Baroness Ashton profile: Dearth of women allows dark horse to win

Cathy Ashton has a lucky habit of being in the right place at the right time. The 53-year-old Labour peer rose quietly up the Government's ranks to join the Cabinet as Leader of the House of Lords even though she had a low profile in her own party.

For years in Labour circles she was best known as the wife of Peter Kellner, the journalist-turned-pollster who founded the YouGov online opinion polling company. She won plaudits for her work as an Education minister in developing Labour's successful SureStart scheme for the under-fives, which she formally launched with Tony Blair.

She was a surprise choice to replace Peter Mandelson as the EU's Trade Commissioner in October last year when he cut short his five-year spell in Brussels to join Gordon Brown's Cabinet.

In Brussels, she has quietly won her spurs in the difficult trade brief. She expressed a desire to stay on as Britain's European Commissioner when her term of office ends shortly but that was by no means a certainty. Mr Brown considered other names – including Geoff Hoon, the former cabinet minister, and his close ally Baroness (Shriti) Vadera.

Now Lady Ashton has won a surprise promotion to one of the most senior posts in Brussels. She will be a vice-president of the Commission and help to correct its male-dominated image as she travels the world as the High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy.

Although the EU President's job sought by Tony Blair received much more media attention, some commentators believe her post carries more clout. She will head the EU's new External Action Service, a beefed-up foreign ministry created by the Lisbon Treaty. It will comprise 5,000 diplomatic staff posted to around 130 EU embassies around the world.

Mr Brown's spokesman said Lady Ashton "had made a very strong impression" since joining the Commission and would now be a "big player". While no one doubts her abilities, Brussels insiders believe her trump card may have been being a woman when there was strong pressure for more women to win Commission jobs.

Before entering politics, Lady Ashton was director of Business in the Community, working with firms to tackle inequality.

Suggested Topics
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £35000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £32000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker