the Year (2003) by the Spectator magazine and Zurich UK. This was in recognition of his performance at the despatch in his previous role as Shadow Chancellor.